Matter 7 – Menstruation – Not Dirty

I’m going to talk about something extremely uncomfortable today. I’m not at all uncomfortable talking about it, but you might be. The story I’m going to share is going to have a little blood in it, but don’t worry it won’t give you a fright.

I still remember my first period, oh what a horror it was. Not because I was in pain, I wasn’t. It was because I faced a very harsh reality that day – “Being a woman is hard, not just outside your house, but inside too.”

Girl flower
A woman and her Flower – Illustration by Jaishree Garg. All rights reserved.

My first period story could have been adventurous, but it was tragic instead.

It was 2 pm in the afternoon. I was in the 8th grade, absolutely unaware of what was lying ahead, except my favorite History class. We had just finished lunch and were settling about in our class, when a friend pointed at my skirt and screamed. I thought there was a lizard on my back, so I moved away from the spot and ran to the center of the class. My friend came running to me and pulled me to the side. She mumbled something in my ear, “Period” and a few other things that I couldn’t understand. I didn’t fully comprehend what she was referring to when she meant period, so I just smiled at her. She ran out and bought a teacher in. The teacher looked at my skirt, placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay. Come with me.”

She then handed me a pad and told me to go the bathroom and put it on.  

I was horrified and utterly confused. She sent the friend to escort me to the bathroom and to teach me how to put it on. There was a lot of awkwardness between my friend and me. She held the pad in her hand and said, “Put it inside your panty.”

I stepped inside the bathroom and saw the blood on my skirt and the stains on my underwear. It was coming from inside me, but it didn’t hurt. Then I realized, ‘Oh, this is what is called menstruating, period, time, chum – all those names I’ve heard my older cousins and friends say.’ It felt a bit weird, but I was okay. I had read that it was a normal thing, so I didn’t panic. I put the pad on, washed my skirt, dried it with the bathroom dryer, and walked out normally, ready to go back to my class.

But, to my surprise, I was taken into the teacher’s lounge and made to sit there. My friend bought my bag and put it next to me. She informed me that my mother was on the way to pick me up. I didn’t understand why, so I looked at the teacher sitting across from me and asked her why I couldn’t go back to the class. She said, “After what has happened, it is best you go home and take rest for 2-3 days. Everyone will also forget by then and you won’t feel ashamed.”

It is then I realized that I was supposed to be ashamed of the blood that was coming out of me. The stain on my skirt was a scar that I was supposed to hide from for the rest of my life. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Not yet.

My mum reached the school after about an hour and looked at me awkwardly. Without a word, she picked up my bag and signaled me to go to the auto. My teacher offered to walk us out. I was walking in front of them, my fingers doing a nervous dance. I overheard the teacher congratulating my mother. “Your girl has transformed into a woman. Is there going to be a coming-of-age party?”, she asked.

“No, no, oh no. We don’t really celebrate this. It’s not really a happy occasion now, is it? We don’t even tell the male members of the house to avoid embarrassing the child. It’s all very hush hush. It comes and goes, and we just like to forget it”

‘Phew’, I thought. ‘At least no coming-of-age party’. Those are just weird. A girl is decked up like a bride and paraded around; being declared as a “woman”, ready for womanhood.

Anyways the party in my head of not having a party didn’t last too long. After a very quiet and awkward auto ride, I reached home. Before I entered home, I was given a clear set of instructions, “Don’t touch anything; Go to the bathroom directly; Put your clothes in a bucket and soak them in water; Don’t wash your hair. I will bring your clothes and towel. Touch them only after you have showered.”

I hurried to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and began to cry. I was crying because my mother had turned against me. She was treating me like I was a vermin, who was going to infest her home with something dirty and disgusting. In that moment, I felt unclean. I hated the blood that flew so effortlessly from my body.

I got myself together and wiped myself with the “clean” towel and put on the “clean” clothes. When I stepped out I saw that there was a thin, but hard mattress laid on the floor, next to my bed. It was covered with an old bed sheet. My mum came in and told me that I could sit wherever I wanted to, but if I wanted to sleep, I had to come and sleep on that floor mattress. I felt an emptiness, a void-like feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t tell if it was from the pain of my first period or from the feeling of being insignificant in my own house. I hated my mother for a very long time after that and hated that fact that I was a girl, stuck in a world that saw me as an untouchable bacteria for 4 days every month.

I hope I didn’t make you too uncomfortable. If I did, then you should go and read the whole thing again. Read it till you realize that there is no reason for you to feel uncomfortable. After years of silence, I had to share that story and the horror girls around this world are subjected to because of something as normal as the menstruation cycle.

I am 25 years old now and I still haven’t been able to understand this society’s aversion to menstruation. Is it the blood we don’t like or is it the woman whom this blood comes out of?

It is both I guess, but it should be neither.

The only problem with menstruation should be that it’s painful at times and uncomfortable for the woman who is menstruating. That’s all. For everyone else who has a problem with it. I can only politely say, “Fuck off”.

I did politely say fuck off to my mother, my aunt, my father, and all other relatives after 3 years of menstruating in darkness. I love them all very much and they love me, but standing for my rights was necessary. It took them some time to understand this, but eventually they did. Slowly, they also realized the absurdity of these customs when they saw someone break it in front of their eyes every month.

I guess I can count myself lucky for that courage and for a family that came around. But there are those who suffer silently, because you and I don’t ever talk about it. We’ve termed “Period talks” as cliche, yet we feel extremely uncomfortable to even buy a packet of sanitary pads.

What do you think is the problem? Why do men automatically start feeling uncomfortable when the word “period”  pops up? Why do women start whispering when they want to talk about their menstrual cramps? Menstruation is one thing that we’ve probably had from the very beginning of humanity, why is it still not normal?

Things can change if you change them. I wanted to share my story of how I changed things around for me and for the women in my family. Go ahead and share your stories. Talk. Make menstruating normal.

If you’re still wondering what you can do to change things, I’ll repeat myself –

  • Talk about it. Talk to your dad, brother, and your friends about it. An important problem with menstruation is that the world thinks it’s only half the world’s problem. They need to know that it’s not a problem at all to begin with and that it is absolutely normal. Nothing to be uncomfortable about.
  • Fight the myths. If you are being treated like an untouchable object during your periods by your family, sit them down and tell them how it’s making you feel. Tell them that you will not follow customs that make you feel small and insignificant. Talk to them till they understand. For some this might be a long fight, but if you really make up your mind, you can start to see periods as a normal phenomena too.
  • Next time a shopkeeper wraps your sanitary pad in a million newspapers and shoves them into a special black plastic bag, ask him/her to stop. Either carry it in your hand or in a normal white bag, just like you carry all other things, including baby nappies.
ledislog
The Curious Case of the Sanitary Napkin
Courtesy – https://www.facebook.com/BlushChannel/

And to know that you’re not alone, read some amazing stories on the website Museum of Menstruation (www.mum.org) run by an amazing man named Harry Finley

Here’s a brilliant Vice article on him and his wonderful Museum.

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/how-one-man-ran-the-worlds-only-museum-of-menstruation-from-his-basement-511

Advertisements