It was period four as freshman Sinead McGonagle set her backpack and netbook down in Ms. Sirridge’s classroom. Students filled the room when she realized that she needed to go to the bathroom. Putting her body between her backpack and the rest of the class, she quickly grabbed a pad from one of the backpack’s innermost pockets and stuffed it up her sleeve. She turned around and rushed out, breathing a little sigh of relief once she got into the bathroom.
No one saw.
This secrecy about periods occurs daily among STA students. Many students take complicated/intricate/extensive/choreographed measures to ensure that no one knows when they are on their period; but these students are not alone. According to a 2003 survey by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, 43% of women “feel they have to make adjustments to their lives when they have their period.” And those “adjustments” come with some embarrassment.
Along with McGonagle, freshmen Gretchen Dudley, Quinn Kernell and Gina Ptacek all acknowledge that they have hidden their feminine hygiene products at STA.
“It’s embarrassing, I guess, to be on your time of the month,” McGonagle said.
“There are [male teachers], so it could be awkward if a guy saw you walking down the hall with a pad in your hand,” Kernell added.
Theology teacher and feminine hygiene products drive leader Betsy Hansbrough explains students’ reactions to their periods as a “cultural embarrassment.”
“I would say there’s just an embarrassment about it as a young girl that you lose as you get older,” Hansbrough said. “There’s an embarrassment probably about even letting your father and brothers know about having your period.”
Hansbrough believes this embarrassment comes from far-reaching historical and even Biblical roots.
“If you look at the Scriptures, a woman who was having her period had to separate herself from the culture,” Hansbrough said. “There were very specific rules. [Women on their period] were dirty.”
While she believes that this mentality about menstruation has broken down over the generations, Hansbrough believes that a less extreme and better version exists today.
“I think there’s a certain modesty about your body that you want to maintain and a certain privacy,” Hansbrough said. “You don’t want to embarrass other people. Other people might not be at the level that you’re at, especially 15- or 16-year-old boys.”
However, history teacher Craig Whitney keeps pads and tampons in the closet in his classroom for students to use freely. When asked why he felt comfortable doing this, Whitney laughed.
“I just never really think about it,” Whitney said. “It just seems like another part of life.”
Whitney acquired the products last year when an organization donated many of them to STA, and they were left at the front desk. He took some back to his room and let his advisory know that they were there.
“I get where teenagers would likely feel awkward,” Whitney said. “I think that’s probably the reason why I have told [the advisory] that you just help yourself. You pick the moment in time when you want to raid the closet, and just help yourself. It’s kind of like going to the bathroom. You don’t need to make a big production. It’s a natural human function.”
Whitney feels that students should not worry so much about what others think.
“You don’t need to be secretive about it, necessarily,” Whitney said. “If you’re comfortable with it, then I think that’s alright, that’s enough. You shouldn’t worry about it. I wouldn’t get too concerned about how anybody else feels about it.”
While students admit to hiding their feminine hygiene products when going to the bathroom, they talk about it openly among each other.
“The day I shadowed, someone asked me for a tampon,” Ptacek said. “I feel like it’s not as big of a deal than at grade school.”
“People are a lot more open about it here than grade school was,” Dudley added. “In grade school I like wouldn’t talk about it. I would talk about it with my best friend, but then I didn’t talk about it to anyone else. And now when I’m on my period, I’m like ‘I am on my period. Leave me alone.’”
“I actually remember you saying that,” Ptacek responded.
“I feel like everyone talks about it here,” McGonagle said. “It’s not just a few people that are weird because they talk about it.”
“If I’m in Blessen’s class, I’ll just be like ‘Does anybody have a tampon?’” Kernell said.
“Everyone goes through it, and I think we make it out to be more than it is,” McGonagle said. “Embrace the period.”