Periods. There you go, I said it. Every month, for around 3-7 days every woman has to go through a sticky, messy, bloody reminder of her childbearing abilities- her menstrual periods. Menstruation is a normal physiological process, like breathing or sweating. Yet, over much of India, menstruation is a taboo.
That we are not supposed to talk about our periods is drilled into our psyche from a very young age. As girls, we are taught by our mothers to tell ‘only the female teachers’ if we happen to see brownish-red stains in our pants. We are taught to say ‘I am down’ or ‘I am not well’ on ‘those days of the month’. Even buying sanitary napkins from the local store is like a walk of shame- hurrying back home with the pads safely hidden in black plastic bags or wrapped in newspapers. It is almost as if all of the society, starting from your own mother, is trying to instill a sense of shame in you for menstruating. And woe betides you if a ‘Boy’ ever come to know that you are on your period. Periods should not be discussed, and that, my dear girls is that.
Oh, have I even mentioned the terror associated with the word- stains? During those 5-odd days, we are taught to be fear staining our sheets, bottom wear or underwear with those ugly red bloodstains. We keep asking those around us (only the women, silly!) to check the seat of our pants for the slightest sign of stains, we keep rushing to washrooms time and again to make sure nothing ‘embarrassing’ has happened, and of course, we don’t wear light shades.
Now this is something that I don’t understand. People don’t balk when garments have sweat stains. If someone hurts themselves and some blood gets on their clothes, people sympathize. But one drop of period-blood shows up anywhere, and society is scandalized. A few months ago, Instagram had removed an image by Canadian feminist poet Rupi Kaur that showed a menstruating woman with bloodstained pants, citing that the image violated the site’s ‘community guidelines’. What guidelines, I ask you? This practice of vilifying women for what is essentially their ability to bear children is absurd. It is a mark of a patriarchal misogynistic society that is hell-bent on downplaying the power of women as life-givers. Last time I checked, no one ever blamed men for producing sperm.
Actually, there is no end to the period-shaming that goes on in society, on all levels. Menstruating women are somehow considered ‘impure’, and not allowed to worship in temples. A large section of women, especially those in rural areas, do not have access to sanitary napkins or tampons; while there are many that feel uncomfortable with commercials advertising the likes of Whisper, Stayfree etc. on TV. And while those ads advocate good personal hygiene and try to send the message that periods should not limit your ability to live a healthy, active life- they do gloss over the bloodier realities of menstruation. Unless all the women in the world are blue-blooded, and menstrual blood flows as freely as water. People somehow feel okay with blood and gore being shown in movies, but red fluid on sanitary pads and stained jeans? No!
The point of this discussion and countless others is to make sure that everyone understands how perfectly normal it is for a woman to bleed. There is absolutely no shame in it and it is not something that one should go to great lengths to hide. So ditch the all-concealing black plastic bags and the “I am down” metaphors. After all, if society can handle unsightly sweat-patches around the armpits in the height of Indian summers, it can handle a bloodstained trouser or two.
– Debadrita Jana