Flow Incognito: the Menstrual Concealment Imperative

Today, we’re diving deep into a topic that’s often kept under wraps: the concealment imperative surrounding menstruation. So, what exactly does this refer to? According to scholar Jill M. Wood who coined the term, the menstrual concealment imperative is the societal pressure for menstruators to hide their periods, like it’s some kind of shameful secret. Yep, we’re talking about the fact society seems to think it’s necessary for people who menstruate to hide something as natural as breathing

Enter scholars Crawford, Menger, and Kaufman. They’ve dived deep into this topic, highlighting how menstruation falls into the category of “concealable stigma,” meaning it’s something that’s not obvious unless the person affected chooses to reveal it. Menstruation is a complex source of stigma because in many societies, it has become socially invisible, unless the menstruating person in question does not have access to adequate menstrual management products and care. The stigma of menstruation involves half of the population for a large proportion of their lives. In many cultures, menstruation is seen as embarrassing or even dirty, leading people to feel compelled to keep it hidden away

Here’s the deal: this decision to hide one’s menstrual status and follow the menstrual concealment imperative isn’t really a choice. There is a significant risk that people would be judged as inept, emotional, unappealing, and dirty if they do not hide the fact that they are on their periods. Wood argues that this concealment is actually a form of societal control over people’s bodies. Menstrual concealment cannot be considered a valid option for people if choosing otherwise comes at a price. People will only be able to freely decide whether or not to conceal their periods when there is no societal pressures and stigmas that pressure them to do so.

When individuals feel the immense need to conceal something as natural as their menstrual cycles, it can result in being extremely focused on how they are being perceived and absorbing negative beliefs about menstruation into their own perceptions and attitudes. Think about it: if we are made to feel intense levels of shame, and use a lot of energy to hide our own biological functions, how does that affect our confidence, energy and agency in other areas of life? Author May Ling Su says that “[[w]e’re basically waging war against ourselves.” Internal war just to exist as a menstruating person in society? No thank you!

But fear not – there’s hope on the horizon. Through dialogue, and representation in art and popular culture, among other avenues, we can challenge these harmful norms and start a conversation about what should and shouldn’t be hidden. By shining a spotlight on menstruation and breaking the silence, we can empower people to embrace their bodies and reject the menstrual concealment imperative. By naming it and recognizing it, we are already diminishing its power.

So there you have it, folks – the breakdown on the concealment imperative and why it’s high time we brought it out into the open. Let’s keep the conversation going and support each other in breaking free from these outdated norms. Until next time, stay curious!


Crawford, Mary, et al. “‘This Is a Natural Process’: Managing Menstrual Stigma in Nepal.” Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol. 16, no. 4, 2014, pp. 426–439. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24697583/ 

Dickson, EJ. “The Art of Menstrala.” Guernica, 13 February. 2017, www.guernicamag.com/ej-dickson-the-art-of-menstrala/

Green-Cole, Ruth. “Painting Blood: Visualising Menstrual Blood in Art.” The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, by Chris Bobel, Springer, Singapore, 2020, pp. 787–801. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7 

Wood, Jill M. “(In)Visible Bleeding: The Menstrual Concealment Imperative” The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, by Chris Bobel, Springer, Singapore, 2020, pp. 319–336. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7