More than the cramps and mood swings, what really hits me in my uterus is the degrading attitude of the society towards menstruating women. Menstruation has a lot of taboos associated with it, don’t touch this, don’t sit there, as if these things will explode if I touch them. As a young and inquisitive girl, I had started observing the limitations imposed by the male-centric society, but here my mind was baffled because there was one woman degrading another woman and the reason was “PERIODS”, which is common to our fraternity. I was a rebel since childhood, I deliberately used to touch the pickle to contest those stupid taboos and used to pass my days in ever-dwindling questions of who made these taboos.
In primitive societies, menstruating women were made to walk through paddy fields, it was believed that their blood would help crops grow. It is also said that menstrual blood is highly regenerative. There was a belief in the ancient cultures that humans are created from coagulated blood. Menstruation was considered to be having a healing effect and was used for producing medicines and ointments. Menstrual blood was supposed to have a cleansing effect, in ancient spells for mother and child, menstrual blood was used as an ointment to protect newborn from demons.
Aristotle wrote in the 4th century BC that a foetus was born entirely out of menstrual blood and the role of the man was only to act as a catalyst. Later the Aristotelian thought was countered by Greek myths which viewed a woman’s body as merely a vessel for a child. The taboo against menstruation was first found in ancient Egypt. An inscription at the Hathor temple has a list of gods with their specific dislikes and one of the gods disliked menstruating women because they were seen as extremely powerful and a threat to the patriarchy. Slowly men started to fear powerful women and aimed to bring them down by establishing patriarchy and teaching that menstruation is taboo.
Slowly women were beginning to be seen as unclean and unsafe for others and men started to keep a distance from menstruating women. Women were starting to be seen as something week and not equivalent to men. Women were seen as impure during menstruation and they were asked to stay aside and were not allowed to touch anything. This kind of knowledge was created and was thrust into the minds of women that they are impure during period and they are weak and they are forbidden to do many things. Men used menstruation as an excuse to oppress women.
This systemic oppression has been created over many years and now it has a very strong place in the mind of people that even women consider themselves impure and in many families, the grandmother would not let anyone break the rules tend to be followed by a menstruating woman. Now, instead of being taught that the fluctuations of our bodies make us more adaptable and resistant, women are taught that we have a curse – a result of our original sin and that we are unclean and in distress.
So, we can see that there are a lot of discourses related to the practices of menstrual taboos and with the developing economy there needs to be an attitude change in the minds of people. There needs to be an enlightenment that menstruation is not a taboo and there is no need for such degrading practices which seclude women from living their life the way they want to. We cannot let such practices sustain with an excuse of letting women rest during those days, but it should be a call of women rather than the society about what they want to do, whether they want to rest or they want to work. We cannot expect science and its explanation to end the taboos that have been internalised by the society.
Their needs to be a collaborative effort to smash the taboos. First women need to break the silence and openly talk about it. Till the time, they do not flush this idea that menstruation is a source of shame or dirty and needs to be hidden, no one else can. It’s a natural human process and everyone knows about it, there is nothing to hide and be ashamed of something that is only a biological process. Even media plays a very important role in brainwashing the society. The sanitary product market conveys through their advertisements that periods are not good and that stains should not happen.
An advertisement should stop complimenting the taboos and start breaking the stereotypes. Women need to question such illogical taboos that result in their subordination the way Trupti Desai did, when she was not allowed in the temple she went to court and got justice by High Court stating that it is the fundamental right to go to the places of worship and the government is dutybound to protect it. The practice of menstrual taboos violates human rights. Menstruation is a sign of female health and vitality and can no more be shrouded in fear, shame or embarrassment. Breaking the silence around menstruation is essential for women and girls to be able to reach their full potential. We need to demystify and destigmatised the menstruation.