Period Shaming: Periods! A word that rarely finds a mention in drawing rooms, but is a part of a woman’s life as intrinsic as blood, quite literally. It is well known through euphemisms, secretive nudges and giggles and isolation of menstruators. It is known enough to shame a person with period stain and pads. But no one wants to admit the word, confront its existence openly and talk about its importance. Why are periods associated with shame and silence? Why is period a taboo when it is an essential body function of women?
The major reason behind the shame around menstruation are the religious myths weaved around it.
In our country, religious beliefs and myths have been set in stone. They often become blindfolds that forget logics and reasons. Being a Hindu, I can vouch for the discrimination based on religious beliefs that I face while I menstruate. As per mythologies, period is a form of curse on humanity. According to a legend, angry Lord Indra severed the head of Vishwaroopacharya (the teacher of Gods) because Indra was not able to pronounce his name. Ultimately, Lord Indra was cursed by the Brahman. However, he got rid of it by distributing the curse among land, tree and women. Since that day, women started menstruating every month.
Periods embody shame and impurity not only in Hinduism but in Islam, Christianity and Judaism also. Consequently, many women just internalise period shaming as the norm created by God rather than questioning it. When I gained enough education to question the period shaming in my home, my elders (of course women because I wasn’t allowed to talk about periods to men) said, “Period is impure because that’s what God and scriptures said.” But then how did these religious myths formulate? Is there a reason why these mythologies are particularly biased against women and menstruation? Did these myths exist since always or was there a system of beliefs that formulated these myths to establish their control?
Yes, you guessed it right. These mythologies are a reflection of a patriarchal mindset that has ruled our society for so many years. Period has been tabooed by the patriarchy that deems it important to dominate and confine women.
The shame and lack of awareness about period has a deep connection with the invisibility of discourse and knowledge about women’s bodies. Misogyny and patriarchy have otherised women’s bodies from human anatomy and rendered them sexual, grotesque or godly. A woman’s body itself is a taboo that arouses sexual desires, divinity or disgust. Rather than viewing them as a part of human autonomy, women’s bodies are referred to as an embodiment of family honour or the ground of political, familial and sexual violence. Because of this, women’s bodies, especially vagina, breasts and other reproductive/sexual organs, are acceptable only if they are covered, invisible and not talked about. Eventually, periods, pregnancy, breast milk and all other normal functions of a woman’s anatomy become taboos, shame, disgust and silence.
But how long are we going to let these orthodox and archaic ideologies affect our present? Today when women are rubbing shoulders with men, why should their bodies be caged in patriarchal and misogynist ideologies? Why even today period should be associated with shame and disgust? Why even today girls should be ashamed about period, consider themselves as impure and stay away from holy places and people?
Period Shaming : It is high time now that we get rid of the taboos around period because it is not an impurity but a normal function of a woman’s body.
It is not right to perpetuate a flawed system of thoughts and action just because our ancestors believed in them. Just look around yourself to know how much harm the silence and shame regarding periods are causing to women. Period poverty is a grim reality of our country that has refrained many girls from gaining access to period hygiene and basic education.
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. According to NFHS-4, out of 336 million menstruating women, only 36 per cent use sanitary pads. Due to the lack of period products and the shame of period stain, 23 million girls drop out of schools every year. Moreover, period has become a reason for death for some women who incurred health complications due to the lack of period hygiene.
Now that period poverty and period shame has become a national issue, for whom are we perpetuating the silence around period? For patriarchy and the fake and fragile honour of society and family? Because clearly, it is not for the welfare of women and the definition of “purity, morality and honour” cannot be right if it comes at a cost of women’s lives. So think, change and remove the silence on periods.