Menstruation Myths

“The average woman will spend 1800 days of her life on her period”

This fact underwrites humanity’s survival as a species, yet menstruation is commonly regarded as unclean, and information about it unfit for polite company. According to one survey, 86% of Russian women and girls would not talk to a male classmate about their period and 55% of Swedish women would refuse to talk to a male family member about it. A separate study of 100,000 girls in India shows that nearly half did not know what menstruation was, until their first period arrived.

For a phenomenon with over 5,000 euphemisms from “shark week” to “a visit from Aunt Flo” the period is one of the most ignored human rights issues around the globe affecting everything from education and economics to the environment and public health. Across cultures, stigma keeps menstruating girls isolated from their families, friends and communities; they are told not to talk about it; scared to attend school; forbidden to eat or prepare certain foods; and barred from touching water, moving freely, or sleeping in their own beds.

How do misconceptions of the female body shape the cultural position of women? In Menstruation Myths, Laia Abril explores this question as part of A History of Misogyny, her visual research long-term project.

In 1946, Walt Disney created The Story of Menstruation, likely the first film ever to use the word “vagina.” In 1985, Tampax debuted the word “period” in a US television ad. Yet as recently as 2010, the word “vagina” was forbidden from Kotex ads on three US broadcast networks. So was the phrase “down there.” And only in 2011 did rival sanitary napkin company Always finally use the color red—a neat dot—to represent menstrual blood. Until then, blue liquid had been the visual euphemism preferred by US companies.