The Shame and Glory of Periods and Womanhood
This is a winning entry of our writing contest on “Periods and Mental Health”, by Iravati Kamat
Disclaimer: If you are uncomfortable with period talk, brace yourself! This article might just be for you.
Red incident 1.
Seema was standing, more like squished, in a crowded bus. The day had only started and it was already turning out to be a bad one. Her periods had started this morning. The flow, the tactful position of the pad, and uncomfortable aches were already enough to crowd her mind. On top of that, her feet were killing her for standing for so long.
The pace was quite slow due to the traffic. She felt suffocated due to the touch and pressure from all sides on her body. Her mind was having trouble fighting on all fronts. It must have shown on her face, because her best friend who was standing just beside her immediately caught that. The friend decided to ask a man sitting in the section reserved for women to get up and give her friend the seat. Seema was reluctant but her friend had already asked. Tactfully, of course. Not mentioning her periods in public. However, the man merely responded to the request of her being unwell and needing a seat with a “So?” Seema tried to stop her friend from responding, but her friend was shocked at the man’s apathy. So, she went ahead and insinuated that Seema might be having period pains. Again, as tactfully as possible. The man’s response was the same. Quite rude this time. That was it. Her friend was shocked at his audacity and continued what was now an altercation.
As for Seema, she just wanted to disappear. By now, the whole bus knew she was on her periods. The man seemed drunk, so there was no point in arguing further as it was not going to get her a seat anyway. But now her friend was arguing on principle. Seema closed her eyes, resting them a bit. It seemed like everything was too much and the world had pushed her into a corner. Though, as she reluctantly kept listening to the argument, she was relieved that she was not alone in that corner.
Red incident 2.
Ok, this never happens. Her period math is never wrong. She always has extra pads and correct estimates of when to use them. But today, everything seemed to go wrong in every way possible. She meant to change before leaving for home.
Unfortunately, as she was leaving, too many things happened at once at the office and she couldn’t wait to get out and breathe. That’s how she found herself relishing the seat in the metro. Before she could settle in, the corner seat vacated. She slid quickly to capture the corner but as she did, she could see tiny red spots on the shining seats of the metro. Her mind took more than a little time to accept what it was because that meant her worst nightmare was coming true. Well, at least she was in the ladies’ compartment.
As her mind finally permitted her to move and she started towards the seats to clean up the bloodshed, the next stop had arrived. She tried to work as fast as possible. Apparently, like her day, the stains were stubborn. Thankfully, the last few drops of water in her almost empty bottle helped with that. By now, she could feel the weight of stares on her back and the noise of hushed whispers around her. She started fidgeting more. She needed more tissues. She started to desperately claw at her bag. And as stupid as she was, she dared to look around. Oh, the stares! She couldn’t believe this wasn’t just a bad dream. But, no. She wouldn’t cry. As she continued her frantic search for the tissues, a hand came in front of her holding two tissues. She dared to look up and apparently the hand was attached to a warm smile. That made her cry even more. No, this can’t be happening. She managed to mutter “Thank you”, but didn’t take the tissues. She should be able to handle everything by herself, right? Soon, she managed to take out a few pieces of paper and wiped those goddamn stains. The next step came. More people arrived. The naive new passengers tried sitting on the newly cleaned seat but their dutiful neighbours warned them first about it. No, she wouldn’t cry. As she dared to glance around one last time (because dropping her head till her stop came and standing while her entire body screamed in protest was her only option), the warm smile once again came into the picture. No, she wouldn’t cry. She would go home, wash and clean the traces of the awful day, and then cry herself to sleep. But surprisingly, as her day went on, the stares, the stains, the pain slowly turned into a dried memory and the warm smile stayed with her as she went to bed.
It’s important to know that while menstruation is endorsed as a natural process and a gift to the womankind, it’s only as natural and as much of a gift as the person experiences it. And that experience is manifested through many such red incidents. It’s almost funny that we live in a society where the relationship of women with periods is glorified, and yet, their womanhood is evaluated based on how good they are at hiding their periods. Several lives are stained with many such red incidents on a regular basis.
So, how do we nurture the flickering red hope that is trying to make its mark? If you are a non-menstruating person, it’s important to know that the experience of every menstruating person is different. So, ask after what they want. The needs of every person could be different. Some people may want to talk about it, some may not. Some might need a hot drink, or a place to sit down for a bit, a hug maybe or just some space to breathe. While individual help is always appreciated, it’s important to acknowledge that more than being physical, menstruation is a social phenomenon. In a red corner is the spot where a menstruating person often finds themselves. They are cornered by judgemental stares, discriminatory rituals associated with periods, unfair social standards, binary gender outlooks and expectations of society, and several others.
In many cases, the corner is quite literally where the person is actually isolated by their own family, sometimes denying them very fundamental means of happiness. The least we can do is challenge the notion of this corner (literal and metaphorical). The least we can do is not deny a person the basic right to experience their freedom, happiness, and dignity that they are entitled to. The least we can do is not snatch away the red hope to stand tall with one’s head held high, unashamed, unfiltered, and unbidden.
Author: Iravati Kamat
Iravati is an engineer and a social worker. She is originally from Maharashtra and currently situated in Delhi. Her areas of passion are Mental Health, Gender roles, Dynamics & realities of social structures, etc. Iravati wants to explore writing as a medium of social impact. Her Instagram handle is @glass_half_untouched and the Facebook profile name is Iravati Kamat. The link to her personal blog is- https://glasshalfuntouched.blogspot.com/.
Edited By: Divya Rosaline0