I am a feminist. I have been one my whole life. So, one day I thought why don't I write for a feminist portal (I was already freelancing as a writer full time at this point)? And then I decided to act upon said thought. A few month's back I had pitched this idea to a feminist magazine. They had loved the idea, and I had gone ahead to get the whole photo-essay together within 2-3 days. They really loved it. But, for whatever internal issue the story never landed up on their website. No worries. I had decided even when I started working on the essay, that if it isn't picked up I will not let it go to waste. I had my own blog after all, my own platform. As, most of you know, my shift to Delhi has been full of misadventures. In short, Delhi has not been very kind to me so far. I have been rendered (briefly) homeless, penniless, with all government sanctioned identity proofs stolen. Anyhow, I finally found some time, and clarity of mind to finally blog this photo-essay I had worked hard on. I was very happy with the outcome. Especially because of the amazing responses I got from my friends.
Read on to see what my awesome friends had to say about breaking period taboos.
We have often wondered if breaking a period taboo actually started a calamity somewhere. Instagram recently drew such a huge backlash that they had to reinstate the photo of artist, Rupi Kaur, who posted a self-portrait of her bleeding during her period. Some have hailed her as a hero, while a few have mentioned that seeing period blood stains are equivalent to and as disgusting as seeing human excrement. Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook incidentally) have proven time and again that sexist posts are protected under their dubious guidelines as personal opinions, whereas women sharing candid photos of their natural bodies and bodily functions are the actual offenders. Our question is simple – why should a few drops of blood cause so much repulsion? We decided to speak to a few women who have grown up listening to ridiculous period taboos and asked them how they break those taboos when they bleed.
I have seen many girls frantically trying to get rid of the red stains on their clothes. But, I have never given it more importance than a mud stain or been ashamed of standing in the metro without trying to cover the stains strategically. During a cultural fest, I had to wear a burlap sack styled into a bandage dress as per the theme. I started chumming and the fact that I was wearing a sanitary napkin underneath was very obvious so, my friends asked me to take it off. Wearing a pad to ensure hygiene is again something I am proud of. I walked the ramp with a slight bulge between my legs despite the attention it drew.
Anupriya Dutta Gupta Sen
We have been brought up on a staple diet of 33 crore Gods & Goddesses from whom we are supposed to stay away on those 5 days of the month. I have always wondered that how come He, who created our body and all the workings in it, be offended by something that is His doing? This particular process of a woman's body is related to her reproductive system and something that is part of the formation of a new life can never be considered a sin, right? In my monotheist mind, God welcomes us in His abode irrespective of whether we are oozing blood or not. I never shy away from going to Him even during those 5 days.
As a teenager I was always told women on their periods should not enter temples. Assuming that God exists, how could She be okay with this nonsense? I say She because obviously God is a Woman of Colour, there is no shame talking about our periods and no need to hide that we buy sanitary napkins. So, one day I just decided to go to a temple and I swear Durga Ma in her beautiful saree gleefully winked at me and gave me a discreet thumbs up before schooling her expression for her other devotees.
Growing up, I was taught not to talk about periods to the male species. My cramps were mistaken for all kinds of illnesses. I wanted to scream that I was not ill and shut them up. I did shut them up when I finally grew a brain. I bleed every month like half the population does and I am not ashamed of it. It is a normal bodily function which only signifies that I have a healthy body. Why hush up about it? So, I stopped making excuses and started talking about it. After all, it is only blood and some other tissues! The funny part is the incredulous look on the people's faces when you mention the P-word openly.
Durga pujo is the one time in the year when we have to abide by certain traditional norms regardless of our individual convictions. It involves waking up at ungodly hours on Astami to offer anjali to the goddess. When I start my period during that time, I am not allowed to offer anjali. It does not make a difference to me because I am not religious that way, but such discriminations are archaic and are based on vague dictums of religious texts which have a perpetual male bias. For those who regard the anjali with religious fervour, it is grossly unfair to be denied assertion of their faith based on ideas rooted in ill-informed idiocy.
I followed taboos during my periods until I gradually realised how silly they are! I do not hesitate to buy sanitary napkins anymore nor do I feel the need to cover or hide them. We do not hide toilet paper, why pads then? It does not bother me if there is a blood stain on my pyjama. A pad fell out of my bag in front of a male friend once. Instead of panicking, I picked it up normally like I would any other thing that fell out of my bag. Periods are healthy and natural. There is nothing to 'whisper' about it.
Breaking the taboo regarding menstruation is not about the right to “Instagram” a woman’s stained sheets or abolish toilet walls. For something natural, a woman is ostracized, prevented from sleeping on her bed, and kept from praying. Innumerable women are ashamed of discussing their menstrual pains, which could be signs of severe health problems, like hormonal dysfunctions, cyst, etc. Unhealthy and unhygienic practices percolate from one generation to the other among uninformed, uneducated women because they’re ashamed to learn about it. A woman may or may not feel comfortable discussing her menstrual cycle openly. But the archaic attitude needs to change, for her health’s sake.
Sharmistha Guha Chowdhury
A menstruating woman doesn’t anger God! A woman who is menstruating is going through a natural biological process of her body. Many women feel hesitant to ask their male acquaintances to buy sanitary napkins for them. Why such shame? The sales person at the local store always gives you a look when you ask for napkins. It is like you have asked for a BOMB. Then he wraps it in a piece of paper and puts it in a black plastic bag. Save the extra work. There is no need for it.
The use of two words in Bengali "shorir kharap" meaning illness is used for menstruation. It exposes the deep-seated taboo surrounding it. I too used to refer to it like that without realising that it happens to every woman and is normal and healthy! I used to be tensed and worried if I had blood stains on my clothes. I felt the need to hide. Nowadays, I consciously tell the shop keeper to not cover my sanitary pads because there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. It is neither impure nor an illness.
Every time you ask for sanitary pads at a medical store, they wrap it in newspaper as quickly as they get it off the shelf and put it in a bag. This has always seemed strange to me and for some reason it irritated the hell out of me! Pads are hidden away as if they are used for a 'dirty' purpose. So, one day I asked the man at the counter to just give me a pack without wrapping it. He got the message. It has been a couple of years now and he does not wrap them anymore. Not even for the other ladies.
Dear patriarchy, we bleed to let you live. Our menstrual blood is way more powerful than your knight’s red chivalry. To you blood is death, to us blood is life. Your successor is born because we menstruate. So, stop being ridiculous, stop stigmatising the stain of life.
Thank you Sayantani for helping me edit this photo-essay, especially on such short notice back then. Lots of mint cocktail loves. :D