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The Ever Increasing And Vicious Circle Of Menstrual Taboos

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By Japleen Pasricha:

“Today I learned something new at school. Periods. Mamma says I’m a big girl now. I should be careful and should not talk about it in front of Papa and my brother. I should also sit with closed legs and behave properly.”

These are some of the eternal statements that young girls usually get to hear from their mothers. I don’t really remember the story of my first menses, but there were a few taboos that I found unacceptable even back then as a teen and upon which I would now like to throw some light.

let_s-break-the-vicious-circle-of-menstrual-tabboo1

I find it very problematic that most of the mothers don’t discuss this with their daughters before they begin to menstruate. This discussion always takes place after the shock and for a girl between the ages of 10-14 or even younger, it really does come as a shock to see their favourite dress stained with blood one fine day, all of a sudden. Some might even think that they are sick or got themselves hurt ‘in the place where they pee from’. Yes, that’s what it’s called. I have had experiences of mothers either pointing downwards or using the phrase above, but never really explaining things the right way.

Then there is the school which plays its part in further hushing up the topic and creating more confusion in the minds of young girls and majorly in boys as well. I remember when we once had a seminar on menses when I was in the seventh grade. Mine hadn’t started yet, but I had a vague idea about them. While the boys were sent out to play, the girls were made to gather in a room where they were introduced to menstruation and sanitary napkins for the first time. As expected later, the girls were all giggly and the boys were seen strutting around, hinting that they knew what it was all about and additionally shouting out the names of popular sanitary napkin companies in order to embarrass the girls. Schools really do a great job in messing up young girls and boys in this regard because Instead of having a co-ed seminar and focusing on sensitising the topic, they go for the most convenient route they can find, which is by segregation.

Another thing that I remember during those first years was how I and/or the other girls were taught to keep this hushed up. So you should not mention it in front of your father, uncles, brothers, elders and such. Again, this kind of attitude just reinforces the fact that menstruation is something to be embarrassed about and should be kept a secret. Or the time when you go to buy a packet of sanitary napkin, the discomfort you feel to tell the man standing behind the counter that you need Whisper Ultra which is then compounded by the fact that he in turn puts it into a black polythene bag. So nobody should see what a girl is carrying because it is shameful, right? In the later years that follow, boys again make fun of girls which further forces them to go inside their shells.

There was another incident where I got to know about yet another taboo around menses and this time, it was not by an adult, but by a female friend who belonged to my age group. When I wanted to accompany my friend to a temple, I was prevented from doing so because according to the reason furnished by her, I was not allowed to enter the temple because I was menstruating. Since I am not a Hindu, I was not aware of this fact and apologised appropriately as I didn’t want to hurt the religious sentiments of my friend. Later I was explained that in Hinduism, as women are considered unclean during this period anything they touch is also believed to lose its power. So if they touch anything in the prayer room for instance, the deity that is being worshipped will leave and evil will take over the idol. One will then be praying to some spirit and not the deity one has in their mind and faith and the whole area would then have to be cleansed by calling a priest or a saint. Same goes for the kitchen. Menstruating women and girls should not enter the kitchen, touch the utensils or cook because yes, you’ve got it right, they are considered to be unclean and impure. At that time and during that age I did not realise that I was not doing something wrong, rather being wronged or that my brainwashed friend should be the one who should apologise in the first place. However, I don’t see it as her fault; she only reproduced what she had been taught was right.

Sadly, there are still a lot of women and not just middle-aged mothers and elderly grandmas but also many educated women who still contribute to the tabooing of menstruation and the process of shaming and embarrassing young girls on its account. We still do not take our ability to menstruate as a pride.

On this note, I would like to end my take on people’s attitude towards menstruation and the taboos surrounding it and would additionally recommend everyone to read Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate for a hearty laugh and for taking pride in your monthly struggle.

Photo credit: Menstrupedia
Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Menstrupedia and The Alternative. The article was originally published on the author’s personal blog, here. 

You must be to comment.
  1. Alisha Sinha

    Japleen.. You always write superb article 🙂

    1. Japleen Pasricha

      Thank you Alisha! 🙂

  2. Tulika Srivastava

    lvd ds article….I seriously dnt follow ol ds taboos lyk nt gng to temple nd ol….I use to do everythng wot i want.

  3. Kiran

    I’d like to add a little insight on the not going to the temple or the kitchen fact.. This myth started for a good reason actually.. It was meant to be a time, which being painful or stressful for the women of the house, it was meant to be a period during which they rested. Since in the olden days those were the two things women did – temple work and household duties they were refrained from doing so as it was supposed to be a time when no strain was supposed to put on the woman. So it did start out with a good meaning to it however down the ages it might have lost its actual reasons. Just wanted to clarify on that thought, otherwise superb article!

