Is Menstruation A Taboo Even Today?

Let me begin with a true story around menstruation.

Riya was sitting in class, half asleep thanks to the dry History lecture when she felt the need to hit the loo urgently. She had been feeling uncomfortable down there for a while and had even started to wonder if she peed in her pants. I mean, why would it all feel somewhat soaked? She excused herself from the lecture and headed towards the middle school bathroom where she discovered that it was not pee. It was bloody blood! “Uh oh, what is happening to me? What do I do?”, she started fretting like a cat on hot bricks. Her eyes immediately fell on the toilet paper dispenser by the washbasin and she pulled out some toilet paper and stuffed them right into her underwear. Panicking, she waited for the recess hour to ask her friends if they have experienced this. It was her best friend who calmed her down and told her, “You silly girl! It’s not a disease. It’s chums!” 

Chums? What on earth is that?? Riya wondered.

On that note, let me take your attention away from Riya and towards some of the menstruation myths, taboos, and related practices that still exist. Let’s bust some of them:

1. Don’t say the “P” word. Or the “M” word. Ever!

Before you get all imaginative about what M and P means, allow me to clarify.

Yeah, “period”. Or “menstruation”. I wish we all could just call it by these names. After all, it is a normal and crucial biological process. A natural bodily function. But in many parts of the world, even in 2020 people, are still uncomfortable using the words. Some clever souls have creatively designed code names for periods such as “chums”, “bloody buddy”, “that time of the month” – so on and so forth. Because, well, periods is synonymous to Voldermort; the one who shall not be named! And these words are uttered with utmost care and in hushed tones, with eyes wandering from here to there to make sure nobody in your vicinity is eavesdropping on your periodic references to periods. One codeword that completely weirds me out is “riding the cotton pony”. Trust me, you will never look at ponies the same way now!

2. Don’t enter the kitchen or prepare food. You will contaminate it.

It is generally a cultural belief that a woman on her period is dirty simply because the blood she is shedding is impure. Forget entering the kitchen, in some parts of India (in the past), they were not allowed to share meals with the rest of the family. At the end of the day, what people have to understand is that menstrual blood is just blood and tissues in your uterine lining that haven’t served a particular purpose and is as pure as the rest of the venous blood. 

3. Utter the word “menstruation” and get ready to be glared at by elders

So even today, girls can’t come to the living room, slouch on the couch and declare to their mothers and grandmothers, “Oh man, I am on my periods and this time the cramps are really bad”, with the same ease as you would tell them if your tummy is upset or if you are constipated. There is a huge stigma associated with this biological process that tends to embarrass the listener more than the speaker.

4. Crankiness before periods = PMS

Nada! I loathe it when women genuinely get emotional about something only to have a few others dismiss it off as a PMS symptom. There’s nothing more annoying than that. For starters, PMS is not just about being cranky or emotional. Sure, it does include hormonal changes and there are times when your estrogen hits the rock-bottom level. But it also includes a wide range of physical symptoms from joint pains to headaches. And not all women who are PMSing will go to undiscoverable corners and weep their eyes out. Also, not all women who menstruate necessarily have PMS. This needs to be drilled down into a lot of brains.  

5. Your touch is impure. So please stay away from:

  • Flowers – because your fingers will make them wilt. Ouch!
  • Babies – and in case, they are cooing at you from a cradle and you give them a mild sway, you might just have caused them a fever!
  • Pickle bottles – because it will rot through your touch. So you lazy men in the house, make your way to the fridge and get it out yourself!
  • Plants – because your breath will make the leaves turn brown. So basically they mean, if you happen to live alone, don’t water the plants – let them die!

As bizarre as all these sound, such restrictive practices are prevalent in a lot of communities not just in India but in countries like the UK, USA and Malaysia. In Iran, women are made to believe that menstruation is a disease. Can you even believe that?

6. The sneaky art of transporting a pad from its packet to the restroom needs to perfected by all girls

The root of this thought in fact comes from the shameful attitude attached towards menstruation. Alright, if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t. But at least, stop sneaking pads to the restroom. Stop making it look like you’re doing some sort of grave crime or even worse, trying to destroy some criminal evidence by neatly packing and disposing it off (the evidence, I mean!). There’s nothing about a sanitary product that one needs to be guilty of or embarrassed about. This was not something I was taught, but something that I picked up a lot later in life. I’ve always wondered why these small retailers wrap these pads separately in newspapers in a much-hastened manner while they just thrust soaps, pastes and all other hygienic items into the common shopping bag. 

7. There’s only one product to help you handle your period – pads.

Whoever said that is still stuck in the 1800s.  There are a number of items which you can use to soak up your menstrual flow. While pads are the most widely accepted and preferred sanitary item, tampons also do an equally good job. Tampons are especially suitable for those women who are into any sort of athletics. Another environment-friendly option that seems to be on the rise is the washable and reusable period underwear which can absorb the menstrual blood. Menstrual cups which are bell-shaped, flexible silicone cups, are also another safe and convenient option which can be used to collect the menstrual fluid. In fact, Thinkal, which is an initiative by the Alappuzha municipality in Kerala gave away 5000 menstrual cups to women in 2019 and had Kudumbasree workers training them on how to use it. It is also remarkable that the Muhamma Grama Panchayat in Alappuzha is aiming to be the first synthetic pad-free village in the whole of India. And that’s a major step towards breaking menstruation taboos! 

What’s the dumbest/worst thing you’ve heard someone say about menstruation? 

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