The conversation should now shift from Happy to Bleed to talking about menstruation with more than a whisper

Taking off from Happy to bleed lets talk menstruation in more than just whispers
Blog Menstruation Thursday, November 26, 2015 - 14:51

Prayar Gopalakrishnan's comments on allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple, the day a scanner to detect if it is the ‘right time’ for women to enter temples was introduced, has put the focus back on a subject that has for far too long been brushed under the carpet. A spirited open letter written by Nikita Azad to the Sabarimala Temple authorities has opened a Pandora's box in the country about women and menstruation, something that has always been spoken about with similes or euphuism. 

Even advertisements about sanitary napkins are too abashed to show what they are actually used for. We all know that sanitary napkins are definitely not used for absorbing blue ink or some mysterious blue diluted liquid. And even these watered down ads are a source of discomfort in many households, with elders changing channels right when the ads appear. And these ads perennially show girls and women not just in excruciating pain, which of course we are in, but also of being constantly anxious and humiliated by the stains that could appear. 

These ads, while perpetuating the taboo around menstruation, are in reality holding a mirror to our lives. How many women speak about their menstrual problems with their fathers and brothers? So many girls are just 'sick' to their male relatives and colleagues when they are suffering from cramps or any other menstrual issues. Just a mysterious sickness and no further questions asked and explanations given. 

And poor men, it's deemed indecent if they prod any further and hence, most often quietly accept whatever little explanation is offered to them. In such an atmosphere, it should come as little surprise that men treat menstruation with such diffidence and speak of arbitrary traditions, which consider women to be impure when they have their menstrual cycles. Despite living with people who menstruate every month, most men's knowledge about this aspect of women's lives seems abysmally low. 

Women speak of menstruation in such riddles that it gets infuriating. Recently, Amisha Patel was engaged in a Twitter war with a soap opera star after he tweeted that she didn’t stand up in a theatre when the national anthem was being played.  And in response the actress said she had had her ' monthly girly problem' and thus couldn't stand. Calling menstruation a monthly girly problem is as ludicrous as showing flowers getting close to each other to depict kissing. Patel went on to berate the guy about how he had invaded her privacy by making her say something so personal in public space and she, surprisingly, got a lot of 'you go girl' support from women who thought she was being very brave. And this, in a capsule, seems to be the crux of stigmas around menstruation in India. 

When something so natural is kept closeted, it becomes that much easier for myths and blind beliefs to abound. For centuries, we've had so many misconceptions and discriminatory practices against menstruating women that it is now a part of our culture. From not being given access to the kitchen, temple, to not being allowed to wash our hair while menstruating, the list is lengthy and varies from culture to culture. But the bottom line is that what could have probably started off as a way of giving women a break from daily chores has gone on to become a tool in persecuting them. 

In this context, the condescending, sexist remark by the Sabarimala Temple authorities has opened up space for debate and discussion with massive outrage on social media, and a campaign that has been dubbed ‘Happy to Bleed’. What it has unintentionally done is made the young women openly broach a subject that is on our minds many days a month but has so far been discussed only in whispers (pun intended). 

I have made all the significant men in my life buy sanitary napkins for me several times and not because I was embarrassed to ask the male pharmacist. I have also asked for my pack of sanitary napkins to not be mystifyingly draped in black polythene or in several layers of newspaper. The least women can do is start not treating menstruation as a forbidden sin and speak about it more openly, thus encouraging the men around us to also do so. This could prove to be a more productive way of handling the issue and a more practical way forward for the ‘Happy to Bleed’ campaign. 

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