‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’
Karl Marx certainly did not say that of menstrual taboos, but shame is indeed a tradition – passed down, beaten in, bullied into. Mothers silencing young girls’ questions about their bodies, girls in classrooms passing around sanitary napkins under desks, women talking about their time of the month and not their periods is our tradition of shame.
It weighs down on women, but we are asked to submit to it because that’s the price we pay to bleed. The truth isn’t that we have bleeding uteruses and are thus subjected to this tradition of shame. The truth is that this tradition is born from the fact that men don’t bleed.
The first time I wondered what a period was also was the first time I was taught there was shame in being a menstruating woman. After seeing an unwilling advertisement of women bleeding blue, I asked my mother what a period was – loudly, screaming across the room, with my grandparents for an audience. Without shame. Because I was yet to inherit it.
My mother stared me down and walked away. A few minutes later she summoned me to the kitchen to pass on the advice her mother had given her some 35 years ago, which she, in turn, got from her own mother – to pass on the heirloom shame that women with menstruating bodies pass on to young girls who don’t know shame or submission yet, in furious whispers in kitchens and backyards. That day, our heirloom shame became mine, too.
I knew of women who didn’t bleed and I wanted to be them. I thought the shame lied in our bleeding uterus, without menstruation, the shame didn’t exist. But the shame doesn’t come from bleeding uteruses, but dead, sexist traditions. Bleeding women inherit shame, women who don’t bleed inherit it, too.
That brought me to the question – to bleed or not to bleed?
If you seek the answer outside of yourself, there is no winning. Bleeding is shameful, not bleeding is a disgrace. Although, if you ask for any answers relating to women to a patriarchal society, there is no win. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. To be or not to be – a bleeding woman.
The answer though was unbelievably simple. Rejection of our tradition of shame, to not let another generation inherit it, to throw our heirloom of shame into the fire where the writhing pieces of patriarchy go.
We bleed or we don’t – one of those things is the truth of our bodies; we shouldn’t have to protect anyone from it. Menstruation is no different than any other bodily function, but the culture of shame around it comes from the fact that it is exclusive to women. After all, the shame surrounding our periods keeps women away from public life. Becomes another reason to oppress them. Another reason to let them die in silence.
By the time I had my first period, four days after I turned thirteen, I didn’t feel shame, just quiet acceptance.
Our uteruses bleed red, not blue. Some of us don’t bleed at all. Some of us don’t have uteruses. And we refuse to be ashamed of any of that. We refuse to participate in our own dehumanisation. We refuse to carry the tradition of all dead generations that weigh like a nightmare on our brains.