There is the struggle of menstruation itself (cramps, preteen anxieties, PMS, endometriosis), and then there’s the struggle of women fighting against taboos surrounding the very idea of that time of the month. See: Donald Trump vs. Megyn Kelly’s period. Or last summer, when Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui reminded people that periods don’t care if you’re competing for a gold medal.
The list of women talking frankly about their flow hit record highs in 2015, when Harvard Business School graduate and musician Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon sans tampon, pad, or cup. That year, Instagram twice “accidentally removed” poet Rupi Kaur’s photograph from her “period.” series showing a dark-red stain on her sweatpants. Media outlets like NPR deemed 2015 the year of the period, and the conversation continues to grow.
Read on for stories from Kate Winslet (who got her period while filming Titanic’s iceberg scene), Margaret Cho, Gloria Steinem, Judy Blume, and more.
“In the spring of 1981 I achieved menarche while singing Neil Diamond’s ‘Song Sung Blue’ at a district-wide chorus concert. I was ten years old. I had noticed something was weird earlier in the day but I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency. This wasn’t blue, so … I ignored it for a few hours. When we got home I pulled my mom aside to ask if it was weird I was bleeding in my underpants. She was very sympathetic but also a little baffled. Her eyes said, ‘Dummy didn’t you read How Shall I Tell My Daughter?’ I had read it but nowhere in the pamphlet did anyone say that your period was NOT a blue liquid. At that moment two things became clear to me I was now technically a woman and I would never be a doctor.” —Bossypants, April 2011
Remembering her Tampax ad from the ’80s:
“I’m the first girl to say the word ‘period’ on television.” —Dateline NBC, May 2004
“[A] girl could claim to have her period for months before she actually got it and nobody would ever know the difference. Which is exactly what I did. All you had to do was make a great fuss over having enough nickels for the Kotex machine and walk around clutching your stomach and moaning for three to five days a month about The Curse and you could convince anybody. There is a school of thought somewhere in the women’s lib/women’s mag/gynecology establishment that claims that menstrual cramps are purely psychological, and I lean toward it. Not that I didn’t have them finally. Agonizing cramps, heating-pad cramps, go-down-to-the- school-nurse-and-lie-on-the-cot cramps. But unlike any pain I had ever suffered, I adored the pain of cramps, welcomed it, wallowed in it, bragged about it. ‘I can’t go. I have cramps.’ ‘I can’t do that. I have cramps.’ And most of all, gigglingly, blushingly: ‘I can’t swim. I have cramps.’ Nobody ever used the hard-core word. Menstruation. God, what an awful word. Never that. ‘I have cramps.’” —“A Few Words About Breasts,” Esquire, 1972
“Your bodies develop so much faster now. Thanks to genetic modification and hormone injections, the meat that’s around now is basically making you all into Marvel Comics mutants. You get your periods at what, like eight? You have double-D boobs at nine? How cool is that? I started menstruating in ninth grade. I spent all of eighth grade faking that I had my period, down to sticking Kotex in my underwear in case anyone needed proof.” —Rookie: Yearbook Two, October 2014
“I think the way it happened to me is the right way. I had a very smart stepmother and the day that I got my period she said, ‘You are now a mature, physically mature woman and could get pregnant. I don’t want you to be sexually active,’ and she explained why, but she said, ‘You need to go and see an OBGYN now and what goes on between you is confidential. So you can share any of your concerns with him.’ … Use the menstruation to introduce the idea of seeing an OBGYN and then ask your daughter, ‘Would you prefer a man or a woman?’ I went to a man and he was great, but I would never go to a male OBGYN now because I feel that women OBGYNs have a better understanding of what women are going through.” —EmpowHER
“I am the worst when it comes to period stains. That is why I never move because my mattress is so so so so stained that whenever I change the sheets it just looks like a murder scene. I’m serious. Somebody should put crime scene ‘do not cross’ tape up. It’s awful! I can’t understand any woman who hasn’t had some kind of hot menses mess … Every month my body completely purges everything it has been holding onto. My periods are heavy, long, arduous — old furniture and books and records come out. Gold coins and anchors and treasures and lace and shoes. It’s like a big clearance sale. Everything must go! That is just the way that I am built … When my Aunt Flow comes to visit — the bitch brings presents … The point here is let she who is without menstrual stains throw the first tampon.” —the Huffington Post, January 2008
