Updated: Mar 27, 2020
It’s about bloody time. Period. By Emma Barnett
I’ve always had a bit of an odd relationship with my period. I remember when I started at 12 years of age; I was running round the house annoying my little sister when we got back from school and needed a wee, horrified when I pulled down my pants to see a reddish brown stain in them. I did remember having been mildly educated on what to do next at school but still craved the direction and comfort of my mum - just in case. The whole thing made me feel quite grown up and I remember almost feeling like one of the ‘cool’ kids in school (which I never was), finally a woman and able to participate in conversations about them so keen to become grown up. Fast forward 21 years and I feel directly the opposite. Desperate to be part of the ‘mum’ crew and participate in their conversations all the while knowing that it’s my period that might just stop me from ever getting there.
Having only been diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis a mere 3 months ago, a lot of this is all still very raw for me on my discovery and education around fertility and even the female anatomy. I am increasingly frustrated by the lack of education for young girls and women in schools around their periods and the lack of openness that surrounds them. Particularly with contraception and the ease of which GPs are happy to hand out the pill to quietly mask any symptoms of potentially deeper issues. So it was to my huge delight to hear about Barnett’s book with the word PERIOD emboldened across the front cover. Little did I know I’d be confronted with some challenging views and the need to strap myself in!
The opening quote pretty much sets the tone of the entire book. It’s about female empowerment and raises serious sexist, government and charitable issues. Being a journalist Barnett looks at many different viewpoints and opinions whilst staying true to her desire to erase the stigma around periods.
There’s even sections on Barnett’s struggles with her own endometriosis and infertility because of it. She’s mum to a son who was conceived through IVF, which incidentally was the only part of the book when I had to take a little break from sheer jealously and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read the rest of it. There’s something about an author in the limelight that makes their lives seem a little bit more fairytale-ish than your own. I’ve no doubt she’s had struggles and commend her for sharing her story but you’re bound to compare your situations when someone says they have endometriosis. On a good day you might say her situation could bring me hope and you know I don‘t normally oust women for their own baby making achievements but I think her celebrity status perhaps didn’t help on this occasion - almost like an unreachable goal. And incidentally I would have liked to have learnt more about her experiences with it as it’s only lightly peppered throughout the book- I wanted more of a personal warts and all insight which I feel like the rest of book does really well.
It’s sentences like this one though that she keeps me hooked and wanting to know more. Wanting to join her revolution and shout from the rooftops about the condition and demand more research be done:
The book is brilliant at exploring periods from every angle you can think of. Politics, gender, circumstance, coping mechanisms and there’s even a list at the end of the book of all the weird and wonderful names a period has been nicknamed. Something for everyone. A chapter that I really enjoyed though was about advertising of our pads and tampons. I’d never really considered brands like Always, Tampax and Bodyform profiting from a basic human right. The right to be as comfortable as possible whilst menstruating. The right to not have to free bleed in the street which my eyes were opened to reading this book. The right not have to pay tax on something that should be as freely accessed as loo roll.
I’m not sure if it’s because of my career in marketing or just a general interest but I loved watching these videos that Barnett references in her book. Have you ever seen this 1946 video from Disney where they attempt to educate women on periods? Granted it’s from the 40s but hilariously dull and in good old fashioned Disney style ends in Princess vibes.
Similarly there’s more recent ads like this one from 1985 featuring Courtney Cox before she was famous, claiming tampons can make you feel cleaner and change the the way you feel about your period just by wearing one. If you were under any illusions of which decade the advert was shot, the leg warmers would give you a clue.
Barnett’s book is challenging, informative, open, honest, gobby and everything you want from a book about periods. She doesn’t just talk about pain and blood but has done loads of research and had loads of amazing conversations with women and a non binary person about their own experiences. There’s even a chapter on ‘Sex Blood’ if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Ultimately, I applaud and am grateful for Barnett’s words which all count towards opening up more conversations and brutal honesty around periods. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be going out painting my crotch red and screaming about it from the rooftops*, but in the right forum and when I want to talk about it, Barnett’s book has given me a tad more confidence to do so.
One bit that did almost make me cry was her ending chapter: A long overdue letter to my period. Something I won’t spoil for those who are keen to read themselves.
My recommendation is that if you want to be educated, feel empowered about your period, take back some control and learn A LOT about what’s going on outside of your own and maybe your friends’ experiences then Barnett’s book is a must-read.
One last thing to leave you with. Did you know that Apple ‘forgot’ to include a period tracker in its much anticipated ‘health’ app when it first launched? Curious.
*I might be tempted to do this after a glass or two of wine and in the company of some like minded, strong willed women to fight for a cause. I just mean not on a random Monday on my way to the office.