Periods Are Normal - Get Over It!
If there is one series of hypocoristic names that is decidedly worse than the affectionate titles we used to lend to our 8th grade boyfriends, it’s the names we’ve given to our period over the years. Whether it’s ‘chums’, ‘menses’ or simply ‘Aunt Flo’ - I’ve heard it, loved it and sighed at it all. Ladies, we all bleed: day and night, once a month, 12 times a year. What’s the big secret?
Okay, I’ll give credit where it’s due - we have come a long way in destigmatizing menstruation. Over the years, there’s been a steady, hopeful increase in the conversations around periods and menstrual health. Sex education is getting better. More women are using appropriate sanitary products than ever before. We’re all living our lives to the fullest despite our periods and most importantly, no one’s getting thrown into an outhouse for bleeding. However, there are still little things that I can’t help but roll my eyes at - the blue liquid from the commercials, the whispers at the chemist, the suspicious black bag that they hand over our pads in, the subtle shame; we’ve all borrowed a pad/tampon and quickly snuck it in our pocket before any of the males around us had the chance to notice. You know, I’m probably a hypocrite for condemning this embarrassment; it’s ingrained in me too. Yet, as I continue to write this, I’m hoping we can push through it together.
A study featured by the New York Post among 1500 lovely ladies found that 58% of women have felt embarrassed for merely being on their periods. Furthermore, a whooping 42% of women had experienced period shaming (comments usually coming from male friends, family members or classmates) more than 5 times in their lives. If you think this is unfortunate, it’s about to get even worse: The study also included 500 men, 44% of whom admitted to having made a joke about or comment on a partner’s mood when she was on her period. On top of that, 51% of these men believed that it was inappropriate for women to openly discuss their periods in the workplace. Wow, talk about not going with the flow.
Another recent survey of 13,000 women and men conducted by health care companies Myovant Sciences and Evidation Health showed that 60 percent of female and male respondents believe that there is indeed a stigma around menstruation in society today. Well, at least that’s the one thing that all genders agree on- the stereotype exists. We’re definitely not ovary-acting.
Speaking of stigma, period myths have been a big part of growing up as a woman. And if you thought the wives’ tales here in India were bad, you’re very, very wrong. Before I go back to all the stats and numbers, here’s what your period would look like in different parts of the world, based on their myths:
Italy - "Your dough wouldn’t rise and everything you cook would be a disaster (that is if it already isn’t, baking bread is bloody hard)."
Romania - "If you touched flowers, they’d die quickly."
Israel - "You would get slapped on your face after your first period to ensure beautiful, red cheeks for the rest of your life."
Poland - "Sexual encounter while on your period would kill your partner. What a way to murder."
Argentina - "Your mother would recommend not taking a bath for 7 days."
Malaysia - "Ghosts would haunt you if you didn’t wash your pad before you threw it out. Sigh. If the cramps weren’t already enough."
Bolivia - "Cradling babies would make them sick and very, very quiet (pretty handy for flights, if you ask me)."
I mean, as absurd as our desi beliefs are, at least we’re allowed to hold a bunch of flowers while our uteruses silently kill us.
What do you know, maybe India is more period friendly than we all thought. It’s also one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t tax sanitary products. On the 74th Independence Day speech at the Red Fort, prime minister Narendra Modi broke some major taboos by talking about sanitary napkins, something even the most ‘educated’ of men still squirm about. Our government has gone a long way in making sanitary products more accessible to underprivileged women. Thanks to Janaushadhi centres, upwards of 5 crore women have been able to obtain sanitary pads for just a rupee. It’s only a matter of time before unbelievably dangerous substitutes like rags, plastic and ash finally become a thing of the past. Maybe Akshay Kumar’s 2018 hit ‘Pad Man’ will actually play out in reality.
On the other hand, a 2016 study titled ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management Among Adolescent Girls in India’ that surveyed almost 100,000 Indian girls found that nearly 50,000 had no idea about menstruation until the first time that they were faced with their period. These girls were confused, ashamed and terrified- some even thought they’d contracted a deadly disease. Imagine being 13, getting a period cramp and thinking your colon is going to fall off because you don’t know any better. Imagine countering the sore legs, puking and fever without any context. There is an obvious and burning need for better education.
If the state of female education in our country wasn’t already disadvantageous enough, 23 million girls drop out of school every year upon starting their periods. What is supposed to mark the beginning of their womanhood, becomes the finish line of their lives and careers instead. Moreover, the debate around menstruating women entering places of worship prevails. The purity of a bleeding woman has always been questioned. Hell, numerous young women still close themselves off to the convenience of a tampon because they’re afraid that it will take away their virginities. (It will not! Please remember- ‘virginity’ is a social construct created years ago to commodify women.)
The lack of access to menstrual products is one of the leading causes of death in our youth. Surprisingly, ‘watching Indian reality TV’ didn’t even make it to that list. Hazardous, avoidable infections are simply dismissed as ‘aurato wali beemari’ (women’s disease) because they’re just that common.
Roughly half of the female population, i.e. 26% of the global population at this moment is of reproductive age. This means that 2 billion, 28 million women menstruate each month. Roughly 500 million are menstruating right now, as you scroll through this article. And just today, 63,000 young girls will drop out of school and lose their chance at a good life. An average woman will spend nearly 10 years of her life on her period. Even the damn world wars didn’t last that long.
Periods are normal. It’s something that has been happening to us since the beginning of time. It’s a fundamental of the very process that is responsible for creating all of mankind. A period should be viewed as normally as sweating and sneezing, because it is just that: a common bodily process. ‘That time of the month’ shouldn’t come with any shame or fear attached. In fact, given how good we’ve gotten at getting blood off of things, the only people who need to be afraid are men (wink).
Even though it might feel like we’re losing gallons and gallons of blood every month, a normal period will only come with around 12 teaspoons of blood. And society, that’s an awful lot of drama over a few teaspoons, if you ask me.
Who is to blame then? Is it the TVC makers? Is it the chemists? Or is it our very own mothers who’ve perpetuated the shame by teaching us how to hide, whisper and lay low? As easy as it is to point the finger at someone and walk away, we have to understand that there’s no single perpetrator here. One might think of blaming the men, but the truth remains that they’re as much of a casualty of this mindset as we are. Every single one of us is a victim of a terrible, centuries-old belief - that one of the most remarkable, mystical processes of the human body is somehow unnatural.
Therefore, the only way forward is normalization (read: stop treating your period like it’s herpes). We all know that women menstruate, but that’s not enough. It’s about time for us to start acting like it. Regularise period stains. Start talking about your period and how it affects you. Share all your bloody adventures. Wave your tampon in the air. The next time you want to borrow a pad, scream across the room. Let the world know. Make sanitary health and medication a socially acceptable conversation.
And most importantly, start calling your period by her first name.