By Sohini Bardhan:
You know those kids who rule the classroom? With how to behave in a certain teacher’s classroom to what music and TV shows are cool? What books to read and what topics to talk about, so that you belong to the ‘in’ crowd? It’s okay. Your conscious mind might refuse to accept it (especially if you were in the ‘in’ crowd) but ask your subconscience and you’ll remember such kids in your school. These were the kids that other kids wanted to be like, they were the all-rounders, the teacher’s favourites. Good scores, good in sports, music, dance, everything. The ones who went to the birthday parties when you had to finish homework as a bargaining chip with your parents to go camping next month. Hell! They were the coolest. The intellectuals, the feminists, the leaders in the making. They could do no wrong, right? They were not weak, right? Wrong. They were humans, and more importantly they were women. Did I mention, I went to a girl’s school?
I was one of the not-so-cool people. You know, the nerdy kind, who’d be lost in the world of fantasy, with a book under the table. I was the kind who used to be the monitor, but not the cool monitor, the nerdy one. The one who would let the raucous continue in class, with warnings when it became too loud, with a book in my hand, standing at the door, so that I could warn the monkeys in my class that the teacher is coming. Yeah, that kind (It was fun, though, I did get a ‘too serious’ tag). My school had an afternoon section for boys in Classes 11 and 12.
When I was in Class 7, I was as usual, having an apple and reading a book on the stairs during lunch break when I heard a girl bawling her eyes out. Now, no one cries in Class 7, except for a very serious cause. Naturally, I was worried. When I looked up, I saw that it was one of the ‘cool’ people of my batch. “Wait, what? She can cry? Must be something really bad, then” was my first thought. Don’t get me wrong. When I say ‘cool’, I mean the really nice people, not the bullies that Bollywood shows as a part of its weird Bollywood dictionary definition. The girl, I’m talking about, spread happiness wherever she went. The kind of person who’d make people laugh, who’d inspire people.
I went up to her, to ask her what was wrong. She was surrounded by a group of people and that’s when I noticed her really long skirt held at the waist by a safety pin. Still, the dimwit that I was, I asked her what happened. And the story emerged. She had her first period that day. Her skirt was stained and she’d walked in front of the boys with that skirt and they’d ridiculed her. I laughed. Wrong reaction? No. I laughed because the entire situation was very stupid to me. The fact that people who know nothing about how painful periods are, who’re literally older than us, who’ve studied about it in school, had the audacity to laugh at a girl who was helpless and could not stop what her body was biologically supposed to do. And what I found even funnier was that this girl, who went around as the messiah of the world, who inspired laughter everywhere she went was actually sad at something this stupid. We were 12-year-olds. I was yet to get my periods. Hence, I didn’t understand the depth of the matter, or rather the lack of it. At that moment, I hated those boys because they’d made such a strong person cry. I hated them for being such twats and such ridiculous heartless pieces of burnt coals who were supposed to be our seniors and mentors.
It’s only when I grew up that I realised that the boys weren’t the only ones to be blamed here. A lot many matters come into play. When you’re in high school, you laugh at what the crowd laughs, or you’re branded a jerk. You’re kids. But I digress.
The inherent problem with the world today is that they taboo the most basic ambits of human behaviour or anatomy: sex, periods etc. Whereas, something like murder is freely discussed in all age groups. Periods are something we cannot help. To ostracise the taboo surrounding it, we need to start with our homes. Yes, tampon and sanitary napkin advertisements make you cringe. Good. Your next generation won’t. Men who are reading this, imagine being a girl who has irregular periods Not knowing when your uterus will finally punish you again for not being pregnant? And that one day when you change your bag and forget to carry a pad, that one day you take public transport instead of your car, that one day when you decide to wear white or yellow or any light colour; you get your period. Very hard, isn’t it? I know. What is harder is bearing the cramps, because girls with irregular periods have terrible cramps. Add to that, the worry of their clothes staining and people watching.
