Let’s Break The BLOODY Silence!
All the guys and girls, and men and women, can you answer a simple question?– What is menstruation or simply, periods?
Ya, we know that it is taboo and all to talk about ‘THIS,’ but come on, it is the 21st century.
Okay, you all are being way too shy now. We will tell you what it is.
‘Period’ is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. That’s it.
We know that you all knew the answer, and we also know that you all are being hesitant. But why? We are all born out of it.
Why are periods taboo?
Call it period or menstruation; it does not matter because we have used them both to invoke shame and uneasiness. We have successfully attached a stigma to every woman’s physical reality that she faces every month for almost her entire lifetime.
This inseparable part of life, experienced by more than half of the earth’s population, has been furnished as a near-unspeakable topic by the annulling discussion and cultural taboos related to periods in India.
Nevertheless, there is no shortage of euphemisms, codewords, or slangs in societies everywhere, yet an open dialogue is far from being in existence in our daily lives.
If one dives in deep, they will find that it is about oppressing societal norms and subduing those who dare to bleed out loud.
In the past, the expression of periods was shut out behind the veil of secrecy and silence. And this might be the reason why the early Roman and Greek explained menstrual blood as “toxic,” “impure,” and “unclean.”
Further, in the late-nineteenth-century, the basic definition of periods was given a dreadful meaning of “debilitating illness.”
And coming back to the current date, apart from the historical misguiding, today’s cultural narratives also significantly form the prevalent attitude of menstruation being something nasty and serious, confronted with hatred and an abnormality.
From history till today, there isn’t a time when menstruation’s language hasn’t been employed to marginalize people who bleed.
The misconception of periods being a hygienic crisis has seeped into the 21st-century minds also. Every girl or woman surely remembers how they were first introduced with the term “PERIOD.” At that time, we were all uneducated or undereducated about menstruation, “it” being presented as a part of period etiquettes, teachings of maintaining privacy and discretion, and listing down the rule for “menstruating correctly” didn’t seem improper. Though now it appears as the “worst way possible” to deliberately symbolize that if someone finds out about “your periods,” it will cause humiliation for both sides.
Hidden in these kinds of implications of “purity” and “cleanliness” is the notion that menstruation imperils a woman’s dignity and safety.
Period shaming and partiality against menstruating women are widely spread not only in India but also in other parts of the globe.
The perception of menstruation in Indian culture often leads to rejection from entering the shrines and temples, social and religious events, and even kitchens.
Double standards on menstruation
Feminine hygiene has received its share of double standards on menstruation in India. The men’s products are conveniently found with cheaper price tags, unlike sanitary pads, menstrual cups, and tampons. Why is there this kind of gender bias? Aren’t women human? Are you punishing us for “bleeding?”– The answer is here.
There always existed a “male prejudice” in the idea of what frames a “healthy” body. As in the previous centuries, the men did all the medical writings; they lacked the true and insightful perspective of women. How can one write about things which they have never experienced? And this is what happened back then. The sexist roots trickled into scientific opinions, making the existing medical contents overwhelmingly contradictory. Facts and the common myths about periods were never discussed. The descriptors started to describe periods as “consequence of failed conception” and “degeneration of the womb lining.” These became the standard terminology in clinical explanations, highlighting an old-fashioned thought of treating female bodies as nothing more than reproductive vessels and menstruation as an anomaly occurring due to our conjectured biological function as mothers and caretakers.
My Blood Isn’t Your Politics!
Politics gulp everything that comes its way. If we go a little back into history, we will see menstrual health plays its role in the political landscape.
During the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and World War II, when economies were going into a hole, and extra hands were needed to make the economy stand on its feet again, menstruation was given a new meaning of “sign of health” to benefit the workplace. However, the women started to expand their hands to grab the opportunities; it was looked upon as a scandal. Thus the description of “period” was once again altered during the Victorian era by labeling it a “sickness.”
So now you know how language is manipulated to command and restrain “people who menstruate.”
Sshh… We Don’t Talk About This. But Why?
Period shame is still used as a weapon to overcome the one who upsets the so-called patriarchal status quo. A woman’s body is treated as a site of social control, which is done through imposing beauty standards or rituals, dieting habits, or even feminine hygiene practices.
We, women, are trained to mute our bodies and adapt to self-silencing norms of womanhood.
According to a study undertaken by menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in India, approximately 71% of girls remain uninformed of periods or menstruation until they get it themselves due to conversational constraints.
The lack of conversation reveals that most parents are not prepared to share information or discuss the essential aspect of a girl’s life. This type of extended failure causes unreasonable building of anxiety and fear.
We need to change our perspective and how we define these biological necessities in our languages. Creating unnecessary menstrual taboos and myths and calling periods immoral, unhealthy, and unsanitary gives rise to vast inequalities and injustices suffered by those who “dare to bleed.”
And this is not it; women also face unfair treatment in “economically” accessing basic health and hygiene products due to the stigmatization and lack of open dialogues. The hefty taxation policies levied over feminine products have turned menstruation into a mockery. However, in India, protestation helped ditch a 12% “luxury” tax on sanitary products in 2018.
Activists logically argued that it was the worst form of menstrual shame when one compares menstrual hygiene products with luxury. Neither having periods was a choice, and nor opting-out of it is healthy.
Nonetheless, this win against the “luxury” remark hasn’t changed much on a ground root level. Apart from roughly 355 million Indian menstruating females who can afford sanitary napkins, there are still approximately 36% who are “forced” to use husk, old rags, soil, leaves, ash mud, and God knows what other life-threatening materials to manage their flow.
Now Is The Time To Speak Up
Although taking a stand against tax imposition levied upon period hygiene products was applaudable, considering the Indian mindset, it’s just a tiny piece of a much larger picture. There is a long, challenging journey to be initiated concerning society’s attitude towards menstruating women and making menstrual health and hygiene available for every girl and woman.
Due to the scarcity of economic menstruation products in India and worldwide, girls and women are robbed of their rights and opportunities to learn, work, and build a better life.
Gender inequalities are not hidden from anyone, and we all need to speak up for one another’s rights, and the only thing that can make this happen is communication. Communication is the only key to uproot the menstruation taboos successfully.
Breaking our bloody silence will not only liberate the women in our lives from their lifelong shackles of humiliation and disgrace but will also assist them in regaining their command over their narratives and bodies. Period.