Menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life, with 26% of the global population (about half of the female population) are in the reproductive stage of life. Still, menstruation is stigmatized all over the world, leading to damaging misconceptions and even discrimination. Although many educate girls on the topic, boys are very often left out of the equation, which can increase the stress and shame girls may experience as they reach adolescence.  One mom decided to break the taboo of periods with her teenage sons by having them keep emergency period supplies in their backpacks.
Mom Breaks the Stigma of Periods
Tara Ahrens has three children, Elijah, 16, Micah, 15, and a 10-year-old daughter. She decided to break the stigma of female development, not only by talking about it openly, but by including her sons when appropriate.
When they all went back-to-school shopping, this included purchasing the daughter’s first bra. Tara snapped a picture of the boys and posted it on Facebook with a caption that said, “My teenage boys helped me shop today, which included buying their little sister’s first bras … because breasts happen.”
She added that “both boys carry a tampon and a pad in their backpacks in case one of their friends needs one. Just a mom out here, trying to erase gender taboo!!”
The post received thousands and likes and comments, mostly positive.
It prompted many middle-aged women to recount their own period horror stories, when they were stuck without any feminine products in an embarrassing situation. One woman shared that she bled through her clothes in her youth and a male friend gave her his sweatshirt to tie around her waist. She always remembered that kindness. Most of the stories, however, were full of shame, helplessness, and humiliation.
Many women shared stories of husbands and fathers who “would NEVER have gone to the store to buy me period supplies.”
“Some people were downright offended that I was attempting to change the age-old ways we’ve handled periods,” writes Tara in her blog post on Café Mom. “One thing is clear: Menstruation is still a major gender taboo that we have not let go of—but I’m doing my best to raise men who see past it.”
She explained to her sons that bleed-throughs happen and how embarrassing and traumatizing they could be. A little kindness in that situation can go a long way. She encouraged her sons to be that kind person.
After all, menstruation is a healthy sign for female bodies. There’s no reason to be embarrassed by it.
Her Sons Keep Tampons and Pads in Their Schoolbags
Tara suggested her sons keep feminine products in their bags after reading an article where a woman on the Appalachian Trail got a tampon from a male hiker. He said, “It’s not a big deal; I grew up with a mom and sisters…” After that, she nonchalantly said her sons should keep a tampon in their backpacks in case one of their female friends need it. Being teenagers, they didn’t respond.
However, they changed their minds after one of Elijah’s friends had a bleed-through. Her friends offered her tampons, but she only used pads, perhaps for religious reasons. After that, Elijah made sure that he and Micah had pads in their bags.
The boys’ high school do not offer or sell pads or tampons, which can be problematic with a 60% female population.
Micah told all of his close female friends that he always kept a sweatshirt in his locker and tampon in his schoolbag. “You know, in case you have an emergency,” he said to them. “My mom wanted you to be covered.” He reported that the girls acted a little embarrassed but accepted it.
Elijah took it one step further. He informed all his friends, the girls and the boys. A few male friends mocked him, but most were cool with it. His female friends were more encouraging; some told him he should keep some products in his car too.
Tara explains that she teaches her teenagers what is a big deal—like keeping friends safe at parties and being aware of your environment—and things that are not—like periods and bleed –throughs.
“As you normalize these things in your own family by regularly discussing them, they become normal to your kids, too,” writes Tara. “It’s my hope that kids of all genders, including transgender kids, know that my boys are a safe place to get period supplies, should they ever need them. But it is an even bigger hope of mine that these small actions change the way kids in our high school handle and view the whole subject.” 
Tara Ahrens and her husband, Lucas, were interviewed on the Kelly Clarkson show about her post.  Lucas is supportive of his wife’s approach and is confused by the negative feedback her post received. He says “if someone needs help, you help them; that’s just being a good human.” 
Raising Boys to Become Good Men
Some boys are too shy to offer products to their female friends, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be educated on the subject. This is just one small example of teaching young boys to become caring men.
Michael Kimmel on the Cut asked thousands of young men and boys around the world, “What does it mean to be a good man?”
The answers varied but this was the consensus:
- Being responsible
- Being a good provider, protector
- Doing the right thing
- Putting others first, sacrifice
- Standing up for the little guy
Then Kimmel asked “if any of those ideas or words or phrases occur to you when I say, ‘Man the f*** up! Be a real man!’” All the boys declared that completely different. Their definition of being a “real” man was as follows:
- Never cry
- Be strong
- Don’t show your feelings
- Play through pain
- Suck it up
- Win at all costs
- Be aggressive
- Get rich
- Get laid
Most people would agree that the first list sounds a lot healthier and how they would want their sons to act. Then we should encourage them to act that way. Boys usually learn these traits from their fathers, their coaches, their brothers, and from their male friends. 
Help them through difficult feelings instead of telling them they shouldn’t cry, and teach them to identify different emotions. Tell them it’s okay to feel afraid.
Don’t classify his interests by manliness. Support his goals, even if it’s not something you personally enjoyed when you were at that age.
Don’t let misbehavior go unchallenged. Use these opportunities to teach them empathy; don’t let it pass because “boys will be boys.” And while you’re at it, teach them about consent — for those they interact with and for themselves. Boys can be victims too.
Hug them as much as you hug your daughters, even when they are older. Boys often feel like they need to push away affection for the sake of “manliness” but the truth is, they need human touch as much as anyone. They need to know that they have your unconditional love and that you will be there for them when they need you. 
 “FAST FACTS: Nine things you didn’t know about menstruation.” UNICEF. May 25, 2018
 “My Boys Carry ‘Emergency’ Period Supplies in Their Backpacks & Will Be Better Men for It.” Tara Ahrens. Café Mom. September 27, 2019
 “Obsessed: These Teen Boys Carry Feminine Products In Their Backpacks.” The Kelly Clarkson Show. Facebook. October 28, 2019
 “These awesome teens take tampons to school to help their friends in case of an ’emergency’.” Tod Perry. Upworthy. October 1, 2019
 “Raise Your Son to Be a Good Man, Not a ‘Real’ Man.” Michael Kimmel. The Cut. March 5, 2018
 “8 Things You Must NEVER Do When Raising Boys.” Joanna Schroeder. Good Man Project. July 28, 2017