Anita Diamant Sheds New Light on Menstrual Injustice
In her new book, “Period. End of Sentence.” (Scribner, 2021), New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Anita Diamant sheds light on the ways in which menstrual injustice threatens the education, health, and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Riding the wave of the Oscar-winning documentary of the same name, the book is both eye-opening and inspiring. Through a series of essays and interviews featuring doctors, teachers, and activists, Diamant challenges the silence surrounding menstruation and highlights the organizations and everyday heroes fighting against the stigma.
Dedicating her book to the young people “making the change,” Diamant finds hope in the refusal to accept the status quo that stigmatizes menstruation. I spoke to Ms. Diamant about menstrual shaming, Indigenous period-positive traditions, and how tampon-shaped cookies can inspire a generation. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What is menstrual injustice?
It’s the injustice of living in a body that bleeds in a world that sees those bodies as less-than, worse-than, even a threat: cursed.
“The curse” is one of the most common euphemisms for menstruation. What effect does that name have?
Even if you put air quotes around “curse,” it communicates the idea that this essential function of the human body is, in itself, something that poses a threat. If you menstruate, you’re supposed to keep silent about it. But if you can’t talk about it — except in a whisper to a girlfriend in the bathroom — it sends the message that menstruation is somehow dirty or bad, and that causes a world of internalized shame.
Can that shame and silence become a roadblock to education if you can’t afford menstrual products?
This happens all over the U.S. and around the world. If a family is on a tight budget, buying food has to come before menstrual products and if girls don’t have what they need to manage their periods, they can be worried and preoccupied in class, unable to pay attention. That can mean missing school, falling behind, and can even contribute to dropping out.
It seems that having free products in schools and public restrooms is necessary for leveling the playing field for gender equality.
Yes — and this is not a trivial thing. Period products are a physical necessity — the same way toilet paper is. But once you demand that pads and tampons should be free in every bathroom, you flip the script. Menstruation isn’t a secret. It just is. And it deserves/requires public accommodation.
Can you talk a bit about cultures in which menstruation is celebrated, similar to what you wrote about in your novel The Red Tent?
Among the Kalasha people in northern Pakistan, women go to the bashali — a women’s house — during their periods, where they rest and take care of one another. It really sounds like my fictional red tent. There are ancient traditions in Africa, North America, and New Zealand where menstruation is celebrated by the whole community with parties, songs, and dance.
Menstruation in those cultures is not a secret. It’s such a radically different way of looking at periods. It really shines a light on what shame costs us all.
You tell a beautiful story about a dad who keeps pads in his glove compartment — and one about a cab driver in South Africa.
Yes! The cab driver ferries groups of kids to and from school, and after he saw a bloody tissue on the floor, he realized some of the girls couldn’t afford pads. So, he bought some and left them on the dashboard, free to all. He also told the boys not to make fun. I think we need to lift up models of men who are not freaked out by menstruation. Men — and especially fathers — who can talk to kids about menstruation with humor, love, and support can change the world.
How does the fight against menstrual injustice tie into other social justice movements?
Menstruation is an intersectional issue. Racism, poverty, disability, and environmental disaster all contribute to menstrual injustice and misery.
Today, the fight against menstrual injustice is powered by the same young people who are calling for change on all those fronts. They are outraged by injustice and I love the way they break the silence with self-confidence and swagger. Like the middle-schoolers who wanted period products in school bathrooms. After the principal refused, claiming students would “abuse the privilege,” the girls baked tampon-shaped cookies, which went viral on Twitter and voila… free menstrual products in the bathrooms. Having caused that change as kids, I imagine they will continue to make good trouble as they grow up.