Periods for the sheer reason of blood emerging from vagina, a sexual organ are considered as a source of shame, a cause of slam. Young girls are tutored not to bring it up in front of any male member, be it their father, brother, or a male acquaintance. These young girls grow up to become adult women, who continue to remain moored and conditioned with decades of rearing of these rigid, narrow beliefs, which have become irreversible. As a woman working in a demanding corporate profession for over a decade, I cannot disagree to this. I’ve overheard hushed up conversations at the workplace, when a female gets her period but does not have a pad and hence asks her colleague for one. I’ve seen females carrying their entire bag to the washroom just to hide that one teeny weeny pad. I’ve seen women coyly ask for a pad from the shopkeeper in the presence of a group of male customers. I’ve even seen the pad being handed over, wrapped in a black polybag, when all other grocery items are packed in transparent plastic bag.
The above incidents point to a deeply ingrained and practiced stigma, which each one of us are guilty of having built up. I have also witnessed that, period related discomfort arises only in the male presence. Like a typical obedient girl, I practiced and lived with this make-believe notion for a decade and half, until one fine day I had a moment of epiphany, when I decided to reason the belief and trace its origin and interviewed my male friends, acquaintances, and co-workers.
Most of the men I interviewed, disclosed that they had an uncomfortable, ill-informed introduction to periods, which proved a handicap in bringing about the desired sensitization towards female needs during periods. Here are some of them:
“When I was very young may be 12-15 years my neighbors never allowed me to handshake the women in the house when they had period. I was told different stories just to avoid me touching them for 3 -4 days.”
“I have 2 sisters, both elder to me. One fine morning I found my mom furious over my younger sister over some stains on the bed sheet and I had no clue what’s happening. I wasn’t privy to any of the conversations happening behind closed doors. But later, my elder most sister told me about periods being a natural phenomenon and how it is looked down upon in Indian Society as a stigma. I was 10 then and was unable to understand a bit. But I did understand then that it’s very personal and people are not comfortable talking about it.”
“Once I was out with my girlfriend at the mall so after coming back from the washroom she wanted to go home right away despite our plan for a movie. To add to the woe, we had bought the tickets too. Sometime later after asking her a lot of times she told me about the same and to kill the butterflies in my stomach had to google it. So, yeah both the girl & google educated me.”
“I had a troubled introduction to periods. I was raised in the family with no sisters. We were two brothers and our mother did not introduce any of this to us. So, whatever I learned about periods was through my relationships. I remember my first relationship where the woman I was dating in school / class X-XI / 16 years perhaps. She would hate periods. It would give her excruciating pain. She would get angsty. She would admit going through mood swings and asked me to deal with it. I remember back then the joke was if you see a girl in some emotional turmoil, then you would comment if she is going through her periods. I mean this is really sad because in following years, I would grow up hating blood. I wish my mom had introduced this to me and I wish my first girlfriend consulted a good doctor and not go through so much pain. perhaps her mother did not guide her well either.”
“When I was about 14-15 years old, there use to be a tv commercial of Stayfree napkins, but could not understand what’s it is use for, so I asked my mother, she did not give a me a correct answer, but I knew that it was used by females, so I asked my class mate. She told me about the use of ‘Stayfree” but also complained to the teacher, and I was suspended for 3 days, I was in 8th standard at that time.”
“Just to add a background, I am from Meerut which is infamous for a lot of things. I was introduced about periods in 8th grade (age:13-14) when a couple of classmates were suspended from school because they were searching for sanitary pads in the school bags of girls. It was all a Chinese whisper where boys were discussing what is the purpose of sanitary pads and few seniors were bestowing their wisdom on the matter.”
“There was an incident, where I watched a TV commercial and asked my mom about it and she conveniently changed the topic; this made me realize it must be a topic that parents want to avoid and made me do my own research.”
“I was inquisitive about the repeated TVCs, never understood where in our daily life we throw blue liquid hence asked my parents (Did not know what it was used for at all before that)”
These stories tell us that social conditioning and stigmatization is instilled deep in our minds right when we were kids. As adults, we carried and lived these notions in our minds. Hence a woman is conscious and cautious not to spill the beans about periods with men in nearness. Similarly, a man is an untargeted victim of prejudice where he is seen as a deterrent to a free-flowing disclosure and conversation. This is a problem which has no name but a problem whose magnitude is spread like a terrain.
It is important to learn from the survey that mothers who are upbringing their sons should break free their minds from these taboos and make them understand that it is just a normal biological process, like sneezing, eating, urinating. There is nothing to feel shy about it.
The education of child (whether male and female) is of prime importance and this should be initiated by parents. An uneasy, troubling introduction seeps the seeds of suspicion which is detrimental as they carry it along in their adulthood. Renuka Shahane has made a pioneering effort as she humanized the talk about hormonal fluctuations, mood swings, pain that one goes through during one’s periods with her teen age sons. In this 2-minute video, she has shared how mothers should include their boys in the conversation when they reach 11 or 12.
In Renuka Shahane’s words –
Boys can never really understand what goes on in the bodies of women & you can’t blame them for that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t empathize. When they see ads related to sanitary pads quite openly on tv which go overboard in showing how women can achieve superhuman feats even in their periods, they don’t get an idea of some bad days that all women go through on some days of their periods or sometimes all days.