We have a problem, people. We have been naming our issues wrong.
In any power-imbalanced society, with whatever signifiers of power we deal with (there are many, someone call Foucault up), there’s resistance to the power. Naming the resistance, and naming the issue becomes an important part of this process. Menstruation is one of the biggest examples. Yet, there is a flipside to naming: it also assigns, relegates and attaches value to a particular name and hence whatever that name evokes.
For example: why do we call menstrual hygiene a “women’s issue?” It makes it an issue which needs to preferably be dealt with only by those who are named—women. Only menstruating cisgender women. The appellation does not actively address others. The minute you call it “Ladies wala problem”, “womanlog ka cheez”, “female woes” you are doing two things. First, you definitely are recognising and saying only women go through this process. This automatically excludes many, many pre-op trans men. It also makes it an issue which needs no attention from male family members, coworkers, and peers. Secondly, you eschew responsibility of care, access, and equal investment by anyone who is not a menstruating cisgender woman in this scenario. All people with the required organs for menstruation go through this perfectly natural process. But the minute you call it a “women-only issue”, we have a problem. Granted it happens to a particular kind of body, but is menstruation just biology? No. Menstruation is also social. Like any other process in the world, it is connected to everything else around it. Taboos, tall tales, myths and prejudice. It leads to people who go through menstrual cycles not being able to cope with it healthily, not getting access to proper health-care and are left shamed and unassisted.
To evoke awareness about menstruation need not only be about the shame that gets attached to it. One has to recognize that it is also a process that has its own set of economics: who gets to buy pads? Who gets to buy much safer and eco-friendly products like menstrual cups, and natural, reusable pads? Who can access this knowledge about the alternatives that exist? Why aren’t tampons easily available in India as they are abroad? Everyone should know how much a pad costs, and how tax-heavy it is. It is pretty murky that menstrual health is not considered a significant issue to be addressed in the parliament, where a single meal might cost less than a sanitary pad.
Not only economics, there are many layers to understanding menstruation. It should be common knowledge that PMS is not an excuse for bad behaviour: it is a real medical condition for most who go through it. It might lead to really problematic mood-swings or for some it can lead to extreme physical pain: pain similar to or even the same as actual childbirth. Yet another side to menstruation that is often not talked about is about women who do not menstruate: perhaps they have reached an age of menopause or because they have a medical condition like PCOD that hinders the process of regular periods. Some people may identify as women but they need not menstruate to prove their identity, some might not identify as women and still bleed. Moreover, we often forget that much of our conversation around menstruation is ableist. Disabled persons going through menstruation need better equipment, support and services— both physical and mental health need to be efficiently catered to. More than anything, we need a much more inclusive and all-encompassing conversation.
Simply put, we can’t call it a “woman’s issue” and expect women to deal with it alone. Schools, for example, should involve boys in discussions of menstrual cycles—educating boys about these issues helps them become much more sensitive and aware for their future development as partakers in the society. Women are looked down upon if they stain their clothes, they are made fun of: these issues crop up because of the imbalance in awareness: if everyone knows what the blood on my skirt is about, and what to do about it instead of hiding our embarrassment in jokes: we will all be helping each other becoming much more aware and sensitive. This is not to say we merely sit back and enjoy a movie that silences women and pats a man’s back for being aware and proactive when it comes to menstrual hygiene and health (coughs), but it is a call for a world where all of us equally voice concerns and address them together. Let’s work towards the day where menstrual hygiene, access, health and its social status does not merely become an issue which only a particular part of society works for. World will never be a good place if only a single shoulder does all the labour. Let’s not limit ourselves in making things easier for one another—because it indeed is time for having #NoMoreLimits.