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‘I am down’, ‘are you chumming today?’ or ‘Aunt Flo has finally arrived’ — well, these are all different ways to refer to your period. Shush! It’s a secret ladies. Yes, that’s what we’ve been made to believe, ever since we were young girls. Does it make you seethe with anger or is it not a big deal? If you chose the latter, let’s just say you are among the million women who have internalised shame. And the most unfortunate part is that you might not even be aware of it!
Puberty is an important stage in a girl’s life—it is when she starts with her period. She develops certain physical attributes and begins to feel differently, but is she given the freedom to explore her newfound confidence? The answer is a big NO.
Instead, this very notion is crushed under the face of patriarchy. After the first time she bleeds, a girl is asked to hide it not just from the male members of her family, but even others. What is a natural physiological process is associated with feelings of shame. It makes her feel that there’s something wrong with her, and she carries this with her into adulthood. All because period talk is taboo.
You wouldn’t expect something like this, but poetess Rupi Kaur’s photo of a woman whose menstrual blood had seeped through her pants, was removed from Instagram. American musical artist, Kiran Gandhi, who ran a marathon in London, and gave in to ‘free-bleeding’ was heavily criticised.
When girls don’t speak about periods, the implications are not just limited to their mental health, but they also suffer medically. Speaking in hushed tones might make them appear more sanskari, but how is not uttering the word ‘period’ or hiding a physiological process even logical? When this shame is indoctrinated in the minds of young girls, they repeat the cycle with their daughters and other women in their families.
Although it affects every single woman, it’s hard to believe why there is so much stigma attached to it.
Both urban centres and rural settings bear the brunt of this taboo. While in urban centres, women are asked to step away from kitchens and temples (sometimes not even washing their hair)—the situation is far worse in small towns and villages. Due to lack of period conversations, women continue to use dry twigs, leaves and other materials, compromising on their hygiene in a big way. This only leads to more problems, and as we know, there’s only one solution—talking about periods as openly as possible.
Research suggests that 60% of girls miss school on account of menstruation. That’s exactly why there are alarming statistics of school dropouts among girls in rural areas. Contrary to general perception, it isn’t menstruation that’s hindering their growth, it is the lack of conversations. Although there are some NGOs that are trying to help them understand all that’s important when they bleed, it is essential that more people come forward and normalise period talk.
Talking about periods seems pretty simple, but it is easier said than done. As they say charity begins at home. Similarly, talking about periods starts with your own family. Do not hide the fact that you are bleeding, and yes, you can call it ‘period’, instead of saying ‘that time of the month’.
Dr Niveditha Manokaran, a dermatologist and venereologist from India (@dr_nive_untaboos on Instagram) believes that men, too, must be made allies when it comes to something like periods, It is essential to educate them that for women, periods are painful and draining. Only then will they be able to exercise empathy and give the women in their life more attention during this time.
“We should start talking about periods to men in a way that it is a physiological process that takes place in women every month. It is very painful, crampy, exhausting and emotional, and that women have to pause in their lives to address it. They must understand that they can’t just tell her to have a spoon of concrete and just move on like anybody else, just because they are asking for equality,” she adds.
Dr Manokaran also believes that sensitisation of males must begin at an early age. For instance, if there are male children in the house, their mother must be able to speak openly about it and let her family members know that she is not in a state to cook or do any physical activity.
“It is an exhausting, draining physiological process that must be addressed at a very young age. When males are involved (whether it is fathers or husbands) in the care of their wives, mothers and their sisters, it is easy for them to understand what other women are going through. We are then normalising periods in a household. We are making men understand that it is a time when women need extra rest and attention because it is not something that men go through. There’s no denying that men go through other issues during puberty, but they do not bleed every month,” she concludes.
So ladies, take charge of the situation and talk about your periods as much as possible. There is nothing wrong with that!