What’s with all the Secrets?
Author- Shambhavi Shukla
Editor- Navya Om Agnihotri
Remember the first time you had to go to school while being on your period? How hard did you try to make sure that no one realizes what’s happening inside your body?
In our society, menstruation or periods have been surrounded with taboos, secrecy, and enigma since time immemorial. People tend to view it as something impure, something that is not to be discussed in the company of those who do not experience it.
When I was a child, I used to see my mother buy pads from medical stores. The shopkeeper always made sure to wrap all the packets in old newspapers and then place them inside a black, opaque polythene bag, thus “double-bagging” it. As a child, that piqued my curiosity, and I was eager to grow up and be led into the big secret. I would imagine the various answers to what exactly was that packet inside the bag- was it some snack that my mom did not wish to share with me? Or maybe it was a toy, or probably a soft pillow made for grown-ups. It is needless to say that my assumptions were way off.
When I was about 12, we had a workshop at our school about menstrual education (no reason to explicitly say that it was an all-girls workshop). The secrecy with which our teachers spoke and warned us not to discuss it with our fellow co-eds and even said that we should tell our mothers about the workshop, but there was no need to inform our fathers or brothers; all of it made us very hesitant about the topic.
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I could not bring the subject up in conversation with my mother for many months. When I finally talked about it with her, she bought me a packet of pads to explain how everything works. That was the first time I got my own black-polythene-and-old-newspaper combo.
Menstruation is among the most natural phenomena of the world and yet ironically the most under-discussed one. The air is filled with awkwardness when an advertisement for sanitary napkins comes out of nowhere on family movie nights.
Many period “taboos” actually have scientific explanations, but over many years we lost their essence. Pretty much like the game called Chinese whisper, these rules became more and more distorted as they were passed down from one generation to another until eventually they were labeled as baseless taboos.
With the emergence of these taboos, menstruation became a topic that people avoided discussing, and even before you know it, the entire ordeal became “impure.” People started getting shamed for bleeding once a month. The status of being impure played an enormous role in the expulsion and isolation of women from their homes for a week every month. Consequently, menstruation became something that was supposed to be kept a secret from society.
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A few decades back, when women started entering the workforce, they faced entirely new levels of discrimination from their bosses and even co-workers. They had to prove their integrity so as to get somewhat equal treatment. In the pursuit of equality, women started hiding what was as natural as hunger. Discretion was the only way for them to achieve professionalism back in the day. Even if they went through enormous amounts of pain and discomfort, they had to hide it and pretend to be completely fine.
Another reason for the secrecy and shame surrounding menstruation is the glorified image of a woman’s sexuality. The way their appearance is expected to be as delicate as a flower, as fragrant as a flower, and basically everything to be the same as a flower; all of this feeds the unreal expectations surrounding a woman’s body. A bloated, bleeding, smelly flower is something to be looked down on. Another subset of this issue is the unreal images portrayed in the advertisements of sanitary napkins and other period products.
The girl on her period who jumps around, runs, dances, and even closes huge deals while wearing white pants is indeed every person’s spirit animal. Every menstruating person sitting on their couch with a tub of ice cream is just waiting for the opportunity of donning their white armor. The images of menstruating people need to be stopped from being romanticized. "I’m sorry to disappoint you, but all I wish to do on my periods is binge-watch Netflix and always have cake on my plate. Feeling tired, bloated, and miserable is normal, and we should not try to go out of our way to hide it."
The primary reason for keeping menstruation a secret is- because that is what we were all taught ever since our childhoods, and it is what we grew up watching. But, now the times are changing, and we need to change ourselves along with it. Period education is essential not just for females but for all genders. Having your periods is nothing to be ashamed of; instead, it is a sign that your body is functioning in the manner it is supposed to. The way you aren’t ashamed of announcing when you’re hungry, similarly don’t be afraid of saying out loud that you are on your period.
The day you are not afraid of opening pads or tampons in the girls’ washroom, pat your back, treat yourself to some extra calories (come on, the lost blood makes up for it), and be proud of your growth.