How Heather Watson talked about her periods, and broke sports “last taboo”
If you’ve studied in a Convent school with a male PE teacher, chances are you’ve used your periods as an excuse to get away from throwball practise.
“I can’t, this week”, you say, with a half sigh while your group of girlfriends sniggers knowingly in the background.
“Ok, sit out for just this time”, says Mr.PE – uncomfortable at the idea of having any conversation whatsoever related to women and their magical mysterious moon cycles.
And as you while away the forty minutes reading a Mills and Boons in your infirmary’s shade, the only thought in your head is how you will get away with three more practise sessions before you can use this unimpeachable excuse again.
But women athletes- even if they may “bleed blue” in the support of their favourite teams- never bleed, or at least talk about the misery of those days when they are just too tired to jog a mile, much less run and grunt through a court.
And that is why young Heather Watson broke “sports’ last taboo” at the Australian Open this week when she admitted after her loss that her performance may have been affected by her menstrual cycle.
“I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things.”
Do you remember a woman athlete admitting to suffering from PMS before this?
It’s not like this is the first time something like this would have likely happened. With two-week long tournaments of 128 women, every Grand Slam likely has a few athletes suffering from cramps, bloats, and the general ill-feeling that affects some women when they are menstruating. But surprisingly, this has never come up as a possible reason for poor performance in a post match conference (definitely not as often as the presence or absence of the athlete’s girlfriend/boyfriend has!)
As Annabel Croft, a former British World No. 1 tells The Guardian:
“It was one of those things that was all hushed up. I remember being on court feeling dizzy, disorientated, tearful, then coming off court, going into the locker room, and finding my period had started – and realising, ah, that’s why I was all over the place.”
And what about a country like ours, where (a study shows), that 75% of the women still cover their sanitary pads in a brown paper/ black bag when transporting it from the grocer’s to home? Not just athletes, but women from all walks of life carry the “shameful secret” of their biology like a curse for a week every month.
In the same Convent School that we mentioned in the beginning, a naive thirteen year old once asked her English Teacher- “If us girls have periods, what do the boys have?”, to be told – “Ohh you just need to suffer once a month, boys need to shave every day!”.
NO- We need to shave our armpits, upper lips, arms and legs about just as often (per square inch) as a boy shaves his tiny face.
NO- because that’s not what you tell a class of thirteen year olds forming nascent ideas about sex and reproduction.
The truth is that Heather Watson deserves credit, for talking about a simple fact that every individual above 14 should know of, and not hiding it from a squeamish world. Her guilelessness will perhaps encourage more women athletes to fight for better medication to fight period pain, and better toilet breaks and clothing that makes playing while menstruating more comfortable. Closer home, the wonderful team at Menstrupedia is doing a great job at breaking taboos and myths around menstruation that have filtered down through centuries among Indian men and women.
So the next time you are menstruating, and someone ask you if something’s wrong- don’t couch your discomfort under terms such as “monthly sickness, lady business, my red river of sorrow, or worse- I must have eaten something dodgy last night”. Instead, smile and say. “Nothing to worry about, it’s just my periods”