The only thing I remember about the period education I received in school is that we talked about giving our jumpers to girls who were having a leak, and then a teacher put a tampon in a clear vase of water.
These are both things I’ve carried into running these programs, they’re memorable and not horrific, which seems to be the most anyone I’ve spoken to could hope for.
In fact, most people I’ve spoken to about this remember their period education in one of three ways:
- Periods were completely brushed over, hardly warranting a mention.
- They left absolutely terrified, completely ashamed and unprepared.
- The vital education was clouded by shame leaving the distinct impression that silence around menstruation was the expectation.
None of these are acceptable.
Neither is separating the cohort by gender, shuffling the girls into another room to whisper about the secret shames of our bodies.
I have run menstrual education by both separating the cohort and talking to everyone, and I wouldn’t go back to splitting them.
I initially did see the arguments for just talking to the girls alone, I acknowledged that in this school, this is how it is done.
But is this really creating a safe space for learning and discussion, or just demonstrating that we have lower expectations for boys than we do for girls?
Do we not think that boys can be mature and respectful?
Do we not believe this is information that they also need to learn?
The issues I did have at the time concerned mainly what the boys were going to be doing as this session ran, do the girls miss a game? or do the boys get additional learning time? both of these reinforce inequality.
Having 50 students sit in a classroom, getting out all of their embarrassed giggles out of the way together and then both ask and answer questions inquisitively and intelligently is not only what we should expect, but what we will see.
For a girl leave an hour menstrual education session, go home and tell her family all about it and say that having the boys there showed her that they are ‘becoming men who care about women’ demonstrates exactly this.
Not to mention that when I brought out the box of period starter kits the school receives boys started to come up and ask for one to keep in their bags for their peers, friends and sisters who may need them.
On a larger scale, I take issue with what the overarching message we send by separating cohorts for menstrual education is; we are saying that menstruation is only a female issue.
This is not only damaging, but untrue.
Not all people who have periods are women.
Not all women have periods.
Not only are we restricting someone’s identity to their possession (or lack) of a uterus, but is there a limit to how traumatic we are making the menstrual experiences of anyone sitting in that room who doesn’t identify as female currently or in the future?
All of these things are important to note before we even touch on content or approach, the structures we put in place before we even begin teaching set up for what students will take away from these sessions.
If I wasn’t worried that this post would run on for thousands of words I would continue straight onto the content of the sessions I have created, but I will instead make that into a part two.
Let me know what you think about how menstrual education should be approached within a school setting! Do you think your experience was adequate?