50 Years of Period Culture
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50 Years of Period Culture; Unpacking Shame, Stigma and the Right to Proper Care

Period stigma is nowhere near gone. But in the last 50 years, there have been moments—in innovations, political acts, and cultural contributions—that continue to pave the way for a period experience free from shame, stigma, and inequity. Let’s do a recap!

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    50 Years of Period Culture

    As modern-day menstruators, we look around and see menstrual cups and period panties, content creators dressed up as vulvas and period blood emojis in our text chains. We’re seeing period sex in movies like Fair Play and Saltburn. While it’s certainly not perfect—and shame and period stigma still exist—we've come a long way. There have been many political, cultural, and innovation milestones related to menstruation over the last half century. Here’s a look at just a handful of revolutionary moments that shifted society’s perspective on periods.

    Period Innovations

    The Tassette Cup

    In the 1970s, Leona Chalmers, the inventor of the first ever reusable menstrual cup, successfully hit the mainstream market with the Tassette menstrual cup. It was designed to provide longer and more convenient protection. And even though it continued to receive pushback based on shame and stigma around the insertion of the product into the vagina, her invention paved the way for future reusable menstrual products.

    The DIVA Cup

    The DIVA Cup was then released to the mainstream market in 2003 and quickly became synonymous with menstrual cups everywhere. Both innovations helped set the stage for all the reusable period care options we now have available to us.



    In 1971, the famous Women and Their Bodies was re-titled to Our Bodies, Ourselves. The collective at Emmanuel College worked alongside doctors at the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective for several years drafting an educational resource on women’s bodies, lives, sexuality and relationships, and to encourage conversation about what had been learned. It was a first of this kind of resource for girls and women. Renaming it signalled shifts towards greater autonomy. Based on popularity and usefulness, it was then updated and re-released every 4-7 years.

    Reproductive Health and the Right to Choose

    The Roe v. Wade trial in 1973 was monumental for women’s rights and bodily autonomy. This ongoing struggle for reproductive freedom started with Norma McCorvey, whose life was at the centre of it all. When Norma McCorvey became pregnant with her third child, she sought an abortion. Illegal in Texas at the time, she was referred to attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s anti-abortion law, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and they won.

    However, even though she helped secure abortion rights for many American women at the time, the trial wasn’t finalized until nearly two and a half years after she gave birth. While our bodily awareness continues to increase and our conversations about menstruation help our fight for proper care, the back-and-forth fight for bodily autonomy rages on.

    Mainstream Moments

    Flipping the Script

    Gloria Steinem was pivotal in written discourse around women’s rights. Her 1978 satirical piece, If Men Could Menstruate, posed the question of what the world would be if men had our reproductive bodies.

    “Boys would mark the onset of menses... Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free … In fact, if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever. If we let them.” - If Men Could Menstruate, October 1978.

    This article was extremely controversial at the time and, as a result, helped pave the way for creative and cultural commentary to come.

    Breaking the Internet

    Social media in the 2000s made way for viral menstrual moments, like the widely shared image of Rupi Kaur lying in bed with a period leak in 2015. This moment of cultural activism nearly broke the internet. Kaur fought an Instagram ban and won, keeping her controversial piece in its place, working to silence cultural taboos and sexism.  In 2017, Kiran Gandhi, an American musician and activist, made headlines for running the Boston Marathon while free bleeding. She was tired of her period getting in the way. Sharing the reality of her experience increased awareness for people who menstruate, especially those experiencing period poverty with limited access to necessary resources.   In an effort to fight period shame and stigma, Nadya Okamoto, founder of PERIOD.org, dresses as the “Period Fairy,” sparking conversations about periods and handing out free products.

    Menstrual milestones still have a long way to go. But with major period care brands standing firm against Tampon Tax, viral moments in the fight for tampon efficacy on social media, and mainstream movies treating period sex as natural and even sensual (see Fair Play and Saltburn)—the climate continues to change. If we continue to push, maybe someday menstruation can be treated as the normal necessity of life that it is.


    • “Bathtubs and Graves: What Exactly Happens in Those Shocking ‘Saltburn‘ Sex Scenes?” TODAY.com, 28 Nov. 2023, www.today.com/popculture/saltburn-sex-scenes-explained-rcna127065.
    • “HOME.” Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, www.menstruationresearch.org/.
    • “History & Legacy.” Our Bodies Ourselves Today, www.ourbodiesourselves.org/about-us/our-history/.
    • Ma, Brooke LaMantia, Julie. “25 Famous Women on Periods.” The Cut, 2 Oct. 2023, www.thecut.com/article/25-famous-women-on-periods.html. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.
    • O’Brien, Claire. “The History of the Period Movement.” Active Iron, 23 Sept. 2022, www.activeiron.com/us/blog/the-history-of-the-period-movement/.
    • “There’s Now a Period Emoji for That Time of the Month.” TIME, 6 Feb. 2019, time.com/5523298/period-emoji/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.
    • Witchel, Alex. “AT HOME WITH: Norma McCorvey; of Roe, Dreams and Choices.” The New York Times, 28 July 1994, www.nytimes.com/1994/07/28/garden/at-home-with-norma-mccorvey-of-roe-dreams-and-choices.html.