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‘Why wasn't I taught this?’

Updated: Mar 19

This is the most common question that arises during my menstrual cycle awareness workshops with young women & folks that have a female reproductive system (menstruating or not), mothers & fathers. Often spoken as a disbelief, incomprehension on how this could have happened.

There are historical contexts at play, lived experiences & personal emotions, social constructs in the broader cultural and educational systems where you live that act as barriers in meeting the topic consciously or unconsciously; in family settings or at school.

There is an unspoken consensus that schools ‘should’ do it.

Here is the most common comment I receive when I introduce myself as a menstrual Cycle Awareness facilitator: 

‘So you work in schools.’ 

with 'It's so needed'. (I'll come back to this comment in my next newsletter). I do work in school sometimes but this is not the premise of my work. My work is about bringing body literacy, shame free menstrual conversations back into the family realm where it also belongs.

For a very very long time, it was deemed inappropriate to speak overtly about our bodies and their processes. It is / was deemed unnecessary to educate women about their bodies. ( I’ll go deeper into the topic at another time as the historical context is an important one).

The endured and repeated silence transmuted into taboo, consciously or unconsciously abided by the different group spheres we move through. And if silence is / was broken, another cultural tool is / was used to punish the person speaking up: shaming.One thing that menstrual shame does NOT do is discriminate. Menstrual shame is alive is each of us ( to a different degree), whatever our gender & social class we belong to simply because we were /are brought up in a menstrual shaming society.

And time goes by, these beliefs aren’t being challenged… until this past decade; where groups of people ( individuals, families, organisations, researchers) are finally slowly but surely challenging menstrual taboo. 

It isn’t talked about in many families because we don’t even realise that we are still holding beliefs & shame about the menstrual cycle that belongs to another era; because we lost the language; because as a culture we live in our heads; because living in my body is too painful; because we, adults, have not been initiated…, because…, because…, because… Fill in the reasons that are alive for you.

It isn’t taught appropriately at schools because it is not a priority set by the government despite making RSE compulsory back in 2019. When I work in primary schools, for most the menstrual cycle curriculum is done at the end of Y6 Summer term. Mentioning about emotions in relation to the menstrual cycle curriculum is a fairly new addition (2020). Speaking to a secondary school science teacher (which I will not name as I do not want to shame people and establishment that are trying to so their best without adequate support), she told me that it was covered by the PSHE curriculum and when I approached said department, they mentioned that it was covered by the science department! 

It isn’t taught appropriately in school because teachers are not required to look into the level of menstrual shame they hold themselves, have limited resources and no CPD on the topic. These conditions give a subtle but strong message that menstrual cycle education isn’t important. But also Menstrual cycle education is taught only through the biological lens and menstruation management. It does not engage in conversation in what it is like to live, a day-to-day life with a menstrual cycle. We are all cyclical being whatever your gender.

So no, we cannot rely or give away our responsibility to the education system to provide body literacy that would support our children entering a cyclical life stage. We all have a responsibility: mothers, fathers, educators. It is a shared responsibility as it’s only if we work together that we can create change in our overarching culture for ourselves and our children. 

My work is about educating young people about their bodies that hold a female reproductive system which will initiate a menstrual cycle during puberty. 

My work is about supporting parents to hold shame free conversations about bodies and their functions.My work is about weaving connections between young people, parents, schools, youth clubs so that everyone holds a shared responsibility of being menstrual cycle aware.

‘Knowledge can facilitate comfort, & comfort can facilitate open discussion, & openness can facilitate cultural positivity’ 

by Mindy J. Erchull

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Cycles of Influence

Zooming out to better zoom in on systems at play in our lives that influences our menstrual cycle living. Containing thoughts, teachings, beliefs and rants with resources, links and a few PSs.

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