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Annie Brown

Annie Brown: Athletes breaking taboos around periods show how 'Victorian' our attitudes are

Star athletes like Dina Asher-Smith and Eilish McColgan are at last breaking the taboo around periods and sport. It seems such an obvious conversation to have had before now but it’s a reflection on just how Victorian our attitudes to women remain.

A few years ago, the word “period” wouldn’t even have been printed in a family newspaper and was a subject female journalists might discuss in the toilet, but never in the newsroom. I grew up in an era where sanitary products were slipped discreetly into a brown paper bag in supermarkets in case, heaven forfend, a fellow shopper might see them.

The potential repercussions of being spotted were never discussed. Perhaps we pictured a tannoy announcement of “bleeder in aisle two” as terrified shoppers grabbed the kids and recoiled in horror.

The euphemistic language women used around the globe for our “monthlies” is an indication of how taboo they have always been.They range from “the curse” (yes, it is), to “having the painters in” (slaughter red from the colour chart, madam?), “Aunt Flo”, “time of the month”, “the blob” and “Mother Nature’s gift” (can I return it?) and, as the ­Australians would have it, “shark week”.

In countries like Nepal young women are still thrown into sheds during their periods, lest they contaminate the family. But, in this country, young women are now privileged and ballsy enough to say, “No” to the sexist crap we had to tolerate.

Dina has made international headlines after calling for more period research in sport after cramping during the European Championships in Munich. Like she said, if sportsmen had periods, there would have been millions poured into researching the issue.

Imagine if male footballers had periods? They would be weeping, clutching their cramped abdomens and diving all over the place before they even left the dressing-room. Oh the horror of an entire football team of precious man-children menstrual synching.

Eilish has spoken about how, as a youngster, she suffered “excruciating cramps every month to the point where my body would go into a fever and start vomiting”. Both Dina and Eilish have had to pull out of important races during periods, without feeling they could explain why.

Unlike in the old Tampax adverts, periods do not turn women into roller-skating, sky-diving wonder women. Quite what the answer is for young female athletes we don’t yet know, as they will not want drugs as a solution.

Hence the need for research and hopefully we can even have a little female input into the problem. Given a man, Jason Grant, was appointed as a “period dignity officer” in Tayside, this may not be obvious.

I can sit and read about testicles but will never know how it feels to have dangly bits and why they must be scratched regularly in public. Similarly, Jason will never truly relate to ghastly tales of blood clots, leaking, staining, the cramps, the sweats, the chills, the ­constipation, the runs, the crying, the fainting, uterine contractions and the all-round cluster hell of periods.

It is beyond ridiculous to expect young women and girls to open up to a man about a subject which can invoke true pain, embarrassment and angst. Similarly, he is expected to discuss the menopause with women who can barely chat about it with each other, never mind a young guy.

He will never understand how the desert wind of menopause can strip a woman of all sense of femininity and self. In Japan, they used to take elderly women up a peak and leave them in a place dubbed “Granny Dump Mountain”.

That sums up where menopausal women feel they are at every day. If it wasn’t for outspoken heroines like Davina McCall, women would still accept menopause is just Mother Nature telling us to wander into the wilderness and die quietly.

Women like Dina, Eilish and Davina are helping remove the stigma of menstruation and menopause but progress has been slower than an Inuit granny sent into the snow to expire. It’s time we made the journey to change a sprint not a marathon – and let’s allow women to lead this particular race towards solutions.

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