It’s not every week that you get to write the words ‘Philip Hammond’ and ‘period’ in the same sentence, so when the opportunity arises, a woman has to grab it by the… what, exactly? The horns? Certainly not the balls.
Never mind the idiom – what is far more important is that I have the chance to do a whole column on two of my favourite subjects, menstruation and the chancellor.
(Does anyone remember, back in 2016, when an old girlfriend of Hammond’s revealed that he was an excellent kisser, and Richard Madeley, an old school friend, recalled that the chancellor “looked like Johnny Depp back in his pomp”? No? Just me?).
Anyway, this week the chancellor announced in his spring statement that the Government would be introducing a free sanitary protection scheme in all English secondary schools, in an attempt to end period poverty.
The move is a major win for the country’s girls, but you would be forgiven if you missed it in the midst of all the other major announcements coming out of parliament this week.
Then again, even in a ‘quiet’ week (does anyone remember one of those?), the news that teenage girls have won the right go to school without fear of bleeding all over their uniform would probably sink without trace, too, given the spectacular level of squeamishness we still seem to have about simple biological facts.
The menstrual cycle is routinely dismissed or ignored despite the fact that without it, none of us would exist. Though we now accept that women can run countries, companies and marathons, the biological markers of our sex are still deemed too embarrassing to talk about properly in public.
We are embarrassed when we get our periods, and then we are embarrassed when we stop getting our periods, and in between these two… well, periods, we are expected to deal with the monthly shedding of the womb lining and all the other bodily events that surround it without making a fuss.
If we pipe up and complain about cramps, or the sometimes intense feelings that are symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, we are dismissed and told it is “just” our hormones, as if hormones weren’t the most powerful chemical messengers known to humankind.
And yet I’ve often thought that if men got periods, there would be TV programmes about menstruation, in which presenters like Jeremy Clarkson road tested all the different forms of sanitary protection on the market, and talked passionately about the technology behind the mooncup.
Instead, women feel obliged to hide tampons up their sleeves as they make their way to the bathroom, just in case this symptom of being born female offends anyone. It’s enough to make me want to run through the office swirling tampons above my head like pom poms, screaming ‘I’M BLEEDING!’
Tampons are, of course, classed by the EU as a ‘luxury’ item, which for me is reason enough to Brexit. The notion that I should feel in some way lucky because I don’t have to walk around for one week of each month bleeding onto my clothes would be laughable were it not so offensive and serious.
When tampons are treated like an extravagance, families living in poverty often put sanitary protection at the bottom of their list of priorities, meaning that for an estimated one in ten young girls, three months of each calendar year is spent trying to work out ways of not feeling desperately uncomfortable. For some, that means missing school entirely until their period is over.
Amika George, the woman who started the freeperiod movement from her bedroom at the age of 17, tells me that she often receives messages from men stating that “if a woman can’t afford tampons, then she needs to get another job or something.”
Like many of the other period protestors out there, she is tired of having to justify her needs as a woman; she’s done with being made to feel that ready access to tampons and sanitary towels is something petty, on the same level – or actually, less important than – the football scores on a Saturday afternoon.
The truth is, none of us – male or female – benefit from this head in the sand approach to menstruation, because it builds resentment between the genders when, on this issue at the very least, there really needn’t be any.
The menstrual cycle is a fact of life that should not be hushed up and ignored. I never thought I would write these words, but when it comes to periods, we could all do with being a bit more Philip Hammond.