While my father was politically progressive, he held some conservative views about women. For a woman’s life to be complete, she would have to find a suitable husband. This is why he was perturbed that I wasn’t interested in learning to cook. I was also untidy and couldn’t even sew on a button.

‘What will you do when you get married?’ he’d ask.

‘I’ll marry a cook,’ I’d reply or ‘I’ll marry a tailor.’

He’d shake his head and no doubt wonder what would ever become of me. Clearly, I was unsuitable as a traditional wife.

‘You need a mother,’ he’d say sadly. ‘I’m not up to it.’

‘You are my Mapa,’ I’d say, ‘both Mama and Papa and that’s enough for me.’

Sometimes he would attempt the awkward conversations about bodily functions and sex. As I was equally uncomfortable talking to him about this, I would quickly say that I already knew all there was to know and stop the conversation before it had the chance to begin. I could sense my father’s relief as he returned to safety of discussing dinner or what we would watch on TV.

Menstruation was definitely a taboo subject. I would ask him for money to ‘go to the chemist,’ a euphemism for getting sanitary pads. Nothing more had to be said. I’d go to the local chemist, wait until the pharmacist was busy and then approach the female assistant to ask for the product I was after. Sanitary pads were always wrapped in plain paper bags and sticky taped so that no part of the original wrapping could be seen. This drew as much attention to them as if they had been handed over the counter in their original packaging. Everyone knew what the brown paper bag contained.

After some time, our toilet became blocked we had to call a plumber. This is when I learnt not to flush the used pads. I developed a way of folding them neatly and wrapping them in toilet paper, which I then took out to the bin. I was meticulous about this. Nonetheless, one day, I must have been distracted and I left the wrapped pad wedged between a pipe and the gas hot water heater. I simply forgot about the package.

My father’s face was steely when I came home that day. I knew I had done something wrong but no matter how hard I thought about it, I couldn’t work it out. I went through a mental checklist of misdemeanours, but none would have explained the expression that greeted me.

‘I found something disgusting belonging to you today,’ he said.

I still had no idea what he was talking about.

‘I went to the toilet and found a little parcel. I didn’t know what it was, so I unwrapped it. Let me tell you, no man should ever see such a sight. It is disgusting. And I never, ever want you to leave such a filthy thing in my sight,’ he said.

It felt as if I would die of embarrassment. Boys at school were merciless in harassing girls about their periods and now I was told off by my father for something I had no control over. I wasn’t particularly keen on having my periods and now I had to endure my father’s wrath as well.

‘I just forgot, Papa, that’s all.’

‘I don’t ever want you to ‘just forget’ again,’ he said.

I went to my room and felt ashamed and dirty.

I had forgotten about this episode until I was watching the 2021 Australian of the Year awards. Isobel Marshall, a 22-year-old Adelaide woman was invited to the stage and began to talk. On national television, in front of the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, she spoke eloquently about the stigma of menstruation. She was voted Young Australian of the Year for not only developing ethically sourced sanitary products but also for her work in helping to end period poverty, a term used to describe the lack of access to sanitary products. I felt so proud of Isobel and her friend and business partner Eloise who are challenging society’s views on a fundamental aspect of every woman’s life. As she spoke, I remembered my shame and wished she had been there for me for those awkward teenage years.

9 thoughts on “TABOO”

  1. We learn so much from the void of silence and implication. Even sending a reply is hard. My poor darling granny told me that she had thought she was bleeding to death so put herself into an icy bath. And she had an older sister! How hard it is to change something which cannot even be mentioned. I too remember hiding against the wall at the chemist hoping for a moment when the shop was empty . It was specially bad if there was a man waiting or only the male pharmacist was there. Even a girls’ school made it difficult to slip out of class discreetly. You were supposed to cope with the lunchtime break and the inevitable queue at the crowded toilet – irregular periods which caught you unawares were not supposed to exist. As an adult a gynaecologist told me tampons were ‘evil’. No one ever mentioned the liberation of menopause.


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  2. I’m so glad the world has changed somewhat – although the stigma is still real for many. So so hard for some young women – thanks for writing about this xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3.  Poor little girls made to feel shame they so did not deserve. Along with shame I remember the ignoring of one’s need (even in a girls’s school!) to sometimes slip quietly out of class. Years later a gynaecologist told me that tampons were ‘evil’. What utter rubbish. Luckily I had a wondrous granny who told me that knowing nothing she thought she was bleeding to death and put herself in an icy bath making herself very ill as a result! We lean so much through implication and silence. Penny


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