The Message Behind Mensplain

When I started Period Portraits, an incredibly powerful storytelling project focusing on challenging and breaking down the stigma of menstruation through vulnerable interviews and empowering photographed portraits, I slowly started getting questions from the men in my life about periods. Then one night I had dinner with an old friend and her husband and he suddenly whispered cautiously, like he had been mulling this over for awhile now, “What about Period Portraits?” I was shocked that he would even want to know about my work let alone talk about periods at the dinner table. I couldn’t believe that my work around menstruation had struck such a chord within him, but not only that, he felt simultaneously intrigued and comfortable enough to bring it up to me. He persisted and launched excitedly into stories about never understanding what menstruation was until he lived with his now wife (still sitting next to him with her jaw dropping to the table as she listened to this discussion).

The conversation went on as he shared more of his experiences and continued to ask me questions. It was the centerpiece of the evening. That night stuck with me for a long time. It was really the first time I was directly approached by a non-menstruating person with a deep curiosity in periods, and it all stemmed from seeing Period Portraits on his social media newsfeed. It made me realize that Period Portraits was going beyond a photo blog or just one-off events. It was changing behaviors, it was giving permission to talk about these taboo topics, and above all it was sparking curiosity.

Period Portraits is an evolving project, and I have known from the beginning I would never just stop at the stories of women and girls. This issue goes beyond gender when we give permission to all humans to engage, ask questions, and be vulnerable in starting a conversation on their experiences around menstruation and other reproductive health issues with no judgement. As my Masters of Public Health from George Washington University has taught me, behavior change involves engagement across the entire gender spectrum no matter the health issue.

The short video we created titled Mensplain means “menstruation explained” -- It is this idea that non-menstruators may think they know everything about periods, but when directly asked maybe they aren’t quite so sure. This isn’t their fault. Yes, in a sense we are making light of the situation, but it isn’t to be cruel. It is to highlight how disconnected we are in the information we share about sexual and reproductive health, and how there is such a big gap in the information being shared across the gender spectrum.

I challenge non-menstruators to ask questions about periods. Share your stories of periods, the good, the bad, the bloody. Alternatively, I give permission to menstruators to share their experiences, and provide information about their period journey. Let’s make periods so normal that a dinner table conversation about periods is like talking about the weather.  

Please share the video with you friends, family, and someone you wouldn't normally talk about periods with! Tag us @goperiodportraits and e-mail us your experiences at goperiodportraits@gmail.com 

 

Tara Pokras