A group of 8th grade girls at Bronx Prep Middle School in New York made an award-winning podcast about a taboo subject: menstruation.
The NPR Student Podcast Challenge winner, entitled Sssh! Periods, is a tight production. It features seven girls having a casual conversation about the realities, pitfalls, and hypocrisies they’ve encountered surrounding their periods. They met every Thursday this spring to produce the podcast. The project was spearheaded by English teacher Shehtaz Huq, and she’s beside herself about the win.
“We spent four months brainstorming, writing, rewriting, editing, re-recording, and producing the podcast,” Huq told Parentology. “When I heard we’d won I broke down and cried. I cried the day NPR came to interview us. I cried this morning when I heard the segment on Morning Edition.”
Huq’s emotion is understandable. “It’s remarkable enough that seven eighth graders from the Bronx beat out 25,000 other students,” she says. “It’s another thing entirely when you think about the taboo around the subject of periods and how beautifully the girls were able to articulate their thoughts and concerns. “
According to NPR, finding a safe space every Thursday for this wasn’t always easy, as even some of their teachers were uncomfortable with the subject.
The girls took a poll, and found that discomfort extended to the students.
“Sixty-seven percent of female students polled at Bronx Prep Middle School said they felt uncomfortable discussing their periods at school because it’s not anybody’s business,” student Jasmin Acosta says in the podcast.
That hesitance can lead to embarrassment and inconveniences.
The girls recount various challenges, that range from asking permission in the classroom to use the bathroom during their periods (permission denied!), to the reluctance on the part of older generations to discuss menstruation without discomfort or euphemisms.
Periods Aren’t an Illness
Much of the podcast discussion centers around what Period.org calls “menstrual etiquette,” namely “the social rule and normative expectations by which women, girls, and those who menstruate come to understand what is considered appropriate behavior around their menstruating bodies.”
One of the girls feels her female relatives’ reticence and shame acutely, recounting an experience with her older aunt.
“I was at my aunt’s house and she was like ‘are you sick?’ And I was like, no, and then she looked my private area and she like ‘are you sick?’ And I was like oh, yeah,” the 8th grader said in the podcast. “ Like, she couldn’t even say the word ‘menstruation,’ because we do have a word for it in Spanish, but she couldn’t even use it. And I was confused. Because it’s not right because she should be able to just say ‘menstruation.’ It’s a not a bad thing, and it’s not supposed to make people feel shame.”
Addressing The Pink Tax
The Pink Tax, a.k.a. The Tampon Tax or Luxury Tax, refers to the fact that menstrual hygiene products are not tax exempt (unlike other medical necessities). While some states either don’t have a sales tax or provide exemptions for menstrual products, New York isn’t among them. The tax strikes one girl as unjust.
“When you go to buy period products, it’s not fair you have to pay extra for a Pink Tax when it’s really not a luxury,” she said.
According to the podcast, “period poverty” hits 1.2 billion women worldwide, because they lack the funds to purchase products at all. And in their community, the girls sometimes see this firsthand, in homes where single mothers depend upon food stamps and often don’t have extra dollars for tampons or pads, either for themselves or their daughters.
Sssh! Periods won first place over almost 6,000 entries nationally, from over 25,000 students. It’s been an empowering time for the girls. Huq hopes the momentum will continue with future classes..
“Unfortunately, the girls will be moving on to different high schools from this point on,” Huq explained. “One is moving to Florida, another to New Jersey. I would love to continue this campaign to end period shame with the rising 7th and 8th grade girls next school year.”