As a part of growing up, we have been trained to think, respond and behave in a certain way; our learnings are derived from logics, reasoning and judgements. Nonetheless, we have readily concurred to theories that remain elusive, lack rationality yet became a way of life, since ‘You don’t diss beliefs, practices that have been complied with, for ages’. Periods are a taboo too, which for some (read NO) reason have been shamed and stigmatized, derided for the biological processes that transpire within a woman’s body every month.
While trying to avoid the social embarrassment, we have euphemized periods with over 5000 labels (as suggested by research surveys) that run across languages, cultures, countries around the world. ‘Code red’, ‘Bloody Mary’, ‘Monthly visitors’ and more - A mix of quirky, intriguing and some downright nasty; words ‘periods’ and ‘menstruation’ have been pseudonym-ed to avoid the shame and disgrace that come along with them. As the period stigma grew over the years, girls were asked to talk less, and hide more. Really, just think about it! How many times did you eat, sleep, sit or walk hassle-free, without turning around, checking for the stains on your pants? There’s no count. Not just that, we seem to embark upon a secret mission every time we visit our chemist. God, buying napkins was such a mental meltdown (at least at some point in life). And after every purchase, the process of stacking napkins at the abysmal depths of closets, tucking them in rolls of papers, drawing them out stealthily and smuggling them to office washrooms (in case of emergencies) – an impressive sleight of hand, right? Felt like steering clear off a perfect crime scene *slow-clap*. Taking periods for a SIN, we have felt ashamed to discover, discuss or honor this beautiful transformation that represents the source of life for the humankind. We have refrained to talk about it especially around our elders, brothers and dads, for you know ‘It’s not something everyone needs to know’.
However, I wouldn’t deny the movements that have been pursued with an objective to transform individual mindsets. There have been amends, rules of law which forbid women being treated as an outcast. Last month was welcomed with loud cheer and beaming hopes when Nepal enforced a new law, which aims to banish the practice of Chhaupadi – the act of isolating woman during their menstrual cycles. As a practice, women were subjected to solitary confinement in animal sheds, huts to avoid direct contact with cattle, crops, families or idols. As a result, they died of snake bites, malnourishment, fever, sexual assault by outside villagers, and many other incurable infectious diseases. Of course, this new law beefs up protection to women against such condemned acts, but it’s a battle only half won. The entrenched psychology of gender bias, the deep-seated beliefs of the ‘holy’ customs and notions held strongly against the impurity of periods have been detrimental to the overall growth of women. Imagine menstruating women restricted from entering temples on the pretext of being impure when rapists, murderers and pedophiles waltz in to wash away their sins in the name of religion. We’ve got to rethink our belief system before setting these social norms.
Yet over the last decade, movements have made a heady start! Social campaigns have inspired a gradual change. Activists like Rupi Kaur took media by storm when they sent out a strong message to explain the normalcy of periods, to embrace and accept the natural phenomenon, and to approach the subject with an open mind. As #freethetampon campaign became a rage worldwide, New York passed the law to stock napkins in schools, public places and offices, a welcome move that inspired communities to provide safer and readily-available essentials for free. And why not, bleeding is as natural as breathing; it’s something you and I did not choose to be born with.
Periods are normal. They are a way of life. In fact, they are the 'way to life'. And while pregnancy and motherhood are a thing of pride, periods are still shunned to the dark corners of shame and negligence. It's time to bring a change. It's time to kick these beliefs that reek of age-old falsities, baseless notions and groundless myths, out of our social systems. Only then we as a society, will move forward shoulder-to-shoulder, without our genders segregating us in implicit categories.
Nitya Gupta (Author)