Moon time, shark week, riding the cotton pony, code red. We have thousands of code words to talk about it without ever saying it. Why? Because although it’s 2019, the majority of people still struggle with openly talking about periods. This societal taboo was what a group of fed up eighth grade girls at Bronx Prep decided to combat with their contest-winning-podcast Sssh Periods!
How did they think up the idea? When NPR announced a student podcast competition eighth-graders Kassy Abad, Caroline Abreu, Jasmin Acosta, Ahshley Amankwah, Litzy Encarnacion, Raizel Febles and Kathaleen Restitullo, and their teacher, Shehtaz Huq, who helped and submitted it, knew from the start what topic they wanted to tackle. They had all noticed that both students and teachers at their school didn’t feel all that comfortable talking about menstruation.
“This is a subject that affects everybody in the school because we want to have a comfortable environment for all of us girls,” they said in the podcast. What they all shared was having felt that unnecessary feeling of embarrassment for having to ask for a tampon or sanitary napkin during school hours. Everyone had a horror story to share about having bled through their clothes when they weren’t able to leave the classroom in time.
It was the first time the students had made a podcast, and they learned how to script, record and edit audio to put it all together. Despite intense competition, the group of podcast newbies sent in their 4 minute and 31 second podcast and grabbed first place in the middle school category. When they won, they expressed that they were especially proud since they were also a team of women of color from the Bronx, a place that usually gets portrayed in a negative light in the media.
Sharing Stories, Researching the Facts, Ridding the Stigma
One girl spoke about a conversation she had with her aunt who suspected she was having her period. Instead of the aunt asking her directly if she had her period she asked, “Are you sick?” — confusing the adolescent. “She couldn’t even say the word menstruation,” said the eighth-grader on the podcast. “Because we do have a word for that in Spanish. She should be able to say menstruation. It is not a bad thing or anything to feel ashamed about.”
Why is there so much shame they ask themselves. It’s just part of the lives of half of the population. They found statistics from around the globe and commented on the injustices for poor women who can’t afford feminine products, pointing out the unfairness of the pink tax on feminine hygiene products. They also cited Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, who wrote that “there are something like 5,000 euphemisms for periods.”
Since it won the competition, their podcast has been widely circulated around the country. Most importantly, in their corner of the Bronx there has already been a change in their school thanks to their bold frankness. For instance, their school’s code word “marshmallow,” a term the girls used to ask the administration desk if they had a sanitary pad for them, is now seen as old fashioned. The podcast has even inspired some boys to proclaim that periods are not gross in any way, but completely natural.