– By Dr. Ishmeet Nagpal
We live in a world where menstruation is guarded like a dirty secret. We call it chums, wo din, my days, in short “that which must not be named”. A pharmacist wraps and double wraps sanitary pads as if they are worse than condoms (which by the way try asking for as a woman and get the death stare from mostly male shopkeepers). I recently came across a Facebook post which detailed how women fasting in Ramdaan pretended to fast when they were on their period to avoid letting male family members know that they were menstruating.
How is it that the most basic function of a menstruator’s body, which is the basis for creating new life, is to be kept secret from their own family members? Why are we as a society so scared of menstruators? The answer lies in the fundamental reasons for controlling women’s sexualities.
In the times when marriages didn’t exist and neither did DNA tests, the only way for a man to make sure that a woman’s offspring was indeed “his”, and pass on his property to the rightful heir, was to make sure the woman never interacted or got intimate with another male. Hence the concept of marriage was born. And here is where we started controlling women’s sexuality.
This built up to include the worship of virginity and purity to avoid jealousy from other mates of a woman. When a woman starts menstruating, a signal is sent to the world that she is now ready to bear children and have sex and hence she becomes a threat to the fabric of our controlling society. Conversely, menarche, that is, the start of periods is also celebrated in certain communities as a debut of sorts in the marriage market, which is also problematic as menstruators are basically being shown off for their fertility and suitability for marriage.
Every woman who buys sanitary pads becomes a flashing red alert for the society around that she may be sexually active, information that we are deeply uncomfortable with because of the biases we have built. The day we stop controlling women’s sexuality will be the day when menstruators will be able to bleed not with pride or shame, but just bleed as a simple bodily function. But that day sadly, is far off considering the myths and taboos that still exist around menstruation. What we can do is defy the stigma. Let the pads and cups and tampons be out in the open. Tell your bosses you are on your periods instead of saying stomach cramps. Men need to get over their fears and simply ask their family members who menstruate about their doubts. We need to start the conversation around menstruation. So, let’s talk.