Lehigh’s Center for Gender Equity’s “The Last Pair” podcast aims to facilitate open, healthy conversation and educate people about reproductive health.
Despite 1.8 billion people menstruating every month, Lily MacLean, ’24, host of the podcast, said she finds that menstruation is not a publicly discussed or socially acknowledged topic. She started the show in 2021 as part of an effort to change this.
“A lot of times when I talk to people who don’t menstruate, it’s honestly shocking how little they know,” MacLean said. “If I start talking about my period, they shut it down right away because they get uncomfortable. But this is the reality for a lot of people, and it’s not ‘bad,’ we just need to be educated on it.”
MacLean said the title is a play on many women’s experience of bleeding through pairs of underwear while on their period. She said the title aims to make a serious topic more approachable.
By having frank conversations, MacLean said she wants to show people there is no shame in what they’re experiencing.
“The Last Pair” featured Shoshana Bidner, ‘25, in October 2022, during which she and MacLean talked about their first period experiences and period horror stories.
Bidner said although the conversation felt natural, she couldn’t believe they were having the discussion so openly.
“Having other people hear a conversation like that can help them start to talk about it and break the stigma even more,” Bidner said. “(MacLean) is always open to talk about things like periods and sexual health. I think it’s very important to have someone to say the things that people might not want to say but definitely need to be heard.”
Bidner said stigmas surrounding menstruation show up in different ways on Lehigh’s campus.
As one example, she said, people are often encouraged to stay home and rest when they are sick, but there is pressure to suppress the side effects of menstruation to avoid being seen as overdramatic.
As a project planner on the body positivity team for the center, MacLean said she created her podcast in 2021 to share information with the community in a different format from campus events.
She said using a podcast as a medium makes the information ever available and extends her reach beyond Lehigh’s campus.
“The accessibility of knowledge is what the (center) is all about and what the podcast does,” MacLean said.
Rita Jones, director of the center, said the center is grounded in feminist praxis that follows a three-part approach to inform, engage and act.
She said “The Last Pair” embodies their approach to inform the community, as MacLean is taking initiative to inform the audience with researched information, and the audience is taking initiative to inform themselves by listening.
“We want people to be able to talk about topics that have been silenced and that people have been shamed for, because if the silence continues, nothing will change,” Jones said. “What is so positive about the medium that (MacLean) chose is that the people who want to hold it close can hold it close, and the people who want to open it up can open up.”
Jones said there are positive social conversations about menstruation happening today that weren’t happening a decade ago. However, there are still many people across the world who have to put their lives on pause or hide when they’re menstruating.
MacLean said she plans out her discussion topics for the weekly podcast at the beginning of the semester, and she researches each topic before she produces an episode.
The podcast initially focused on menstruation, but MacLean said she has shifted gears to talk about reproductive health and reproductive justice, which Jones said is the center’s theme for 2023.
Recent episodes of “The Last Pair” feature topics including birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. MacLean said these are important topics to discuss on college campuses because there is a lot of misinformation surrounding them.
Although her intended audience is college students, MacLean thinks anybody can benefit from listening, even those who don’t experience the discussion topics directly.
“If you’re not going through whatever I’m talking about, somebody you care about could be,” MacLean said. “Even just learning about things helps build empathy.”
MacLean said the community has responded well to the podcast and many people have contacted her to express appreciation for the show or ask questions about a topic.
After MacLean graduates, she hopes the podcast is carried on by a new host.
“I definitely want the podcast to continue,” MacLean said, “because I think that on a college campus, real information and real knowledge is so important, especially when it comes to our health.”