For many girls, getting their period still feels shameful and confusing. Kathaleen Restitullo, 13, a student at Bronx Prep Middle School in New York City, remembers waiting in a lunch line when a boy behind her pointed out that she had an accident. She was mortified and didn't know what was going on.
“I’m just like ‘What? Why do I have blood on my pants? What happened to me?’” she recalled.
Her experience, and the conversations it sparked in the classroom, led to creation of the podcast "Sssh! Periods," where hosts, all 13 or 14 years old, Raizel Febles, Kathaleen Restitullo, Kassy Abad, Caroline Abreu, Jasmin Acosta, Ashley Amankwah and Litzy Encarnacion from Bronx Prep Middle School, chat candidly about menstruation.
Their podcast won the grand prize for middle school students during NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge. But it's more than just an award-winning listen: It helps the girls and their peers feel less squeamish about menstruation while providing real information about periods.
“Sixty-seven percent of female students polled at Bronx Prep Middle School said that they feel uncomfortable discussing their periods at school because it’s not anybody’s business,” Acosta, one of the hosts, said in a podcast. “(While) 33% of students said periods were a dirty topic. Young girls carry this stigma into adulthood.”
Confronting period shame
In February, the documentary "Period. End of Sentence.", where women in India tell of the stigma, shame and lack of access to sanitary protection they must confront every month, won an Academy Award. Earlier this year, Plan International UK, a children’s charity, succeeded in creating and getting a period emoji added to phone keyboards.
The charity advocated for the emoji after finding that as many as two-thirds of women shy away from talking about their periods with men while more than one in 10 women don’t even broach the topic with their female friends. That’s one of the reasons why Bronx Prep Middle School teacher, Shehtaz Huq, thought her students should talk more openly about menstruation.
“Raizel came in one day screaming about her period and how mad she was about not being able to go the bathroom. And then we’re like ‘We should make a podcast about that.’ And so that’s what we did,” Huq said.
Changing the conversation
While winning the contest was exciting, the girls like that their podcast empowers them to talk about their bodies and their experiences accurately.
“I’m able to talk about it more. Like, for example, I don’t have to say that I’m sick anymore. I can say, ‘I am on my period.’ And my mom’s very proud of me to be able to speak about something that she wasn’t able to talk about with her mom,” Caroline Abreu, 14, one of the hosts said.
She added that she is happy the podcast is challenging norms:
“It’s also a lack of knowledge given about the subject because no one really talks about it. It’s seen as un-ladylike to talk about it.”
They hope their podcast changes the conversation about periods and encourages people to see periods as natural — not disgusting. The students have noticed that men have a double standard about blood, which prevents them from understanding periods and women's bodies.
“You see movies where they’re fighting and stuff and there’s blood everywhere … Most of them don’t seem grossed out by that. But the fact that blood’s coming out of something that’s usually sexualized, it’s like ‘Ew, no,’” Abreu said.
The teens are proud of what they're doing to address period stigma.
“It just makes us so happy cause, we’re actually making a change and our podcast informed a lot of people that periods are natural,” one student host said.