Because, apparently, it’s not enough just to bleed for a week every single month for 40 years, many lawmakers have added insult to injury by taxing the products needed to deal with your period. Of course, you can get Viagra and condoms without paying sales tax but, in 21 states, tampons and pads will cost you extra.
I learned this and so much more in Periodical, an empowering, enlightening and totally entertaining documentary about menstruation. In fact, I learned more about the subject than I was ever taught in school, by my parents or by my doctors. I hope future generations will have the opportunity to watch this film from a young age because, as they say, knowledge is power.
Director Lina Lyte Plioplyte has crafted an admirably inclusive documentary that’s easy to watch and understand – and relate to. We hear from cis women, trans folks, young people, older people, white people, people of color. And everyone has a lot to say. Some hate their period, some find beauty in it, some just try to ignore it and get through it.
The movie covers a lot of ground, from the science of menstruation to the politics. It follows two young activists successfully working to eliminate the tampon tax, starting in Michigan. Period poverty is a real thing, and some people literally have to choose between buying food or tampons. Many students actually miss school because they can’t afford to buy products when they have their period. “Access to menstrual hygiene depends on your zip code,” explains one activist.
Periodical is so important because, even in the 21st century, people still find it awkward to talk about women’s health issues. “Stigma grows in the dark,” says one woman and it’s a sobering statement. By using euphemisms for the word “period” and whispering that it’s “that time of the month,” people are made to feel embarrassed by a natural bodily function experienced by half the population. When Gloria Steinem talks about a satirical piece she wrote 45 years ago, called “If Men Could Menstruate,” in which periods are celebrated and a heavy flow is something to be proud of, it shows how little has changed since 1978.
If you feel rage while watching Periodical, don’t let anyone tell you it’s because you must be getting your period or you just finished your period or it’s your pre- or post-menopausal hormones acting up. The truth is there’s a lot to be angry about. Instead of silently fuming, though, speak truth to power and find strength and inspiration in the words of one activist, who proudly exclaims, “Anything you can do, I can do, bleeding.”
Remember that Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon on her period, with blood running down her tights, to help remove the stigma associated with menstruation. She let the whole world see what she was dealing with rather than hiding away in shame. She finished the race in a respectable 4:49:11 and helped raise more than $6,000 for charity. Because, ultimately, you just have to go with the flow. Period.