You are watching television and suddenly the screen turns white and fluffy. A young woman also dressed in white tells you in a saccharine sweet voice how to take care of yourself during ‘those days’. Aah! Those days. How we women and girls love those days! The cramps, the back aches, the bloating, in some cases not being allowed the privilege of sleeping on a mattress or entering the kitchen; not to mention the days before ‘those days’ where the slightest emotional reaction is met with a hushed question “Are you PMSing?”. But what we, the ones with the uterus, love most about ‘those days’ is the sheer unpredictability of it all. It’s a flighty and fanciful creature and can appear as an offensive red blot when you least expect it.
Unfortunately for a little 12-year old girl in Tamil Nadu this took a serious turn when she was humiliated and attacked by a teacher (a woman) for staining her uniform. She was insulted in front of the whole class and taken to the Principal which resulted in the girl feeling so ashamed she committed suicide. I must ask this teacher, this stellar example of the Indian Education System, “How do you sleep at night? You have the death of a little girl on your conscience. Can you live with yourself?” In this day and age when women in other parts of the world have run marathons during their periods not allowing the stains to stop them, here a girl is dead.
I empathise with the grief of her parents but I still have a question for them and along with them, parents of girls everywhere “Why do you raise your daughters with such an acute sense of shame?” Menstruation is as natural a process as urination and defecation, yet it is fine for men to pee in public but if a stain of ‘those days’ happens to seep on to my clothes it is a crime so unforgivable that I have to bury my head in shame. We associate menstrual staining with the weight of shame, of inadequacy, with the label of not being able to care for oneself and above all a sense of blame. It’s your fault you are a girl. Keep your body hidden. Your bodily functions are a burden that you must not call attention to. Hide your discomfort through black clothes, medication and a continuous dread of the offensive red blot. Hide your fatigue and your emotions because it’s not a real thing. It’s ‘just hormones’.
There are cultures where the first period is celebrated. It marks the beginning of the fertile period of the girl’s life. I have attended these celebrations where the girl in question whose fertility was being celebrated sat in a different room not being allowed to sit with the rest of us or eat with the rest of us. She did get a pair of gold earrings though. I think this is where she learnt her lesson that when she is unhappy with patriarchy, jewellery is the standard answer.
I urge each one of you, if you cannot help at least do not shame. Stop Period Shaming. Stop expecting women to be apologetic for who they are. I must end with a quote by American poet and feminist Judy Grahn “Menstrual blood is the only source of blood not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, one most rarely spoken of.”