I always wondered what made my siblings uncomfortable when the sanitary pad ads hit the television screen. Sometimes there would be an awkward silence, at times they would choose to change the channel or sometimes even opt to issue a new topic to cast a shadow on the unwarranted stigma. It was quite like a pinball game to ignore such practice but it later became an atrocity to me when I became aware of the social hierarchies stemming from biological differences. I never had any conversation concerning sexual practices, menstruation, or pregnancy within my family. I recall, as a teenager when I used to ask my mom, what being ‘pregnant’ means, which I heard in daily soaps, I always got a ‘staring’ followed by a warning “Gandi Baat hoti hain”.
Whenever I read about menstruation or essential clothing-related stigma, I blamed my sister and mother for it. I believed they voluntarily contributed to the widening gap. But as ‘half knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge’, the understanding of these discriminations dawned late for me. Now I interpret things more comprehensively. As a man, I observed these things via ‘friend circle’ comprising mainly boys. During sudden prompting of curiosity, it’s quite hard to accept and cherish the laugh followed after the answer of “Ye Sab Baatein Kon Karta Hain Ghar Pe”. Why our generation which claims to be more advanced and open intentionally opts for these centuries-old thoughts?
One day my mother asked my brother to light the aarti instead of my sister, which she used to do regularly. My brother, in turn, asked my sister to do and so my mother protested and said, “She can’t do”. My brother was puzzled and he asked, “Why?” “She just can’t do it!” answered my mother. She herself was probably not allowed to light aarti by her mother when she must be going through ‘that time of the month’. I understood and my brother too, followed by the same old awkward silence. Now I would not accuse my mother or sister of adopting such secretive methods to get the work done. Instead, I would blame us for not creating the desired conditions, to make women in our home comfortable and change the status quo. It’s not the women who adhere to such stigmas. But we too grew up segregating women from men based on only one term of reference i.e., biological feature.
These incidents were not limited to daily activities. Mythology is something all Indian revere and cherish. But when I was explaining to my teenage cousin about ‘Shikhandi,’ I was told to keep quiet and a warning issued to my curious brother. These incidents shed light on the underlying paranoia of our society. When it comes to nationalism we are ready to boycott products, people and services, but when we talk about the malpractice of gender-based difference we are told to keep mouth shut and maintain the status quo. Does the question arise why we still do so? Why aren’t women, men, other genders have discussions and talk openly about such issues?
I remember, during one of my college days. I pushed one of my friends into the rain and then she suddenly reacted in a non-assertive way. I requested for the reason and she said, “Arre! I am going through that time of the month.” I was taken aback. Not because she mentioned periods, but because of the way she mentioned it. Growing up in a society which lives by these centuries-old customs sometimes normalize the stigma too, but with friends, you are not bound by these rules, however here too, we failed to bridge the gap.
In many cases, it’s our comfort that explains our attitude. Why is it that a female in the family is allowed to bring dry clothes which include men’s essential from the terrace, whereas it is hard to find a man doing so?
When my mother or sister goes through her periods, why am I allowed to ignore their discomfort? And why it does not happen vice-versa? Even a minute injury to a male in the family affects them. What if they want to rest or have some alone time? No, they are not permitted. Because our very social norms don’t approve of it.
Society expects parents to do ‘Charitra-Nirman’ (Character development) of children. But character development doesn’t involve talking about the physical changes and hormonal growth discussions. When we talk of character, it simply means one’s nature. But our body and hormones also influence our nature. Here, I find no reason to exclude or rather run away from taking aboard such topics during the process of imparting knowledge.
When every institution of knowledge, say, school teachers, temple priest, etc. strictly tells us to adhere to the principle of humanity, where is the humanity in letting women suppress their will to discuss their concerns? I fail to find the humanity in the very idea of labelling periods as ‘disturbance’ to the sanctity of God. And I can’t see a reason why girls need to refer to periods as ‘THAT TIME’ of the month.
We can make a change. If we want to stick to our ‘Sharam’ then why not look the other way. I often try to discuss menstruation, hormonal imbalances with my elder cousin sister, because of the level of comfort I enjoy with her. See, the comfort issue again, but in a right and positive way. I am just trying to break the stigma, at least within my family. I discuss the same with my siblings. Though we shut up when parents walk in between. At least we can make a first step in challenging the attitude towards women in our society.
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