Writing by Ella Katz // photograph by Ethan Cassidy
For those of us who bleed, periods can be hard. But they’re also a monthly(-ish) reality, so there are steps we’ve learnt to take to make things more comfortable. Extra rest, comfort food, warm baths – it’s a time to take it easy and be gentle with ourselves.
Only, none of these things are possible at a festival.
Last month, I went to an electronic music festival a few hours out of Naarm, Melbourne.
I do track my period, but I’m far from perfect at it. It wasn’t until I was crying to my partner because our gas stove wasn’t working that I realised my period might be on its way.
That night, as we headed to the dancefloor for a long stretch of dancing. My lower back was aching, my uterus felt like it was going to fall out of me, and my eyes were hot from trying to hold back tears.
I would’ve given anything for a bath, a cup of tea and an early night. But I made it work.
Women and people who bleed are no stranger to the concept of making things work. Over the years, we’ve made make-shift pads out of toilet paper, washed pairs of jeans in the sink and held them under a hand-dryer, popped a Panadol and tried to forget about the searing pain in our abdomen. We’ve pushed through with work or school when we really just needed to rest.
We’re an adaptable bunch. We have to be. But if over half the population has the potential to be bleeding at any given time, why aren’t events and festivals better equipped?
Toileting facilities at festivals are usually sub-par. Ranging from unpleasant to terrible, we laugh off the smelly portaloos, the long lines and the lack of toilet paper as ‘part of the experience’. But if you have your period, these can be real barriers to having a safe, healthy and fun weekend.
I spoke to others to hear about their experiences:
Tell me about your experience of bleeding at a festival
“There were no facilities, just the porta-potties. At least put a sanitary bin in there so I don’t have to walk out with a bloody tampon in hand to a line of people all waiting for me.” – Sally
“It’s an uncomfortable experience. It gets messy to do all the changing of tampons in the tent. It just makes me feel like I need to keep things secret and reinforces every terrible taboo I’m meant to feel about bleeding – which just adds a layer of bad vibes no one wants, needs or should experience at a festival.” – Nadja
“It’s really tricky to navigate having your period at a festival. I usually use a menstrual cup, but I use tampons at festivals (because there’s nowhere to wash a menstrual cup). I never see my period as a bad thing or an inconvenience except for at festivals when the necessary things like bins aren’t in place” – Brodie
What do festivals do well? What could they do better?
“Sometimes they have good bins in each stall and toilets that are regularly cleaned, with lots of toilet paper and they aren’t overflowing. Also having good hand washing and sanitising stations nearby makes a difference. One festival I went to even sold period products at the ‘general store’ tent.” – Brodie
“Maybe having better spots for period waste. Or giving out products if you’ve forgotten or don’t have any on you. Even selling menstrual cups or period undies could be good” – Nadja
I was bleeding at the same festival that Sally described. There were no bins in or near the cubicles, no toilet paper at times, no lighting and nowhere to wash hands that wasn’t a communal drinking fountain. This made my weekend uncomfortable and embarrassing at times.
It’s details like these that make people who bleed feel like they’re an afterthought for event organisers. They make us feel like these spaces aren’t designed for us – or for a bodily function that is so deeply ingrained in our realities. It’s also details like this that would be overwhelmingly simple to solve.
We know event organisers don’t set out to make their festivals uncomfortable. People organising events either lack the awareness or don’t see period-friendly facilities as a priority. Why spend the extra time and money when people who bleed have been making it work until now?
But the truth is period-friendly facilities at festivals aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities. Camping festivals are synonymous with grubbiness, and there’s something bonding about the experience of being your smelliest and most unkempt with your mates. But facilities that are unfit for people who bleed shouldn’t be ‘part of the experience’. We are a large group of punters who contribute to the festival’s energy – and we’re just as deserving of an enjoyable weekend as those who don’t bleed. And personally, I’m tired of making it work.