“A woman’s period is like once a month her body accidentally hits caps lock on her emotions.” —Twitter, June 2016
On her strategy for sneaking a tampon to the restroom:
“I think there’s nothing wrong with tucking it up your sleeve. It’s nice to have a little mystery instead of, ‘Hey, I’m going to go shove this up my body.’ Honestly, it ain’t that much of a secret when you’re like, ‘I’ll be right back. I’m going to the bathroom,’ and you bring your purse. Everybody knows what you’re doing.” —Glamour, June 2016
“With Margaret, I just let go. I remembered everything, everything. My son thinks I still do, but I’m not sure. I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m going to tell the truth about what it was like.’ It wasn’t everybody’s truth; it was my truth … But physically, I certainly was Margaret. I was a late developer and desperate to grow and get my period … Everybody was ahead of me. Everybody. But I just want to say this about your period: While you may not enjoy it, embrace it. Because it’s good to have it. Take it from me — it’s good to have it. I had it a really long time, but I don’t have it anymore. And I can’t say that I miss it, but I sure do miss the hormones.” —the A.V. Club, June 2013
“Menstrual Cycle Haiku:
Crime scene in ur pants.
Ain’t no man could handle that.
Maybe a marine.” —her Twitter, December 2015
“How long before your period do you get to start blaming your period for things? I say 6 days is reasonable, 10 is a ballsy stretch.” —her Twitter, November 2014
“So I’m wondering: when I get irritable or sad or start to feel paranoid and I’m asked if it’s because I’m getting my period, why do I get so upset? Why do I try to defend myself? It is because I’m getting my period! … As women — emotional or not — we can’t expect ourselves to operate as though we don’t bleed consecutively for x-days and like it doesn’t hurt (it feels like cats with long fingernails are having a bar fight inside your body), or that it doesn’t affect our moods (imagine having to watch your favorite football team lose the Super Bowl because someone slipped on nachos, now multiply that by 6). Doing that would be like sweeping a condition that, surprise!, doesn’t go away, under the rug instead of dealing with it. So, really, why should we — why do we — expect our male peers, purported equals, not to acknowledge it? Why don’t we acknowledge it?” —Man Repeller, April 2016
“What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? The answer is clear — menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stag parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free … In fact, if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever. If we let them.” — “If Men Could Menstruate,” Ms. Magazine, October 1978
“A friend of mine was talking about a few famous people launching marijuana lines, and I asked if anyone was doing a menstrual line, and they laughed at me. They called it a niche market. But the niche market is half the population on Earth.” —the New York Times, September 2016
“A woman must wait for her ovaries to die before she can get her rightful personality back. Post-menstrual is the same as pre-menstrual; I am once again what I was before the age of twelve: a female human being who knows that a month has thirty day, not twenty-five, and who can spend every one of them free of the shackles of that defect of body and mind known as femininity.” —Lump It or Leave It, 1990
“Half the moms I know are feminists, and they don’t let their daughters watch MTV and those kind of images. I can see why they ban it, it’s out of love. But instead of banning it, in my house, the way I do it with my two daughters is we sit down and watch Rihanna and go, ‘OK, this is the 17th video in a row where she’s in her bra and pants in a field wanting to fuck someone — let’s look at the stats on that. Statistically, on at least five of these shoots she would have had her period or been suffering from a very heavy cold. The minute the cameras went off her they’d have put her in a massive puffa jacket and she’d have been freezing and crying and eating Nurofen. Just to get through the fucking day.’ I make sure that they know that.” —Vice, April 2015
On filming Titanic scenes:
