It should not be painful to talk periods


"Girl things."

They were just two little words that came out of Heather Watson’s mouth after her disappointing first round loss at the Australian Open.

It was clear that the promising young Brit was not at the races against Tsvetana Pironkova despite winning her second WTA title the week before.

Before the mention of the 'girl thing' thing, the media had struggled to make sense of what was wrong. Low energy, a virus, a return of glandular fever - everyone was guessing what the problem was.

Not for one moment did anyone think that Heather Watson may be suffering because she was simply on her period.

And to me, that is absurd.

That period pains do not seem to exist when it comes to sportswomen. With the profile of women’s sport on the up, I still can’t think of a single instance when a competitor has pointed at her ovaries when asked what went wrong out there.

‘Talk to this troublesome duo, they know!’

But now two words from Watson – and we are finally talking about the dreaded P word - PERIODS.

In this article the BBC talks to a selection of sportswomen about the effect periods had on their careers. The article is hastily put together but never-matter because it is the comment section at the bottom which is far more interesting. Once again it provides an opportunity for some men to say women are making a fuss about nothing and questioning whether the subject is worth talking about at all.

Why not? If we dedicate reams of online space to mental health problems, why can’t we have an open chat about period pains? Because they only affect women?

If you are woman, have friends who are women, are married to a woman - you are probably well accustomed to hot-water bottles, strained faces and quiet mumblings ‘I am on my period.’ Just Google 'period pains' and you will be left in no doubt about the extent to which many women suffer.

And there is no reason to suggest sportswomen are any different.

So if there are women on the pitch, court or track struggling due to period pains, shouldn't we want to know about it? Isn't it weird that we don't? Hey women folk, why aren't you speaking out?

It's a complicated matter - but I believe lots of women don’t like talking about periods because they are not sexy, attractive, womanly or anything else that reminds us of a Disney princess (unless I missed the Disney which features Arial turned upside down).

But I don’t think this is why sportswomen never (and it really does seem to be never) mention period pains. If Paula Radcliffe can poo in the street, I’m pretty sure she would happily wave her bloody tampon at you. No, these sweaty women who contort their faces, grunt and pant are worried about something far more important than looks: using an excuse.

These tough women who have dedicated their lives to being the cream of the crop want to be taken seriously. By men just as much as by women. The mere mention of period pains (as has been shown from the reaction to the BBC article) leads to men cramping up. (So I suppose at least in some way they know how we feel.)

Imagine sitting in a press conference of predominantly men and telling them the reason you didn’t win Wimbledon, an Olympic gold, the marathon was because Aunty Flow came to visit. It would sound weak, it would be uncomfortable for everyone – better just tell them that the cat died… inside your uterus.

Or to smile and say it wasn’t your day. Or to not blame anything at all.

After all, these women are tough… but we must question whether they are being too tough?

The main reason I think this issue deserves attention boils down to honesty. Aren’t we all so much happier when we are honest? A burden is lifted off our shoulders, others can relate to our difficulties, nobody feels alone, there are less taboos, people can live freely.

A bit more honesty might help. Less pressure to pretend, more empathy from others – it could be just what our ovaries ordered.

Sportswomen’s silence could be putting unreal expectations into the minds of young girls who want to reach for the stars but their ovaries aren’t letting them.

I am so grateful to Heather Watson for uttering those two words ‘girl things’ – this conversation is thoroughly overdue.

2 comments:

  1. Totally agree, there's a cat inside my uterus every month. �� I also think this topic is important and should not be such a stigma or kept quiet in society today. We should feel free to talk about periods, it's natural. Why can't the world see that?

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  2. Thanks for your comment. It makes me mad that women have to stay silent about something which can be so painful and life consuming. Talking out about it takes guts and it is only by doing this, then the stigma around it will go away.

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