Menstruation is the only reason why babies exist. Without menstruation, there are no pregnancies, therefore no people. One of the best things I learned through the creation of this fundraiser was that in ancient human societies, women were worshiped for their blood magic and respected for their sacred ability to create life. I doubt anyone was laughing then.
On May 28, 2016, Mahila Partnership held a fundraiser at the Station House. Our goal was to raise awareness and gather support for our programs that support women’s health and hygiene in Nepal, Haiti, and India.
We hosted more than 200 people throughout the night, curated an art show of 11 artists and a silent auction of 41 local businesses. There was live music, food, a red tent installation, and a live poetry reading by a renowned local writer. At 9:45 PM – about 150 of us, on the fourth floor at Station House in downtown St. Petersburg, FL, chanted MENSTRUATION as loud as we could, to raise awareness for those who, on this subject, cannot have a voice.
In the months leading up to the fundraiser, Celebrating the Feminine Mystique, I learned more about menstrual health and hygiene taboo than I could have imagined existed. Being a member of the Mahila Partnership team made me confident that I was aware and empathetic to the struggles felt across the globe on the subject – but I truly had no idea.
It isn’t just women in cowsheds. Or girls who can’t touch food. Those are the big headlines that occasionally pop up in our Facebook news feeds, though they’ve been going on for thousands of years. It’s the quiet despair of a girl who, for a week out of the month, feels inherently dirty for a bodily function she neither understands nor can control.
It’s the silent shame women and girls feel surrounding their own body until they are old enough and experienced enough to be numb to it.
No woman should have to feel like that.
This is why I created Celebrating the Feminine Mystique. The fundraiser coincided with Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global initiative and nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness for and influencing the humanitarian policies surrounding feminine health and hygiene. This includes education, hygiene management, aid distribution, full governmental policy overhaul, and most importantly: culturally-sensitive taboo destruction.
With the lack of education and understanding surrounding why the female’s body experiences menstruation, myths and taboos established themselves over time as the generally accepted principles of thought. At this time women and girls are dirty, poisonous, sick, a threat, unfortunate, and incapable of spiritual and familial responsibilities.
To add to that, resources are slim to none already in most developing countries, which means no extra money for sanitary pads, no extra water for washing sanitary rags, and sometimes even no rags at all. Girls miss school, women miss work, and an entire gender is marginalized, generation after generation.
Here in the USA, we experience much less of the misunderstanding and hygiene issues (though they do exist) but there is still a cultural stigma. Girls are embarrassed and teased by their friends, parents are still weary of having “the talk”, which leaves girls confused, alone, and unable to talk about an embarrassing subject. Women whisper when they need a tampon, are embarrassed to lie with their lover on “that time of the month”, and are written off as “PMSing” or moody, even if they aren’t menstruating. Menstruation has become both the butt of a big joke and the snigger of an embarrassing situation.
So, Celebrating the Feminine Mystique was a resounding success. We had almost $10,000 in in-kind donations from local St. Pete businesses and philanthropic individuals. We raised almost $6,500 in cash through a silent auction, art show, and dollar match from our capital sponsor. We ate delicious food, learned a bit about the history of the menstrual taboo, listened to beautiful live poetry and acoustics, and together, raised tremendous awareness in our community and through our social networks for the stigma that surrounds menstruation.
At the end of the night, with the microphone in my hand, I knew it was time. The guests had seen the feminine mystique-focused art, talked endlessly about the empowerment of women and the destruction of the taboo, and all eyes were on me as I thanked the sponsors for their generous contributions.
I looked at everyone and said, “on the count of three, I want everyone to join me in raising our voices to break the stigma of the word – one, two, three, MENSTRUATION!” We chanted three times – once for all the people at the party who no longer need to whisper it in conversation, once for the entire city of St. Pete, who I’m sure was curious to partake in such liberation and a final time for all the women who are still finding their voice.
To those women – we are here for you. We celebrate you.