Of Sweat, Semen And Menstruation: The Problematic Support For #HappyToBleed

Posted on November 25, 2015 in Menstruation, Society, Taboos

By Shruthi Venukumar:

The Happy to Bleed campaign has brought into the mainstream discussion something that has long lived behind the rag, cushioned in layers of euphemism. It comes less than a year since the Elone-inspired campaign kicked off in India where students wrote feminist messages on sanitary napkins. It all started when the chief of an Indian temple said that women shall be allowed in the temple only after a machine is invented which can screen them for ‘that time of the month’.

Image source: Mukti Sadhna/Facebook
Image source: Mukti Sadhna/Facebook

The struggle against patriarchy continues! In the few days since the launch of the Happy to Bleed campaign, my social media feed has come out colourful with creative one-liners on a woman’s most taboo ‘chums’. Crisp, amusing and to the point, they couldn’t have gone further in painting the delightful message that a conversation is brewing. I also came across some that led to some rumination about the kind of parallels they drew. Here are some which I found problematic.

If women are screened for menstrual blood, men should be screened for ejaculated semen.”

This one here conflates menstrual blood with semen, giving it sexual tones. While there is no reason to stigmatise the natural sexual processes of the male body, it would not be correct to link a process linked to male sexual arousal to an involuntary act of the female body. This takes me back to a conversation I once had about breast-feeding in public places. A woman held, and rightly so, that it is unfair that she has to breast-feed in the toilet/washroom because that was like saying that it is all right for a baby to have its food in the toilet. Someone replied by saying that breast-feeding in public is like making people watch fellatio being performed in public. The message in quotes seems innocuous enough, and probably the writer did not intend to draw such parallels. However, the message it drives under the subconscious mind does not serve the cause of the movement.

If sweating men can be allowed entry in a temple, why not a bleeding woman.”

Here again, the intent is perhaps to call the temple authorities (and society at large) on their double standards. However, comparing menstrual blood to sweat again paints it as something dirty and thus ‘polluting’ to what is held sacred by religion. ‘Dirty’ is precisely the stereotype that menstrual blood has to break out of. There is no science to suggest that menstrual blood is any more unclean than ‘normal’ blood. (Side note: Given the long hours one has to wait and the arduous journey one has to undertake for the ‘darshan’ at the temple, nothing smells of true toil and devotion more than sweat.)

The raison d’etre for including semen and sweat in messages on the absurdity of the taboo on menstrual blood is the need to dispel myths surrounding the latter using tangible examples. That goes out further in engaging people than stubbornly taking a side, however legitimate, without stating reasons. However, logic should be examined for flaws.

A country that gushes about its freedom of religion can do so rightfully only when that right is extended to all the sexes regardless of age. It is heart-warming to see both men and women come out and question social taboos. Critically examining the voices that are on the progressive side of the struggle can only strengthen the movement.

Happy to Bleed!