The Circle Of Never-Ending Silence
The ‘woman problem’ is not to be talked about openly in our society. Yes, even in modern, urban society. Men feel uncomfortable at the slightest reference to periods. How often do even so-called educated women mention the real thing to colleagues and family instead of using the generic word “unwell”? How often do you hear men attribute a woman’s emotional outbursts to “that time of the month” and nothing more? The reason for all of this is that we don’t talk about periods in public. Actually, we don’t talk about it at all. Women know what it is like. And men think of periods as a vague something women go through every month. Talking about bleeding (or ‘down there’) in public is considered to be gross. It makes me believe that it is gross and that I will not talk about my periods in public. Oh and I most definitely will not reveal it to men who generally have no clue about what it is all about!
When I came across Menstrupedia, which is all about ‘talking’ about periods, I found it odd at first. But then that led me to think about how deep the silence around the topic is. Why was I so uncomfortable talking about it? What stopped me from treating my monthly visitor as just another process that our bodies undergo? Talking is healing. Sharing pain feels better than suffering in silence, right? When I delved deeper into these questions, I found that the answer lay in my conditioning. Or probably any woman’s for that matter. So how did this happen in the first place?
Let’s start from the very beginning. When I first got my periods, I pretty much encountered the same issues every girl in my generation did. Suddenly, I had all these rules, specific clothes, keeping something I myself did not understand a secret from others; the inexplicable pain – it seemed like life had mysteriously changed overnight. And who did I have setting all these rules? My mother. Who was following exactly what her mother had told her to do and not to do. She never asked my grandmom any questions – not that she had any answers – and I just like them also wasn’t supposed to question anything. The confusion deepens with the “don’t tell your father/brother” instruction. The trust in your relationships with male relatives drastically changes in a matter of minutes. Indeed, this culture of secrecy is first ingrained into the heads of young girls by their very own mothers.
When I was in high school, a girl in my class started bleeding and she did not carry a sanitary pad. Her periods had already started but mine hadn’t so I made sense of it only much later. The teacher arranged for a pad and the class monitor discreetly gave it to her. The teacher, without explicitly uttering the name of the girl, generally announced to the class that a certain someone was supposed to contribute to the class fund tomorrow and whoever it was knew who she was talking about. She did not want to openly tell the class about what had happened. Thus, the second person who taught me such secrecy was my teacher and that was worse since she reinforced what was erroneously already being practiced at home.
Anyway, I grew up, went to college and started working. If periods were mentioned at all, they would be whispered about in hushed tones. There were several euphemisms to refer to it indirectly and to avoid using the dreaded word out loud. If someone got her periods, there were always hurried, hushed exchanges between colleagues as if we were planning to bomb the building within minutes. The guys weren’t supposed to hear of it if an ‘emergency’ occurred and so this is how we would huddle up and strategize. Soon, we would even carry entire purses to the loo so that pads weren’t visible to everyone and the secret remained safe with us. Sometimes, it was like a relay race with friends hiding it in their jeans pockets or under their shawls during winters. They would then stand near the loo to pass it to the poor, suffering girl who needed to get hold of the pad. So, the third time I encountered silence was from my peers and people my age.
I think all this is enough for any woman to not believe in and continue to practice taboos surrounding periods that are handed down to her like through traditional inheritances. I trace this culture of making periods unmentionable back to all the women I have been with throughout my life. If we don’t talk openly about periods we make it inscrutable and confounding for men too. This, I understand, is the case for a lot of urban women as well.
So I say, instead of trying to get the whole world to talk about it, women themselves should start talking about it first. This culture of silence must be broken for another important reason. The whole practice of not talking about it keeps girls under a shadow of ignorance. They have no idea what they are going through, whether it is normal or whether they should see a doctor. No one talks about it and women suffer in silence resigning themselves to their fate.
So how do we start? I have a few things that I suggest we do.
– Stop feeling shameful about getting periods.
– Don’t mince words. Period pain? PMS? Say it the way it is. Don’t hide under “unwells”
– Want to borrow a sanitary napkin? Ask for it. Like you’d do so when you are borrowing anything else.
Talking about it will make it normal for men to break out of their barriers as well. Enable them to do so.
Talk about it like you would, any other issue. Buying pads is a big deal because we make it a big deal. Talking about it is a taboo because we have made it a taboo. Feel normal. Believe that it is normal. Talk about it like it is normal, because it is.
A communication and soft skills trainer for 13 years, Suman is passionate about writing and social media. Her hobbies include writing and watching reruns of sitcoms. She tweets as @suman_kher.
Edited by – Divya Rosaline1