Shopping for sanitary towels causes such a stir in our supermarkets. Many women almost hide the ‘stuff’ under other items in a shopping basket away from the view of prying eyes. I have personally experienced the gazes which follow you right to the shelves, all the way down other aisles right to the till. The eyes scream out: “Really? What do you think you are doing carrying around ‘those’. Are you in your periods right now? Shouldn’t you keep that away from everyone’s view? Are you bleeding?” I have devised defensive mechanisms against these stereotypes. Either I stare back at them or pretend they don’t exist. After all, weren’t these pads, tampons or cotton wool placed in the shops for people like me to access and buy freely? Fortunately, nobody dares make the mistake of talking. Otherwise I would lash right back at them with a small piece of my mind.
Our Page 8 article “Menstrual health and vitality: Breaking the silence” seeks to break menstrual attitudes by most societies. It rightly observes that “Women and girls have historically been asked to bleed in stoic silence so that no one even knows they have their period”. Talking about menstruation, let alone demonstrating to be having a period seem an outrage in many societies. But for how long should such a call of nature be handled in secrecy? How long will guardians of culture scare girls out of their minds by advising them how ‘sinful’ it is to express the pain that accompany periods, let along accidentally mess themselves up with blood stains? For how long shall we keep this biological expression secret from our boys?
I recall the other day my younger son beaming with excitement as he entered the vehicle after school. He did not waste a moment as he bombarded me with questions pertaining to what a period was. You see, the genesis of his sudden wisdom was a stain on his classmate’s uniform which he spotted as she walked out of class during a lesson. He initially thought it was excreta and it was only after he pointed it out to his desk mate that he learnt the truth. The desk mate explained to him that it was a period, just like she also had hers the previous week. She further schooled him that a period was when girls urinate blood every month.
I am not sure whether even the people having the period understand the phenomenon when they should. Indeed girls urinate blood, but is that all there is to a period? I laughed, but later explained in detail what a period is and why it happens. His eyes beamed further, but he understood the physical transformation that comes with age. I went further to explain to him that his body, too was undergoing changes and sooner or later, he shall turn into a man. His last question was whether I, too, experience periods. I answered yes and that was when he asked to see how a pad looks like. I showed him.
To many, such talks are abominations they cannot impart to their young ones. Well, if we are to make menstruation socially acceptable, it has to begin way before self discoveries or misinformation. Openness is key. n