Despite being a regular occurrence, a female student’s menstrual cycle disrupts productivity and attendance. Physical pains and emotional fluctuations create difficulties in concentrating or even attending school.
A woman’s menstrual cycle, or period, is a monthly phenomenon for most girls (with exceptions). Women experience a handful of symptoms before, during, and after their period — cramps, fatigue, nausea, irritability, and more.
Period symptoms are not a one size fits all situation. The severity and appearance of these symptoms vary for every woman.
Kate, sophomore, expressed that she often fell behind in class due to either missing school because of her period or struggling to be productive in class.
“Without fail, I will miss at least one day every time it is that time of the month. If I am not absent, I can not focus on my school work when I am trying to manage my pain at the same time,” she said.
Kate is one of many who experience intense cramping. The fatigue and nausea that follows are just as pernicious.
“At least on one day of my cycle, I will experience cramps that bring me to my knees. Obviously, I would not show up to school feeling like that,” she said.
On other days, she doesn’t feel her best, either.
“If I am capable of going to school, I will feel like crap the entire day. It’ll be a battle with trying not to fall asleep or trying not to throw up everywhere.”
On average, a woman’s period will last 5-7 days, equating to the length of a school week, if not more. On top of those days, period symptoms can appear days before the period or continue days after.
“I usually feel gross the days before. I’ll be irritable and even experience minor symptoms leading up to my period. The last place I want to be is school when I feel like that,” said Kate.
Feeling as she does, she struggles to bring her best work to the table. She fails to focus when she is distracted with period symptoms.
Counting up the days, Kate reported that every cycle, there are around five days that she is unproductive in school.
Emma, senior, averaged four days of decreased productivity every month due to her menstrual cycle.
“I am not allowed to miss school because of my period. It is useless for me to be at school, though,” she said.
Emma experiences cramping as well as mood changes. She struggles to focus in class while in pain or temperamental.
“I will be hunched over in my seat, trying to find a position that might ease my pain. Clearly, I would not be paying attention,” she said.
Emma sees no point in attending classes when she is feeling miserable. She fails to get any learning or work done. It is unreasonable to expect students to be productive in those conditions.
“Some period symptoms are the same that are experienced during an illness, which is a valid reason to be absent from school,” she said.
Fatigue, headaches, nausea, and pain are all symptoms that fall under a common illness. Many students are absent when experiencing those symptoms. It is acceptable to be absent while feeling like that. Why is absence while experiencing those same symptoms during a period have a stigma. While it is allowed, a stigma follows it.
“My parents, especially my dad, tell me it is not reasonable to be absent just because of my period. They tell me, ‘in the real world, you can’t miss work because you are having cramps’,” said Emma.
Many women are not comfortable sharing their period as a reason for absence. They often feel invalidated by peers, friends, parents, or even employers when they do so.
“I get replies such as, ‘it is just a period, suck it up’ or ‘it can’t be that bad. My period is never like that- you are exaggerating.’ If I could suck it up, I would,” said Kate.
While rare, Kate finds it upsetting that other women invalidate her period. She explained that it is mainly men, however.
“I don’t get why they think they understand. They treat periods like they are a joke,” she said.
Emma and Kate reported that they had been the butt of a period joke before. While it is “just a joke”, they still feel invalidated. They mentioned they were apprehensive about sharing anything period related when they only received negative, uneducated responses.
“If I am upset about anything or just having a bad day, the first thing I hear from my guy friends is, ‘I bet she is on her period.’ It doesn’t feel good,” said Emma.
“One time, a guy went through my bag and found a pouch with period products. He pulled one out and made a big scene about it. I stopped keeping products in my bag after that. I always kept them hidden on my person or relied on friends,” Kate said.
Both do not feel school is a safe space regarding menstrual cycles. They are on edge due to other students’ responses, especially the guys. Periods have a stigma of being gross and a mess of emotions.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a real thing. PMS symptoms are mood swings, anxiety, a depressive mood, irritability, social with-drawl, and crying spells. These also tend to follow predictable patterns.
This syndrome leads to the stereotype of women being emotional and irrational while menstruating. While this can apply, it does not invite comments about a woman PMS-ing or denigrating her when she is genuinely upset. Often, if a woman is legitimately upset with something, it will be passed as hormones and PMS-ing rather than taken seriously. With hormone fluctuations, constant pain, and overall not feeling well, it is understandable for someone to be irritable. Anyone would when they are feeling bad. However, this does not allow a person to dismiss women’s feelings because of it.
“It’s not that I am embarrassed by my period — it just has a bad stigma at school,” said Kate.
“It is upsetting that I do not want my name included in this. I feel like that just proves how bad stigma periods have,” Emma said.
No woman should feel she can not even mention the word period. If a woman is in so much discomfort it is impacting her school life, she should be able to be open about it. Instead, they stay silent about it, knowing the response they would receive would be unhelpful.
“I think a more in depth conversation about menstrual cycles and their impact should be discussed in health. Many guys are very uneducated. Even some women are, too,” Kate said.
Kate hopes that education could prevent snarky comments regarding a female’s period. She believes that it would help men understand what a woman is going through but also help women understand their bodies.
Another improvement Leesville could make is providing free period products. Some students either forget their products or can not afford them. They are left to search the school or use a makeshift product from toilet paper.
“Available products should be provided in the bathroom or at least in a known location. I should not have to scavenge the school for a product when I forget to bring some,” said Emma.
Emma and Kate praised the girls at Leesville for their willingness to help another girl. They said other girls did not hesitate to provide them with an extra product when they asked. However, they both agreed that products should be available so they do not need to ask around.
The Leesville community has some work they need to do. Leesville should be a comfortable community where there is no stereotype or stigma. The stereotype and stigma need to end. Better education on women’s struggles Leesville should consider better education on women’s struggle, along with providing free and available period products for students.
(names changed for privacy reasons)
Hi, I’m Kira. I am a senior and I am also a tripet!