Do you think period myths are an old forgotten story? Well, they are so deeply situated in our conscience and lives that they often go unnoticed. Even today there are many women who do not step inside the kitchen when they are menstruating. Even today many women are reluctant to utter the word periods, let alone speaking about it openly. Even today school lessons on periods dissipate an awkward silence among girls and mocking giggles among boys.
Boys tease girls who have pads or stained skirt. Many women try to muffle the sounds of pad wrappers, hide stained clothes so that no one around knows that she is on her periods. Even today women do not have sex during their period because it is believed that it might affect the man’s longevity. Even today, it is believed that women use their menstrual blood for witchcraft.
To back my claim with more objectivity, here is a statistic that shows how period myth continues to be an unquestioned reality in India. A WHO survey conducted in 2017 in some of the major cities of India shows that 45 per cent of girls still believe period is a taboo. 45 per cent still don’t have access to pads, while many still rely on cloth and do not consider pads as an essential need.
How can a woman be comfortable in using a pad if it's so costly, still sold in black ploy bags, becomes a reason of weird stares of men and even the sound of its wrapper brings shame? How can women not consider period as a taboo if period huts are still a reality and menstruating women are prohibited in temples? Yes, Sabrimala Temple in a historic judgement removed the restrictions on the entry of menstruating women inside the temple. But did it remove the stigma? Why was it followed for so long? And is Sabrimala the first and the last temple to impose restrictions on menstruating women?
And if you think that period myths are widespread in rural areas only due to lack of education and awareness, you are mistaken. Remember the Bhuj college incident reported earlier this year? Female students were asked to show their panties to prove if they are menstruating or not. Why? So that those women do not enter the dining room and religious places and make them impure. If education institutions uphold period myths and taboos, what can we expect from the outside world?
Let us face it. Our conditioning or social relations are rooted in the belief that period is impure, women’s sexuality is a stigma and her restriction is the norm.
Society always looks for explanations and opportunities to revive and keep alive the social structure that has been the norm since ages and which has its own benefits. Still wonder why the sanskaar debate is brought back again and again as an explainer of the increasing crime against women? Period is still not normalised because society doesn’t want to make an effort to do that. There is no awareness and neither the urge to know how period myths affect women. It is rendered as “feminine talk” that deserves kitchens and shelves, not drawing rooms and dais.
How many times menstruation has been a part of the government's policy? How many times schools focussed on menstrual awareness drives? How many times the priests in the religious places didn't look at women with questioning eyes? The answer ranges from rarely to never. So how can period myth be a forgotten story?
The first step towards the normalisation and removal of the shame and taboo is to say the word period. Rather than referring it as “that day of the month”, “can’t go into pooja for a week” or “can’t have pickle”. Secondly, educate girls from the beginning about periods, use of pads or tampons and period cramps. But make sure that this discussion is about awareness for both the girls and boys in the house and not a red flag of shame and segregation.
And thirdly, the society should understand period as a body function rather than a symbolism of adulthood, sexuality, curse, impurity, holy celebration or silence. It should be normal to talk about periods and its complications as it is for any other body functions. Stop asking girls to stay away from religious places, kitchen or gardens during their periods. Advertisements should stop hiding period blood behind blue liquid, shopkeepers should stop selling pads in black poly bags and men should stop getting weird when women mention period. It is time for us reinterpret or tweak our realities and beliefs to make it more grounded, inclusive and free of taboos.