Anita Diamant had written about periods before — the title of her beloved novel, “The Red Tent,” referred to the place where women were sequestered by a society that demanded their removal during menstruation — but in her latest book, “Period. End of Sentence,” Diamant turns to her nonfiction side, writing of a movement to bring equality, access, and education about this most natural of bodily functions.
She was inspired in part by news coverage of women who had died in Nepal after being consigned to a menstrual hut. So when the filmmakers behind “Period. End of Sentence,” the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary, asked her to consider writing a book about the topic, Diamant said yes. The result is a book that, while not exhaustive, she said, “outlines the issues, and that includes lack of education, lack of access to products, the barriers to life that menstruation can throw up for people.”
What all of these problems share at their root, Diamant added, is the culture of taboo that surrounds the topic. “It’s really about creating this counter-narrative to shame,” she said. “Why are we ashamed, how do we fight this?”
Menstrual shame has its roots in patriarchal systems in which women are seen as “the other” and women’s bleeding is coded as dirty or polluted. Diamant writes about some cultures, such as the Hoopa Tribe in California and the Maori people of New Zealand, where “menstruation and fertility are honored and celebrated,” often with rituals that mark a girl’s first menstruation.
Those old taboos are facing renewed opposition, Diamant said, from a younger generation speaking up against the exclusion, embarrassment, and shame so many of their foremothers experienced. They advocate for free period products in public bathrooms, for instance. “If we don’t carry toilet paper into the bathroom, why are we forcing people to carry these other products into the bathroom?” Diamant asked.
“It’s a really exciting time,” she said. “It’s a cultural shift.”