Even with her head down, she could sense the smirks on their faces. Someone also caterwauled nastily. She could feel warm, salty teardrops on her red cheeks. Red not because she was blushing but because of the rapid rush of blood due to the insult, fear, anger and desperation.
She just had experienced her period in the school and, the marks of blood on her white skirt made her the butt of mockery among her classmates. As she was without any preparation, she was pilloried.
At least 1 out of 10 women can relate to this story for she either has herself experienced or has seen some close one going through such conundrum. Monthly bleeding of women, a completely biological phenomenon that keeps the world alive and is the sign of a ‘fertile’ woman, is still considered as a ‘shame’. We, women, are supposed to keep a hush-hush about it as if it’s a clumsy, clandestine affair.
Menstruation or monthly period or monthly bleeding of women is a natural process of the body through which it sheds the lining that is formed in the uterus. This lining provides nourishment to the foetus in case a pregnancy occurs. Having monthly periods is the sign of a healthy woman. While becoming a mother is still regarded as the quintessence of womanhood on one hand, the natural process of a female body that is a vital part of the reproductive cycle, is looked upon as a mark of shame on the other.
What an irony!
In India, when you ask for a pack of sanitary napkins, you’ll get a black plastic packet absolutely free with it. The shopkeeper hands it to you, surreptitiously wrapped in black, so delicately that one might think it contains some explosives. The same shopkeeper even asks for the favourite flavours when one buys a pack of condoms. A complicated and contradictory mindset he has! Sometimes, I wonder whether most of these shopkeepers suffer from a Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. (well, a bit of exaggeration but just think about it)
I remember an incident from my childhood, or rather, teenage days. My father was preparing for the office when I rushed to the living room and, in a normal tone, asked him to bring a pack of sanitary napkins. At that very moment, my granny entered the room and, her facial expression changed from surprise to horror and, finally, she got it fixed to disdain. After my father left, she told me not to mention such things to the male members of the family especially. My expression and words were like: “What? Would it be more respectful if I miss my period?”
She didn’t talk to me for one whole week.
However, menstrual taboos have their foundation along different lines of culture and religions. In spite of the fact that menstruation is a natural biological process, most religions keep a taboo on it restricting women from participating in religious events during the days. Menstruating women are considered as “impure” and “unholy”. These taboos are one of the reasons why Indian women, in general, have health issues, especially RTIs (Reproductive Tract Infections). The silence regarding menstruation debilitates the body and mind of a girl having her first period. In some parts of India, it’s regarded as the God’s blessing when a girl experiences her menstruation for the first time. As she becomes a “fertile woman” capable of reproduction, it’s a prestigious occasion for the family.
Patriarchy plays his card here again! That, the ultimate goal of a girl is to reproduce.
Menstruation taboos are prevalent in almost every religion. Most of the religions of the world, be it Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism, have inflicted restrictions on menstruating women. As far as I know, it’s only Sikhism that doesn’t have any separate set of rules on this matter. In her paper Menstruation, Religions and Society, Aru Bhartiya has briefly described how menstruating women are treated in different religions. Interested readers can click the link to read more.
In primitive society, however, women were looked upon as mysterious beings. The concept of magic and fear were associated with menstruating women and menstrual blood. They didn’t know the scientific explanations or the biological process of the monthly period and, hence, ignorance made them show respect to the unknown. Blood was regarded as holy and was used in several rituals to evoke spirits and gods. Losing blood every month without getting ill, had enchanted the male members of the primitive society and, young women were revered. With the development of formal religions and scriptures, women slowly lost that position.
Florence L. Denmark, Rabinowitz, and Sechzer have explored the reasons for that and how different religions imposed taboos on menstruation in their book Engendering Psychology: Women and Gender Revisited. Along with a lot of other things, the book throws light on different concepts associated with the monthly period and their connections across the lines of culture, society, ethnicity and religion.
Women now are proving their abilities in every field of work. Most of us are aware of the biological reason that causes monthly period. Still, we are considered as “impure” for certain days of the month! In many households, even today, women are barred from touching pickles, milk, fresh vegetables and are not allowed to take part in religious activities.
When will we grow up? Isn’t it the time?
Raise your voice against menstrual taboos. Our daughters deserve a healthier, cleaner and more advanced society where they wouldn’t feel lost in a morass of agony, confusion and self-hatred just because they bleed, naturally.