“An Irish friend of mine told me that, when the very first tampon advert was shown on Irish television, his mother, avoiding the eyes of her family, stood up and left the room muttering ‘Ah, there’s no secrets any more.’ From Frank Skinner “Dispatches From the Sofa”
If you look up the word ‘period’ in the BDA’s Dictionary of British Sign Language you’ll be directed to a sign using a flat hand tapping the mouth and chin twice (ref 1265). It’s interesting, and says quite a lot about this subject, that this sign has alternative meanings of private or secret.
And the ‘p-word’ itself wasn’t even mentioned in a TV advert until 1985.
In the hearing world, there are hundreds of terms used so that people don’t have to say the actual word. They range from the classic ‘time of the month’ and ‘the curse’ to the colourful ‘riding the crimson wave’ or ‘having the painters and/or decorators in’, and many more intimate and less printable options too.
In this video, Rubbena tells us that this is also true in sign language where people have local/regional signs, descriptive signs as well as more personal and family ones.
Does any of this matter? Do tell us what you think.
We’ve found that this confusion and avoidance can actually get in the way of talking about related issues and, at the most basic level, providing education about what happens to bodies during puberty. For example, how do teachers in schools cope? Can the use of graphic or descriptive signs cause embarrassment and prevent discussion with young people? Are some of the signs simply scary? What sort of expectation would the use of inappropriate signs raise if used with younger boys and girls?
Of course, each group in our workshops is unique and we’ve learned to use this type of issue to raise awareness and encourage contributions, and so that we know the starting point for the session. BSL is a rich language and constantly developing, but should there be some nationally-agreed vocabulary which can be used in educational and similar settings? Let us know what you think?
If you want to comment in sign language, just upload your video to a sharing site like YouTube or Vimeo, send us the link and we’ll add it to the threaded discussion.