If only we could live in a world where this is normal, if only we could live in a world where if we stained our clothes and looked like we might be trying very hard to not die, someone would hand us a pad or give us a Meftal, or just a hot water bag or one genuine smile and tell us that it’s okay and it’s normal. Because no matter how normal it is, we still feel awkward. Don’t think that girls with regularly timed periods have it easy. No, son. One whole week they’ll probably be having terrible mood swings, one month they can be super happy, next month they might want to kill everyone and the month after? A little bit of both. And that’s just when they’re PMSing. Then comes the true torture. Waking up one morning to stained bed sheets which they have to wash, even in the midst of those terrible cramps they are having, when they’re late to office. It can’t be left alone for the day. No. Why? Because in most households, period is a taboo.
I’m lucky to have grown up in a family with feminist parents. I remember this one time when my sister was worried about her new sports bra showing from under her t-shirt. But in no way did it look indecent. It was just the folds of the cloth showing on the t shirt. And she refused to wear it to her tennis coaching that day. When she explained the reason to my mother, my mom replied with a “So?” That one word has taught me to live my life. So? Everyone knows we wear bras, everyone knows we have our periods, then why is it a problem? Hell, how is it a problem? How did cleavage and navel, bra and period become a problem when issues like rape, global warming and people dying of hunger exists?
My father buys my pads. He and my mother have always bought it for me till I was deemed old enough to go out of the house alone. And even now when I feel lazy, he gets it for me. I’d felt this to be normal because this is what I’d grown up seeing until I went to live in a hostel. It was only through conversations here that I realised what period-shaming actually is, and how much distance, fathers have with their daughters. Today some lucky few can discuss period problems with their parents. There are so many girls out there who are embarrassed to talk about their problems with their parents, embarrassed for something they have no control over.
Imagine a world where your father makes life easier for you during those dreaded five days by simple things like more ice cream in the fridge, lower television volume, random jokes so that your mood swings aren’t really that erratic? I can, because that’s my world. But there are many of us, who can’t even dream of it. Who have to deal with the cramps and the mood swings and the social ostracisation even inside the house! Oh and did I mention the weakness you feel because of all the blood outflow?
Imagine a world where we don’t have to use words like ‘chumming’ or ‘down’ and instead just say “I’m on my period.” Imagine a world where we don’t have to run around helter-skelter when our uterus betrays us in the middle of class and with raised eyebrows, mouth, ‘pad’ to our fellow female classmates or a world where we don’t have to worry about our clothes staining. Because most of the time we worry only because of what the people around us will say. Somewhere among us, a part of that cool 12-year-old girl, still resides, who’s ashamed of her period. And then people say, “You should be proud of being a woman! You are the birth giver!”
Will no one tell me to be proud of the sacrifice I make every day of my life to be able to retain the title of ‘birth giver’? Will no one acknowledge the pain I go through five days a week for years to be able to be a birth giver? Will no one let the most normal thing in my life and in the lives of one whole gender, be a normal thing in the world? Why do we need to hide? Why are we ostracised? Why is it still a taboo? Why should we suffer in silence? Why do I have to hear a, “You’ve had it all your life, don’t overdo the drama now.” You think period pain is a drama? You think blood flowing from between your legs, your back threatening to kill you, your insides kicking your stomach painfully is drama? I wish you’re born a woman in your next birth.
We don’t want recognition or accolades. All we want is some understanding and some respect. I want to thank every single man who’s been nice to a woman on her period, who has not shamed her or called her dirty and just treated it as a normal biological occurrence. Thank you, for making life simpler for us.
Period-shaming is shameful. Because what you’re shaming is what brought you to this world. What you’re shaming is one of the most normal things in this planet. You have no right to shame us for something we did not choose. Here’s the deal. Periods are normal and it exists. Keeping mum about it will not make it go away, throwing women on their period out of the kitchen or the temple will not make it go away. So suck it up and live with it like a decent human being. And if you can, please be nice. The world is in need of nice human beings. Thank you very much.