This Content is a Part of The Menstrual Hygiene Awareness 2021, in collaboration with The Logical Indian and Pee Safe.
A black polythene bag is closely tucked under her arm as my mom walks into the house, back from the market. Without a word, she rushes to her room and slides the bag along with its contents, into her wardrobe’s drawer. Then comes back out and takes care of the rest of the stuff she bought. 10-year-old me, as you would’ve guessed, is mighty confused. But I forget all about it; kids and voters have a very short memory span, after all.
Growing up, it was hard to ignore references to menstruation, even though I didn’t know anything about it. I saw ads for Whisper, the same package I’d surreptitiously seen in Mom’s drawer. I wondered why a group of grown men were pouring blue ink all over a product that my child’s brain could fathom was very personal to my Mom and my sisters, when none of them used blue ink. And yet my innocent queries were almost always shot down – “It’s just ladies’ stuff”.
It took a biology lesson at school and exposure to the World Wide Web, for me to realize it’s far more than that. Most crucially, sanitary napkins are a privilege that numerous poorer families can either not afford (non-profits and tax policies are helping bridge this gap) or don’t care about, due to the awkwardness surrounding it. “It’s impure”, they say, as they block menstruating women from entering the temple. Menstruating women in some traditional households are outcasts in their own homes. This awkwardness, this stigma, comes at the cost of women’s health. Menstruation – and the tools required to safely process it – became just another means to discriminate against an entire gender, simply because patriarchy felt nauseated by a natural human phenomenon. Stigma, like charity, begins at home.
It was only years later, when I started dating women, that I was jolted out of my passive stance around the topic of menstruation. I got educated in a way that school, society, and family could never; by someone who needed to share how she felt when PMS’ing, just like she would after a bad day at work. Stigma was thrown out the window, simply through an open conversation. That’s all it took. It helped me learn what women have to go through as they menstruate, and not just physically. I met someone who was shy about admitting that she was menstruating. She instinctively felt a need to hide it, as if hiding a fault in her – feeding off of the stigma that clouds this topic. Professional life, I realized, becomes further hell for women. Taking a day off to tend to menstrual cramps is explicitly allowed, but implicitly considered a liability, restricted to one gender. This problem has a far more complex solution than just changing the rules. Changing the rules doesn’t change deep-rooted biases.
I think the stigma is the root cause of why menstruation is harder to tackle than just the physical side effects of it. Imagine if someone told an inquisitive kid, “it’s the superpower that made it possible for your mum to give birth to you”, instead of “it’s private ladies’ stuff, move on”. I’m sure this kid would grow up to be a better husband, a better boss, a better friend, and a better Dad.
Author- Ashish Jha