Everyone who menstruates has done it before: the old tampon up the sleeve trick, the quick tuck of the pad into the waistband, the sly shove into a too-shallow pocket, or the classic bring-your-entire-bag-to-the-bathroom move.
But what does hiding hygiene products en route to the restroom accomplish? Where did we learn to do that? Who are we trying to protect by hiding the fact that we’re on our period? Why is concealing a pad, tampon, or other period hygiene product so mainstream in this fourth wave of feminism?
As efforts to destigmatize the period intensify, so should our efforts to normalize openly carrying supplies.
As per usual, corporations are of no help. The phenomenon of “compact” and “discreet” packaging only perpetuates the stigma. Tampax’s Radiant line of tampons, for example, advertises the product as having the “quietest… wrapper for quick and easy discreet tampon disposal.” The back of the box literally says, “softer, quieter wrapper to help keep it a secret.”
To help keep it a secret.
So on top of the pre-existing notion that we need to hide tampons on the way to the restroom, Tampax is insinuating that we also need to hide when we’re inserting a tampon from others in the restroom. This is because those inside the bathroom would surely be shocked to hear the sound of someone taking care of their bleeding vagina.
Tampax and other hygiene product brands aren’t the only ones trying to keep periods hush-hush. In 2015, Women’s Health magazine published an article promoting transporting tampons in secret. The article suggests that hiding your item inside of a cute pencil bag, a sunglasses case, an empty tube of lipstick, or even (I’m not making this up) a hollowed-out book would be preferable to carrying it out in the open. How is carrying a book to the bathroom more normal than carrying a pad?
When messages like this are coming from the very brands we use and the publications we trust, it’s no wonder there’s a stigma surrounding openly showing the reason you’re headed to the loo.
Menstruators have shared their own experiences hiding hygiene products online and IRL for years. One woman wrote online in 2016 about how her manager became upset after seeing her pads at work, writing:
“My male manager comes up to me and tells me I need to put [the pads] away. I tell him that I have my period and I’d like to leave them there so I have them when I need them. Things got out of hand. He told me I’m “gross” and “unprofessional” for bringing them to work and putting them in the same area where he works, and because he saw them.”
Who are we aiming to please?
Hiding menstrual products is about accommodating others. It’s about satisfying the comfort levels of—let’s be real—mostly men.
Sure, maybe menstruation and using hygiene products is something that should occur in the privacy of the restroom. To carry your necessary items to the restroom is no different than carrying, say, your toothbrush. No one wants to watch you brush your teeth (and no one has to). However, nobody is made uncomfortable by the fact that they now know you’re about to take care of a menial daily hygiene task.
Hiding your tampon, pad, or any menstrual product is like pretending you don’t get a period for the mental benefit of those around you. It’s an act of period shaming. It’s internalized misogyny. We as menstruators are so past acting and existing to accommodate those around us.