Carolyn A. DeForest, Ph.D., answers questions about how menstruation is perceived as a taboo subject and what would happen if men bled each month. DeForest is the founder of Ruby’s Red Wash, a natural stain remover used to clean menstrual blood from underwear.
1. Do you think menstruating is still often seen as taboo in society?
Most definitely. In certain circles, women talk about it amongst themselves but they also “know” where and when not to bring it up. I’m still trying to get my product in more local stores here in Pittsburgh, and I’m meeting much resistance—even from locally run lingerie stores and an age-old Pittsburgh pharmacy known for selling unusual and hard-to-find products. They sell makeup, perfume, bath products, tampons, pads, incontinence gear, and I’m sure they fill birth control prescriptions, but somehow Ruby’s Red Wash “is not for (them).” Why? Every woman or girl who bleeds needs a good stain remover. The underlying message in this scenario and countless others is that we are supposed to deal with our bleeding and stains in secret.
2. How can women start to feel more empowered and strengthened by menstruating, instead of feeling like it’s an inconvenience?
I think it is important to look at menstruation from a real human point of view. Real women and girls who bleed know what it’s like, and the truth is that it is uncomfortable at times—and messy and inconvenient at times. The problem is that messages from culture want us to see our cycles as only that. The reason I created my product was to give women and girls something practical they need during menstruation and to package it in such a way that doesn’t talk down to women or portray menstruation as a ball-and-chain—as a dirty, negative secret about female being. I think the answer to combating such negative messages about menstruating is to start a dialogue about bleeding (even if it’s only with one’s self) to change the mantras. Take the time to find out what menstruation actually is even if no one around you wants to talk about it, chart your period if you find that useful, find products that work for you, start talking to girlfriends and start talking openly with your doctor. And if you have a doctor who is not receptive to your discussion, shop for another doctor.
Lastly, don’t date or marry any man who thinks your period is “gross” and who can’t stand to talk about it or run to the drugstore for you. That’s a big sign that he doesn’t appreciate or respect female being and he doesn’t respect you. I wouldn’t spend 10 minutes with a man who saw my period as something to tolerate about me.