I remember being pushed into a room with all the other girls in my class for a secret meeting that only girls were allowed to attend. We wondered, collectively, what all 20 of us could have done to get us into trouble. Soon we realised that this was a talk about our bodies, specifically our uteruses and our menstrual cycles. Every girl attends a secret meeting at some point in her life where she’s told about menstruating. In many households, it is told to them in the briefest way possible, hoping that in a biology lesson later, she’ll completely understand the inner workings of her uterus.
Menstruation is not a topic that is easily discussed. The sheer number of names and euphemisms that women have come up with shows us that we’d rather not openly discuss it. Whether we say we have our chums, or that it’s our time of the month, or that we’re down, we don’t openly want people to know that we’re menstruating. And it isn’t just us. Society itself has many rules and regulations when it comes to menstruating women. There is restricted entry into holy places, and women are encouraged to lie down and do nothing. Earlier, women would be locked away for the duration of her period. She wouldn’t be allowed to enter the kitchen, or conduct her daily activities. A lot of hiding for a woman who is just going through a natural biological process.
So why is it that menstruation is so hushed? Why are we so afraid of this completely natural biological process? Why do people think that a menstruating woman is impure?
While explaining this is easy, years and years of unchallenged taboo has made women and girls secretive about their period. When broken down, none of these taboos hold true. It is a common misconception that menstrual blood is impure. This idea that the blood is impure, leads people to believe that women are “dirty” or “impure” during their period. This, of course, is completely untrue. Menstrual blood is a combination of blood, endometrial fluid, endometrial tissue, cervical and vaginal mucosa and microbes from the vagina. All five of these are biological things necessary for our health. There’s nothing impure about it, just as much as blood from a wound is not impure.
Holding onto menstrual taboos is dangerous. If we do not talk about our menstrual cycles and our period, we cannot fully understand it, which could lead to problems. How do we expect a young girl to understand the difference between a normal period, a heavy period and an abnormal period if we do not allow her to talk about it? How do we expect anyone to understand when it is necessary to consult a doctor?
Not talking about our period also makes girls ashamed of a biological process. Starting their period comes along with other hormonal changes that can be confusing for girls. It is a difficult time in their lives. Adding another thing to be ashamed about does not help in developing a young girl’s self-esteem. Especially when the thing that she is asked to be ashamed about it is completely natural. It could have a long-term effect on the way she deals with her period, and her body.
Luckily, many of these taboos are already being challenged. Advertisements for sanitary napkins show women carrying out their daily activities, and being active, challenging the notion that women must not be allowed to live their lives during their period. Artists like Priyanka Paul and Comedians like Aditi Mittal, talk about periods and menstrual products openly in the media, opening up conversations.
While we can’t expect to change the world over night, we must understand the impact our ideas and our words make on the future generations of girls. We must understand our own discomfort so that we don’t pass on the shame and misunderstanding down to more and more generations of girls.