As late as early 2012, expat females often informed incoming female coworkers to bring all they needed from home countries for their menstrual cycle. Though pads were available, tampons were hard to find in supermarkets, even in Beijing.
Just as a quick reminder about the Chinese landscape of service and shopping industries, this was before WeChat wallet was a necessity; before JD.com, Didi, and Taobao’s widespread use; and before even Uber had entered the Chinese market. So much has changed in China’s consumer market since then with more global products becoming available, but we have Fu Yuanhui to thank for the recent influx of menstrual products available.
As many have heard, she publicly attributed her lethargy and pain at the Olympic 4x100m medley relay to her period, though she didn’t blame her period for her less than desirable performance. With her comments stirring up interest in alternative period products and sexual health, tampons started appearing on shelves and soaking up some of the country’s red wave. Even better, menstrual cups can now be found to take care of the monthly cleaning cycle.
Many outside of the country, or those associated with older generations, find Fu’s proclamation a shock or as breaking norms, but those currently inside the country and associated with the younger generations aren’t so surprised.
Prompted by several conversations reflecting on public period talk, we reached out to several Chinese women to ask if it’s normal to share openly about menstrual cycle problems like discomfort, mood swings, or lethargy.
N. Li, 23 years old, said, “I think it’s pretty normal, just simply saying ‘I’m a little bit under the weather’ or ‘It’s the special day, I can’t do/eat anything.’”
“Personally, I do not think there is any problem, because my friends are very open minded,” said April Si, 25. “Before I went abroad, if I told a male friend about my period, I would feel very embarrassed. I never let anyone know about my period. But after my few years abroad, I found that talking about my period can be normal. At work, my colleagues are from all over the world, and they never shy away from this topic.”
Si did think that talking to a male boss about the topic might be too sensitive of a topic for her or her friends.
Melody Zhang, 33, jokes about her period with male and female friends, especially when it comes to the relationship with her husband. “He tells me, ‘You can’t have ice cream on your period!’ So I ask my friends to take me and buy ice cream so he won’t find out.”
Some still feel uncomfortable about the topic though. Amy N., 31, said that telling her female friends is one thing, but even telling her coworkers or boss about her cycle problems, regardless of gender, was strange.
Both Chinese men and foreign men have experienced Chinese women telling them about their period.
Wells J., 30, UK, told us, “More than one [female Chinese]teacher I work with has straightforwardly told me, ‘I’m tired. I’m on my period.’”
Andy S.*, 53, US, told us that his employees have told him they couldn’t come into work because they weren’t feeling well during their period, or the reason for an emotional outburst was because of a mood swing. “At first I was shocked, but then I actually was glad and felt the honesty was relieving.”
Wang Yousheng, 38, China, didn’t think keeping the topic quiet or opening up was a matter of good or bad, proper or not. “I totally respect a woman’s personal choice,” he added.
Photo: Built from 欠我兩千塊 (Flickr)