This post is inspired and probably even a repetition of one of my fellow bloggers (whose blog, I would highly recommend), @feministbrown
Interestingly, her blog is called “The Mad Period Woman” and this post explains her thoughts on her namesake and her views on one of Nature’s most common and usual happenings (fortunately or unfortunately restricted only to the female sex)
I come from a fairly orthodox upbringing and family. However, the term ‘orthodox’ or ‘liberal’ vary drastically depending on the context, content and topic of the thing in question.
I was 13 when I got my first period. Despite being the younger sibling of a sister who had already attained puberty, I wasn’t told anything about puberty and the complications (if any) it brings with itself. Probably, my parents wanted me to figure out myself before they could explain the changes I was going through. As a human. More importantly, as a woman.
I remember how shocked I was to look at blood ‘there’. I also vividly remember inferring that I was probably suffering from some strange kind of cancer. Perhaps, too many cells multiplied in my body and burst and produced so much blood that was leaking out of me. That was the conclusion I jumped into, based on my limited knowledge of Biology and cell multiplication.
My mother, obviously, laughed and explained the process in the most patient manner possible. Whatever explanation anyone could possibly give at the beginning of my teenage-hood, I knew that I was now going to bleed every month for at least three days continuously. That thought was scary, gross and unfair enough to sow the seeds of hatred, perhaps even jealousy, towards men, in general.
I wasn’t aware that attaining puberty was such a big deal in my family. Not only had I attained puberty, but, by extension, I had also attained reproductive maturity. Which meant that my body was now grown enough in order to conceive an entire new form of life. Again, that thought scared me. I’m 13. I haven’t had a “first crush” yet. I’m having bad hair days. And they tell me I’m a potential, fertile mother already? Holy crap!
As I said, all this is/was seen as a big deal. All my relatives were informed that I had “grown up.” My grandmother, who was alive then, had a private chat with me (which almost never happened as long as we were together) advising me to have as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible to enhance blood flow. My sister, who had already attained puberty by then, gave me a nonchalant “been there done that” look. And my father, to my surprise, shock and embarrassment, bought sweets home that evening to “celebrate my fertility.”
Try as I might, I could not avoid the enormity of what had just happened to me.
Meanwhile, stomach cramps were killing me. They still do. They appear to me as this solo, ever so powerful external force that seems to enjoy making their presence felt by blessing me with cramps. Not to forget the PMS (Pre-menstrual stress).
My family, conventional as it is, had certain ground rules. Following the age-old tradition of mythology, a woman in period is considered to be “impure” and “unclean” and hence not permitted to enter the kitchen or the prayer room. This concept baffled me. It baffles me even today given that it continues to be practiced in most Indian households. Sometimes, to an even greater degree of shunning the bleeding woman and confining her to a damp room for three days straight.
I spent the first few months of my newly attained teenage life fighting and arguing with my family, particularly my mother, on these bizarre, outdated rules. I did not understand how, something biologically decided (or theologically ordained, as the case may be) be offensive to ‘God’ so as to not permit entry into the prayer room, nay, any room. Why is it seen as a curse? Is it a curse that comes with womanhood? If so, why was the fact that I had attained reproductive maturity celebrated, in the first place? Does that not amount to hypocrisy?
It was surprising, even gratifying, to note that my mother, who herself comes from an even more orthodox upbringing, gave up on me. Perhaps more out of tiredness than (reluctant) acceptance of the validity (if any) of the points I raised. My father never believed in such rules from the very beginning and he did his bit of being the ‘liberal dad’ by buying us, sisters, our sanitary napkins when we ourselves felt ashamed to purchase it in the public supermarket.
Of course, today I purchase my own STs. And I’m sometimes so choosy about it that I put the seller to shame who gives me an ‘is-she-buying-an-ST-or-a-new-kind-of-lingerie’ look.
But I’m appalled to hear stories of friends, cousins, relatives, acquaintances who still undergo the agony of not only being in pain of bleeding (which is but natural and unavoidable) but also the trauma of being treated as an untouchable, isolated from the rest of humanity for incomprehensible reasons. Please leave the bleeding woman alone. You don’t have to offer sympathy (which some irritating folks do in an attempt to cheer her up). You neither have to offer her advice. Just give her the isolation she needs. Not the isolation you thrust on her to announce your domination or power over her. The ‘your’ being one of the oldest forms of oppression that ever existed: patriarchy (and its many agents).
Let her be. She’s already leaking blood.