Can emojis break the taboo surrounding menstruation?

People of all ages and genders are affected by the big taboo around periods.

Periods have traditionally been viewed as dirty, embarrassing, inconvenient, and tied to sexist stereotypes about women. This occurs in a variety of cultures and classes. It can be even worse when you don’t fit within the norm: i.e. identify as a gender that does not match your genitals, live in homelessness, or are otherwise a visible minority. Just consider the way that periods and period products are depicted on t.v. ads--something to be hidden (God forbid anyone sees our tampon package).

We applaud men who pick up pads or tampons for their significant others but don’t do the same when they pick up something like toilet paper (seriously?). The main issue with the taboo, aside from evoking shame, is the inability to talk about periods openly. We couch discussions about periods in flowery euphemisms intended to avoid any discomfort which prevents us from discussing them.

First periods often still come as a surprise and can be difficult to talk about. However, the taboo surrounding periods can extend far into a person’s lifetime. Research conducted by Plan International found that, “[7] out of 10 women said they felt uncomfortable talking about their period with their male co-workers. And only [1 in 3] women felt happy to speak about it to their female bosses. At school, almost half reported feeling ashamed to speak to their female teachers and 75% said they wouldn’t discuss it with their male teachers.” (The Guardian) Being unable to speak openly about periods means that people are prevented or delayed from seeking medical help when they suspect something is wrong, potentially putting their health at risk. Because periods are related to our bodies, shame about  periods contributes to the already existing challenges we have with negative body image. For example, for people who don’t have access to period hygiene products, due to poverty or otherwise, the period taboo forces them to hide away during their period, since free bleeding is still not socially acceptable. Free bleeding is bleeding without using a pad, tampon, or other period hygiene product.

Recently, we have seen women take action and publicly speak out about the taboo surrounding periods. For example, Kiran Gandhi, a musician and Harvard Business School graduate, ran the London Marathon free bleeding on her period. And athletes Jazmin Sawyers and Fu Yuanhui both publicly discussed how having a period while competing affected their performances. While these women have taken huge steps forward, the conversation surrounding periods is still not largely discussed in the public sphere. Given that a lot of our communication today is done virtually, private conversations through texts or social media impact the public use of language.

Online conversations have transformed the way we communicate. “More than 92% of the online population use emojis every day to communicate between friends and across cultures.” (The Guardian) The casual conversational tone of texting and emojis could help break down the stigma surrounding periods and allow individuals to feel more comfortable speaking about it in everyday settings.

There are over 1,000 emojis on an iPhone. The new iOS system can even convert your words into emojis. Want to roll your eyes at someone? There is an emoji for that. Want to talk about certain bodily functions? Yep, there’s even a smiley poop emoji. But there are no emojis representing periods in any way. So hey Apple if you are reading this, what about creating a tampon or pad emoji, or someone grasping for their stomach to represent the pains of period cramps?

In a technology filled world, emojis might be one of the ways we start to change the way we publicly talk about menstruation. In the meantime, avoid any flower emojis and stick with the big red dot!