“Hi, I’m Juliet, and I’m here because, nearly 10 months ago, I was sent an angry Whatsapp message.”
When I was asked to make a speech at an event organised by Restless Development, a charity which empowers young people to make a difference, I began with those words. Maybe I should explain.
I am a Girlguiding Advocate, one of 18 young people who represent Girlguiding’s young members, and who’ve helped launch Girlguiding’s campaign against period poverty. In fact, the inspiration for the campaign came from a Whatsapp message sent by one of my fellow Advocates.
Perhaps appropriately, given that it was her words that made this campaign happen, I used my speech to talk about the importance of language. In particular, I highlighted how the language we use to talk about menstruation makes it more difficult to tackle the stigma that surrounds this issue.
When we use words like ‘sanitary products’ or ‘feminine hygiene products’, we’re saying that periods are unsanitary, and need to be ‘sanitised’. By using euphemisms like these, we’re also admitting that we see periods as something to hide, and something to avoid discussing directly. I’m female, and I use a toothbrush, but I wouldn’t call that a ‘feminine hygiene product’. So maybe, just maybe, if we could stop talking about ‘sanitary products’ and ‘feminine hygiene products’, and start talking about ‘menstrual products’ or simply ‘pads and tampons’, we could begin to talk more openly about the elephant (excuse the pun) in the womb.