    1. Nilesh

      Kiran,

      What’s the reason for believing that this is the reason the myth started? Not a single ancient book or scripture mentions this theory (that women should rest in their periods). It looks like a theory made up post-facto to show our past in a better light than it actually was.

      Got any citation for your claim?

    2. Japleen Pasricha

      Although I do agree with you, I feel that past rituals should and cannot be an excuse for today’s stupidity. Anyway, thank you.

    3. ila

      I was about to mention this fact but then i saw you already did! Cheers!

  4. diyanaidu123

    Amazing article. Such info should be shared by all and with everyone.

  5. anuj kumar

    thanks Kiran for clearing up the point. i had the same thought. women are humans after all. we cannot we understand that.

  6. Sumedha Bharpilania

    You make so much sense Japleen. Thank you for writing this! 🙂

    1. Japleen Pasricha

      Thank you so much Sumedha 🙂

  7. Meet Kaur

    Great Article Japleen! Yes we are fortunate to belong to a religion where no such taboos exist, Sikhism! Also Kiran, you’re right about the origin, but it’s sad how society to create it’s own power equations has maligned a clean, simple phenomenon into something unpleasant And that’s where so many of our myths originate from!

    Coming back to all the “Haw Haye” that surrounds periods is something I just can’t figure out! Isn’t having your body throw out fountains of blood traumatic enough that people treat you like untouchables? Which means it is not just the kids entering their puberty, but also adults, parents, teachers and schools who need counselling and be made aware of! When we have such elaborate discussions on National TV about other social and political issues, a debate on this issue should be held too!
    What say people?

    1. Japleen Pasricha

      Good point Meet, school awareness is very much needed. And I think Menstrupedia is a doing a great job in this regard.

  8. Divya

    Superb article….. Actually this is a piece of information that is supposed to be shared. And i do agree with kiran. She is right. Its just to make women rest that has started else there is nothing wrong in doing things. Thanks for the article Japleen 🙂

  9. Trishla

    Another thing that people do not discuss is the various options women have while choosing a method during menstruation like eco sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, tampons, soft cups and a range of other products rather than dealing with sanitary napkins. People also dont discuss menstrual cramps etc. These are really important topics.

  10. rosechaula

    Agree totally with Kiran. To add that it is the hypocrisy of Indian society that on one side, the men expect us to become mothers but ask someone else in the middle of a party, to fetch them drinking water when we have period? Guess what makes no difference to us but over a period of time this attitude is enough to kill a woman’s self esteem. Other incident that’ll be focused on that people who do not allow us to touch things in their kitchens because of our periods is negotiable. But the same people will refrain us from touching in our kitchen when they are guests intonation girl’s house be causes she has her menses?

  11. Nikita Goyal

    Superb writeup !

  12. askamma

    Glad to see you speaking up about this. So very true that we must break the vicious cycle. More power to you!

  13. gautam govinda

    i dont know about the relevance of the temple ritual but the reason women arent allowed to cook or do other physical work during periods is to provide them with rest which they need the most at that time. You are actually criticising something that was devised in order to help women.

    1. Komal

      Telling a women to rest and not do any kitchen work and telling a women she cant enter kitchen or touch any utensil are two different things! Thanks for the so called ‘help’!

    2. Nilesh

      You are making things up. Show the proof or GTFO!

  14. Rupanwita Bhattacharjee

    Very nicely written. Indian culture, rather the Hindu religion, is full of superstitions. These rules were made to deprive women from their basic rights in the earlier days and as we all know, women, at that time were hugely submissive; as we are taught now not to discuss menstruation with fathers and uncles, the women at that time were taught to worship men like God. They did so, never protested, hence, the practice of hiding menstruation from fathers, still prevails. All the rituals in Hindu religion are meaningless. Fasting for the better life of your husband, wearing mangalsutras etc. carry no value at all. BUT WOMEN STILL FOLLOW THEM BLINDLY WITHOUT QUESTIONING. These are some reasons why rape is on the rise. Society should stop discrimination men and women. They should be treated as equals. Another peculiar habit of Indian society is that they are more concerned about what women should do and what women should wear, rather than thinking about their own lives. They will immediately tag an independent woman as ‘slut’.
    Indian society is the most narrow-minded society which needs a change.

    By the way this is coming from an Indian (born Hindu, now irreligious) woman who is deeply concerned about the future of the country.

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