The Woman in the Red Polka Dot Dress

Last weekend at a music festival, a foot-stomper of a band was playing while the audience sat in the grass. Heads were swaying, shoulders were a-shimmying, toes were tapping.  Suffice it to say that more than a few of us were itching to dance. Halfway through the song, a woman in a red polka dot dress stood up and started to dance. She twirled and stomped, and one by one every other person got the courage to stand up and dance like they wanted to. Not that sexy-someone-is-watching-me dance. No – this was a sweaty, summery, heart-all-in-it dance.

That same weekend, someone asked me what I think is most important to move menstrual health forward. And the answer came out of my mouth before I had even rationalized it: we need to talk about menstruation. Talk about our bodies, our cycles, our secrets, our monthly frustrations and our moments when we revel in being women.

That was my intuitive response. But later when I thought about it, it turned out that my head agreed with my gut. I do believe that the time is ripe for women and men to discuss menstruation openly, plainly and respectfully. And even – dare I say it? – with humour. Otherwise it continues to be a dirty little secret that we all know happens, but that we scarcely acknowledge. It seems that this is how sex used to be hidden away several decades ago, and collectively we have brought sex into the public forum. Menstruation continues to be stigmatized in every culture of the world. Which, in this writer’s humble opinion, infuses the topic of menstruation with an intrinsic sense of shame, maybe even to the most proud period-er.

What I have noticed is that when I – a devout discusser of periods – raise the topic of menstruation in a straightforward manner, other women follow suit. When women learn that my pride-and-joy baby is the menstrual health organization Mother Nature Partnership, they often open up and ask questions they haven’t felt comfortable asking before. (“Can I have sex with a cup in? Is it bad if I feel uncomfortable emptying the cup? Can I wear it to yoga class? What do I do if my menstrual cup gets stuck inside of me?!”) Before you know it, we are swapping stories, or asking questions, or laughing about an embarrassing cup incident that haunts us still. In that moment, what was private becomes shared.

And that is what this brand spanking new blog is designed to be: a no-holds-barred, happy, inquisitive and supportive place to talk about anything – and everything – menstruation. It is a woman in a red polka dot dress, being the first one to stand up and dance.

Irene Whittaker-Cumming is the Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, a powerhouse menstrual health organization that is the recipient of a Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Award and a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant. MNP is bringing menstrual hygiene knowledge and tools to women and girls, so they can make personal choices about their own bodies.