#5/100: Why breaking the taboo around periods is extremely important
I was really really young when I got it for the first time. Just finishing 4th grade and going into the 5th.
I had no idea that women have to go through this EVERY month! I didn’t even know a word called menstruation existed. My mom wanted to wait a few more years until she could have this uncomfortable conversation with me, but nature didn’t wait. Schools in India didn’t really speak about this and even those other early birds who were faced with early onset of menstruation in my class were very shy to speak of it or refused to admit in fear of being ridiculed. We were all taught not to talk about it openly or in front of boys/men.
I don’t think I even understood what it meant the first few years of living through the pain. It was simple in my head — a monthly cycle and everyone gets it but nobody really talks about it. Nothing more. I remember being home on the summer vacation of 2005 when my mom noticed a big red spot on the yellow bright skirt. She soon confirmed that I have grown into a “woman” at this tender age of 11 going on to 12 soon. For my family, it was a matter of joy. Relatives calling and congratulating me. The embarrassment I felt and I had no idea why. Until my mom told me that I was now biologically “eligible” for marriage. It seemed absurd. It still seems absurd.
My mom comes from an orthodox South-Indian upbringing where women were confined to a separate area at home, in most cases her bed, for the first three days of getting her periods every month. It doesn’t stop there. Somehow women on periods automatically became untouchables. Elderly men and women in the family wouldn’t go next to them because they were considered “impure”. Women on periods were also not allowed to enter the kitchen or touch the dishes in the house. Once the three-day mark is crossed, the entire house had to be cleaned after, all used sheets and clothes put away for wash separately.
Most often my grandmother came to visit us during summers. Those months were the worst for me, every time I got my periods! I was forced to keep aside a plate, a cup, a spoon and a mug under my bed to use specifically for those three days. So after every meal, I had to wash and keep them aside to not make the rest of the kitchen “impure”. And magically on the fourth day, after an early morning shower, I was “pure” again. We all had to listen to our grandmother. There was no way out. So for those few months, our lifestyle would change! Of course, I loved having her around. She was a badass woman for her age in her own regard. She gave birth to 10 children (and resultantly I have a long line of cousins — 19!), she lived a healthy life till she was 94. She was compassionate, loving and kind. She was the most patient person I have ever seen in my life till date, but she was also very hard and fast with religious customs. Somehow we all learned to peacefully coexist.
Eventually, I grew and moved away for college and then periods wasn’t the worst thing ever. It changed. Everyone was okay with it. Talking about it with my friends is as normal as talking about eating or sleeping. Now, I reflect back on those days and it seems very bizarre! I think if families, including men (fathers, brothers, etc.), spoke to their children about it from a very young age, it wouldn't be considered as a sensitive “women’s only issue” and would make it easier for young girls to cope with it in their initial years.
It is so important to talk about hygiene yet somehow it gets drowned in age-old customary practices. Breaking taboo would mean girls from a very young age have better access to information on products, hygiene and health care.
We have come a far way from how my mother or grandmother suffered during their days. Having to use old worn-out clothes as pads, to wash and reuse it again next month sounds extremely uncomfortable; but we still have a long way to go in breaking the silence!
So I guess as a 26-year-old now, I would tell my 12-year self then that — you got this, gurl!