“I’m not saying it was all happy-clappy. There were days when you’d just think, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got my period and I can’t get in that freezing-cold water today.’ … I remember standing up and saying to everyone, ‘Listen, if it suddenly looks like Jaws, the movie, it’s my fault.’ … There’s the flooded-corridor scene when I go into the water, an ax in my hand. Well, the water was so cold that my reaction was completely genuine. And I was the only woman down there. Here I was, surrounded by all these men on the crew, in all this freezing-cold water. What did that mean for their genitals? So I turned around and said, ‘So — little dicks, then?’” —Rolling Stone, March 1998
“That was my plan-B dress. Plan-A was a dress that I couldn’t wear because awards season is synced with my menstrual cycle, and it has been for years … [Plan-B] was loose at the front. And I didn’t have to worry about sucking anything in. The other dress was really tight, and I’m not going to suck in my uterus. I don’t have to do that.” —Harper’s Bazaar, May 2016
“The GMO thing, that’s a lifestyle. But the woman thing, this is my soul. I’m so hippie-dippie with it, though. I have to find a way to integrate my cramp bark [an herbal menstrual-cramp remedy found in health-food stores] and washable Moontime pads into the mainstream world. People are like, ‘Oh my God, don’t tell me that.’” —Bust, February/March 2014
“The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup — so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. So, ‘What?’ You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit. So they came to me, figuring that I could give them advice. It was about the last thing in the world that I wanted to be spending my time in training on. So I didn’t spend much time on it at all. But there were a couple of other female astronauts, who were given the job of determining what should go in the makeup kit, and how many tampons should fly as part of a flight kit. I remember the engineers trying to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, ‘Is 100 the right number?’ ‘No. That would not be the right number.’ They said, ‘Well, we want to be safe.’ I said, ‘Well, you can cut that in half with no problem at all.’” —NASA, October 2002
On her endometriosis:
“It felt like a knife was being stabbed in me.” —People, November 2008
“Listen, endometriosis develops part and parcel with your womanhood, and so you can’t help but have it skew your relationship with your physical self. We’re always talking about, ‘Oh, she’s blossoming into a woman.’ I didn’t feel like I was blossoming. I felt like there were these explosions in my abdomen. Puberty, my period, it didn’t feel like this wonderful new time in my life — it wasn’t like all those tampon commercials make it out to be, like, ‘Oh, your period can be fun! Ride a horse and go to ballet, take that extreme Pilates or yoga class!’ I was lucky if I could even walk down the street on my own two feet. So, from the start, it mangled my relationship with my body … I talked about my pain with my mom; it wasn’t like I was ashamed of it or anything. But nobody wants to call their boss or their teacher and say, ‘I can’t come in because I have my period.’ It felt so icky.” —Lenny Letter, November 2015
“It is not a woman’s lot to suffer, to miss a part of your life because of pain and excessive bleeding. It is not okay to be bedridden for 2 to 3 days a month. It is not okay to have pain during sex. It is not okay to have major bloating during this time — or nausea. Even if you are a woman and conditioned to accept this as normal, it is not okay. Suffering should not define you as a woman … Endometriosis affects the fabric of a woman’s life and every member of her family and those at her workplace. It affects her emotional well-being, her power to earn a living, her ability to become a mother.” —Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA)’s 3rd Blossom Ball, March 2011
“When I see the picture it looks completely beautiful to my eyes. I wasn’t being provocative. The point of the photo was to de-mystify all the taboos that are around menstruation … It was interesting the way people were belittling the experience and the struggle of the period. You won’t go on vacation because of your period, you change your wedding date, it goes everywhere with you and you are in so much pain. Women are hospitalised.” —BBC Newsbeat, April 2015
Kiran Gandhi, musician and London Marathon runner
“I got my flow the night before and it was a total disaster but I didn’t want to clean it up. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles. I thought, if there’s one person society won’t fuck with, it’s a marathon runner. If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer. I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race.” —her site, April 2015