I was twelve years old, munching away on some crackers in the back garden when I noticed an uncomfortable wetness in my knickers. I hopped to the loo and was surprised to discover that I had got my first period. I immediately grasped what had happened; my mother is a nurse and my family has a decidedly casual attitude towards the human body and its functions. I ran and proudly shared my news. Tearing up, Mum explained how I was now a young woman. Together we went over the practical accoutrements, and she presented me with a silver necklace adorned with hearts to mark the occasion (and satiate my rampant preteen consumerism). Though my experience of the bloody menses itself is not new or unique, I have learned that the openness and practical knowledge is. Roughly fifty percent of the world’s population is biologically female, and almost all females will menstruate for some 3,000 days in their lives. Most girls begin their monthly bleed between the ages of 11-16, and will continue to bleed for five (give or take) days each month for the next 30 years. Societally, menstrual blood is taboo. Historically, it has been taken as evidence of females being the ‘weaker sex.’ Keeping this shameful secret shrouded is a long-running custom. Time and time again inferiority has been upheld through religion, the medical profession, or internalised shame passed from mother to daughter.
In 1948, a young female medical student at the Otago School of Medicine, M. W. Wray, investigated menstruation as part of her fifth year Preventative Medicine dissertation. She found a serious lack of information about the average girl’s experience in New Zealand. Rather than accepting the status quo, Wray decided to collect some data. 120 permission slips were sent to parents of students at Otago Girls High School, requesting their daughters be interviewed about menstruation. A mere half of the permissions were returned signed, and fewer than sixty girls were interviewed.