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Natasha Radmehr: Having a visible male talking about periods could be a powerful way to end the stigma

© Claire Grainger PRJason Grant
Jason Grant

At first, I was outraged. This week, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free – brilliant – but the achievement was somewhat sullied when Jason Grant, a person who has never menstruated, was appointed to the newly created role of period dignity officer.

I was bleeding so heavily when the news broke that I couldn’t leave my house, which did little to quell my incredulity. How could a man even begin to understand what this is like, I grumbled, let alone educate others about it?

“This is f****** ridiculous,” tweeted former tennis pro Martina Navratilova, getting straight to the point. “Have we ever tried to explain to men how to shave or how to take care of their prostate or whatever? This is absurd.”

Several social media commentators described Grant, who will be the period dignity regional lead officer for the Tay region, as a “menstruation mansplainer”, while the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “I think there should be a priority of having women in place in these posts.”

It didn’t take long before I started to feel bad for Grant, who by this point had probably fashioned a balaclava out of Always pads to hide behind. After all, how many men do you know who would apply for a job that requires them to chat to young people about periods?

Many of the guys I know exist in a state of blissful, perhaps wilful, ignorance where menstruation is concerned.

Last week, a man I love dearly – who is otherwise very smart – asked me if women need to take their tampons out every time they pee.

Last year, a YouGov survey revealed 52% of men believed a typical menstrual cycle lasted between one and six days (try 21 to 35, lads) and 65% had no idea what a menstrual cup was. Hint: you don’t your tea in it.

Sure, this lack of awareness could be viewed as evidence men shouldn’t be getting anywhere near a role that involves promoting access to period products.

That was certainly my own knee-jerk reaction. But the more I think about it, the more I find an equally compelling argument in favour of our nation’s first period dignity officer being a man.

Having a visible male figure chatting openly about periods could prove to be a powerful method of destigmatisation.

If Grant is speaking to people of all genders about menstruation and the menopause, he’s sending a clear message: this affects half of the population, and it is therefore something we should all care about, even if we don’t all experience it.

There’s little wonder so many of my male peers are still clueless about periods – when we were at school, only girls were given “the talk”.

Segregating education about women’s health and only ever having female-presenting people speak about it publicly only serves to make men think it’s something they don’t need to be concerned about. But they do. We all do.

The menstruation education researcher, Chella Quint, who is based in New York, agrees. “I think we need to talk about how to open up this dialogue and include as many people as possible, and this appointment is a positive step,” she said.

Obviously, Grant has to do it properly, and that means sensitively.

He may never experience the hot, twisting pain of period cramps or the heart-sink of bleeding through your trousers on public transport, but I hope he will be listening intently to the perspectives of those who have and using what he has learned to shape his discussions.

He has a difficult road ahead and I understand why people have reservations, but let’s not overlook the ground-breaking progress Scotland is making to tackle period poverty and awareness.

I’m toasting to that – and, don’t worry, I’m not drinking out of a menstrual cup.