“Didi (Sister), is this a diaper?” my younger brother asks, as he points towards the sanitary pad peeking out from my drawer. I hastily hide the pad inside, embarrassed that he has seen it. And then I shoo him away. As I pondered over this supposedly embarrassing incident in my room later, I recalled the first time I saw a sanitary pad. And lo and behold, I had the same question as my brother, with the only difference being that as a 9-year-old, I had been far too meek and scared to voice out the question to my mother.
While I learned the function of sanitary pads and how to use them when I started menstruating, I always wondered why my mother never spoke to me about sanitary pads and menstruation before. As a girl, I was anyways fated to be visited by the dreaded guest every month. Since the day the tiny drop of blood grazed my pants, I was always told to hide and discreetly dispose of my pad, not to go near the small temple in our home while bleeding and not touch anything holy. I was instructed to hide the fact from the men in my house that I was menstruating.
As the fan in my room hovered around, my mind fluttered with thoughts drifting in my head and one word flashed brightly like a neon sign in capital letters: Shame. With fluorescent clarity, I realised that shame is the reason why older women in families never talk about menstruation and its related hygiene products to the younger females in the family.
Shame is the reason why sanitary pads, when sold, are still wrapped in thick newspaper or a black bag in some parts of the world. It is the reason why girls are told to hid sanitary pads in the deep corners of their wardrobes, neatly tucked away from the eye. It is the reason why menstruation becomes a secret and taboo women’s only topic that is discussed behind closed doors at homes. It is the reason why men usually don’t know when the female members of their families are menstruating. It is the reason why my mother never told me about periods and sanitary pads when I was young. And it is the reason why I, feeling embarrassed, hesitated in answering my brother’s simple question.
At that moment, I realised that I had unknowingly internalised the same emotion that my mother had inherited from the generations before her. The emotion and its legacy that I fervently detested and thought myself to be immune to had eventually permeated into my behaviour and mannerisms by seeping into my life slowly and stealthily.
The shame surrounding menstruation is like a gentle mist that may not be loud and visible at times, but it has the power to percolate through one’s personality seamlessly. And this shame can only be diffused when people find the courage to talk about menstruation unabashedly, not just with their female family and friends but also with their male counterparts.
As more people discuss menstruation, the thick blanket of shame surrounding it starts to fade away as the topic becomes normalised. Eventually, this open and normalised conversation on menstruation can be the legacy that we can pass on to the future generations, a legacy that we once wished to inherit.
So, with a firm intention of establishing a new legacy, I walked over to my brother’s room ready to answer his question finally.