This article explores my journey as a woman and how I have become confident enough to dispel the taboos around menstruation.
I still remember the first time I saw a sanitary napkin ad on TV. I was in class 5. It was before I knew what periods were. Seeing the blue ink fall from a beaker on a white piece of sponge, I wondered when I would get one – to soak up all the ink from my leaky fountain pen! I thought a sanitary napkin would be a nice stationery item!
If any of my friends had an unfortunate incident and left a stain on her white sports skirt, everyone rushed to hide it. The boys must not get to know anything. A well-meaning friend would nudge you and raise the ‘red flag’ – and at once, a handy sweater would be tied around your hips.
Later, when I got older and started buying sanitary napkins by myself, I noticed that the guy behind the counter packed it in a newspaper and placed it in a black plastic bag before handing it to me. Again, I never questioned any of this.
I was an athlete during my school days. An ‘incident’ on the field would mean the ‘run of shame’ to the washrooms in front of everyone. I dreaded that more than coming second in a race – and I rarely came second!
I wish I had known that it was perfectly okay to go up to even my male sports teacher and say,“Sir, I am on my period. I think I have had a small incident. I need to go to the washroom. I shall be back soon. Please excuse me.”
I shall be forever thankful to my mom for never treating me as an ‘untouchable’ by imposing several restrictions when I was on my periods. I never had a separate set of utensils. I never had to stay within the confines of my room. I could go to the kitchen as many times I liked (to raid the refrigerator that is, because I never cooked) and I could eat anything I liked – even pickle!
Granted, that in olden times, the tradition of not allowing the women of the house into the kitchen when they were menstruating, could have been simply because the rest of the family wanted them to rest. If someone feels tired and doesn’t wish to work, it’s okay. But today, one must relook at this tradition of alienating menstruating women.
In my opinion, Whisper, one of the biggest sanitary napkin brands in India and one which I have always used, also propagates the taboo surrounding periods. A brand that has made several ads to showcase it as a friend of the empowered woman (the ‘Touch the Pickle’ one being lauded widely), loses the battle because of its very name!
The people behind the brand may have come up with the name at a time when period talk consisted of whispers. But today, things are not the same. Today, I am not the same Ashwini I was a decade or so back. Today, I do not want to keep quiet or whisper about menstruation. I definitely don’t want the younger generation of women to whisper about the issue. I don’t want any of us to silently point at the product at the chemist’s shop. I want ensure that we can call out the name of the product loudly.
But if the name of the product itself is ‘Whisper’, it defeats the purpose. And I am glad I am not alone in thinking this. A few months back, a petition on Change.org was started by Shreya Gupta of Bengaluru asking the brand to change its name.
We are not aliens – and we do not have ‘blue blood’ in our veins. We don’t need it!
With the help of the normal red-coloured blood, we are still able to create life. And when we don’t conceive, the blood is shed. It’s time that the marketing teams of the sanitary napkin products stop pretending like feminists, and instead, really embrace the issue.
If not rebrand, companies like Whisper should at least show red liquid depicting blood on a sanitary napkin in its advertisements – just like the UK brand Bodyform has done, recently. To all those men who will probably feel uncomfortable while watching a red liquid fall on the sanitary napkin, I must say this – women feel just as uncomfortable when we see you touch and feel your crotch area in public. At least, the ad will be about something that is natural.
Women must openly discuss issues like the premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which they face every month. It’s okay to not be okay on your periods.
I came across this article on how music artists in the West have directly and vividly expressed their emotions while going through their periods through songs. In India, the closest we came to this is with this parody song by Girlyappa.
Don’t shy away from telling people that you are on your period. Don’t call it ‘chums’, ‘aunt flo’, ‘that-time-of-the-month’, etc. Also, don’t smuggle your sanitary napkin into the bathroom.
The unfortunate truth is that most men have a lot of misconceptions about periods. Don’t believe me? Watch this funny video. This is our fault. We should stop being shy. Instead, we should boldly speak to our husbands, brothers, sons and sensitise them.
Pravin Nikam is another ‘Pad Man’ educating the society about periods. It is important to spread awareness – be it through talks, songs, videos, comic books like Menstrupedia or something more creative and in-your-face.
Periods are not embarrassing. They are empowering.
It’s time that the world knew that we are not blue-blooded women who whisper about menstruation!
A version of this article was first published on my blog.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.