How do you feel when you plan everything in advance, but then, something happens – and all those plans are ruined? A few days back, I felt exactly the same.
I had planned my entire week in advance – but on Sunday (even before the week began), my period hit me. And when I say my period ‘hit me’, I mean it literally. But then, periods have a history of coming at the ‘wrong time’ – and we women know how it feels. Nonetheless, we learn to make things happen anyway. Yes, it’s a big deal because period cramps are real and are never ‘overrated’.
I am writing this article while I am on my period – in fact, on the very first day. I wanted to discuss how I feel about it. But, should I do it? Am I allowed to discuss these things in public? How will my parents react if they come to know about it? Am I only allowed to cope all this pain silently? Is it not important to discuss how one suffers? These are the questions that popped up when I began writing this. But like I said, we learn how to make things happen anyway. Hence, I shall continue to write my feelings down.
It is ‘that time of the month’ when I keep trying to study and concentrate. But then, I find myself wasting time on Instagram, YouTube and on everything that’s not needed at this time.
It is ‘that time of the month’ when I keep tapping my phone at lightning speed while scrolling through the entire news feed. I do this hoping to feel good, but I end up feeling irritated.
It is ‘that time of the month’ when I cannot listen to an entire song and keep changing the songs after 20 seconds.
It is ‘that time of the month’ when I feel so empty that I don’t even feel the need to ‘skip the ad’ on YouTube. In fact, it was one of those ads which urged me to write this article.
It was a Whisper ad. The ad was fine, but the suffix caught my attention. It said, ‘with wings’. How ironic is it to call it, ‘Whisper with wings’? In my opinion, it seemed much like the hypocritical society that talks about ‘women empowerment’ as an idea, but is not willing to accept it in reality.
Watching it brought back many incidents and experiences which I haven’t shared till now.
The said ad reminded me of a Whisper campaign in which I had participated, a couple of years back. In that campaign, the participants had to submit a photograph or a video with a message. I decided to participate with a photograph having the following message: “Yes, I menstruate. So does your mother and sister! It’s not something I should be ashamed of… It is a sign of women’s health.”
Later, I used that photo as my Facebook display picture. The very next day, I could feel that some of my male batch-mates were looking at me differently in the class. I could feel their judging glances. Though they didn’t have the guts to tell me anything on my face, the reaction was obvious.
Looking at the brighter side, there were many strangers and friends from different cities who appreciated me for putting up that display picture. A few of my male professors also put supportive and encouraging comments on the picture.
However, the reactions were secondary. The good thing that came out of this experience is that I felt much better and more comfortable about my periods. And it helped me to start and become a part of conversations about menstruation among my friends, including the boys. I soon found that people who were curious about it, or wished to share their issues related to it, reached out to me without facing a fear of being judged. Though I wasn’t a clinical expert on this matter, being open about it helped them feel better – just like it did for me.
In return, I came to know a lot more about menstrual health and hygiene. It helped me connect to a wide spectrum of people. One of these people informed me about polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD). Before this, I didn’t know anything of this sort existed. Neither did I know that I needed to see a doctor as soon as possible. Hence, starting a dialogue about this issue helped me big time. It just shows how crucial a conversation about this issue can be.
Menstruation is such an important topic to talk about. But, the prevailing deep-rooted orthodox attitudes don’t allow you to do it. Even if you do, you generally have to be very careful about you’re talking to, and whether the person is matured enough to discuss it. There are women who do want to discuss it – but when they do, they are branded as the ‘bad girls’, ‘pseudo intellectuals’, ‘too bold’ and the ‘feminist types’ (which has become a derogatory phrase, apparently).
Then, there are other women who claim to be the ‘obedient ones’ – the ‘good girls’, who uphold the family’s name. So, if someone falls in this category, they will refrain from discussing this important ‘health problem’ – which, in reality, is a biologically-natural process. They cannot discuss menstruation in public because they have been taught that doing so is a sign of a bad upbringing.
To the best of my knowledge and experience, there is yet another category of women. These women seem to be constantly torn between the need to talk about it and the consequences of talking about it. They know that this is an important issue and that they need to discuss it more openly, but they fear that they might get slut-shamed, their boyfriend might feel embarrassed, they won’t be able to face their family, etc. These fears and their struggles are real – and I can feel them, completely.
The upcoming movie “Padman” has got me really intrigued. As fascinating and inspiring the story of the Menstrual Man (Arunachalam Muruganantham) is, what I found really interesting is the title he got for doing his work. Titles like “Menstrual Man” or “Padman” is paradoxical, in purview of our society’s construct.
A society where words like ‘menstruation’, ‘period’, ‘pad’, etc. are almost completely taboo and where most men refrain from even mentioning these words, prefixing ‘menstrual’ or ‘pad’ with ‘man’ (almost like a superhero) is surely an interesting and revolutionary thing. The movie also deserves due appreciation for picking this incredible story. In my opinion, it rightly deserves our attention.
However, it is needless to keep stressing on how indifferent many men are about the issue. The larger problem lies with women using them in hushed tones. It is important to understand that cultural and conditional orthodoxy afflicts both men and women in India. I remember my grandmother scolding me for playing with other children after I began menstruating. I remember my mother talking to me in hushed tone when I rushed to her, horrified, after seeing my period blood for the first time.
It is a trend not to discuss things unless it becomes really important. We need to change this trend. We have a habit of not preparing and planning for the important things which are mostly inevitable. It is important for young girls to know that they’re about to go through this process (before they actually go through it), so that they are not horrified. When they have their first periods in school (for instance), they should know what the blood stain means and what they need to do.
Over the years, I have learned how to feel comfortable about menstruation. With this article, I want to feel comfortable while discussing these topics which often makes many people squirm. It is important for women to discuss periods. It is important for women to discuss how they feel during their periods. It is important for men to understand the problems we face. It is important for young girls, so that they’re not scared on seeing blood come out of their vaginas.
It is important for all of us as a society – so that issues like menstrual health and menstrual hygiene are given due importance and priority. It is important because taboos around vaginal bleeding are putting the lives of women and girls in danger.
A version of this article was first published on the author’s blog.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.