It’s high time we stopped treating the topic of menstruation as a taboo in front of men, and stopped keeping napkins under wraps
I was nervous, but still proceeded towards the medicine shop. It was full of men — not a single woman was present. I left behind all my hesitations and finally asked for a sanitary napkin from the guy at the counter. He asked which one, I replied promptly. He wrapped the ‘forbidden’ item in a newspaper, and as if that wasn’t enough –he further put it in black polythene and handed it over.
This is how it went — when I bought a sanitary napkin aka pad for the first time by myself. And trust me, it was just a few years back, and I was not a teenager either. Being an urban girl, I should not even have to shy away from talking about periods or pads. Let alone buying one. I remember, in my childhood how I was told not to talk about it openly and thus never had I ever uttered the word ‘period’ in front of my father — even when he was the one who bought pads for me when I was young.
But such is not the case in the small village of Kathikheda — situated in the district of Hapur (Uttar Pradesh) — about 100 km from Delhi. On my visit to the village, for a story I was working on, I came across some bold, confident and brave women who have more sass than most of the urban girls!
There is a pad manufacturing unit in the village — run by seven female employees. Initially, they felt shame in the work they were doing. Some of these women lied to their families and said that “baccho ke Huggies bante hai yaha par” (we make diapers for kids here). But still, everyone knew what was being made and why.
These women, after making the pads, went from door to door to sell their ‘Fly’ sanitary napkins. Shabana, the area coordinator, recalls an incident. She once travelled from Hapur village to Delhi with these pads in a bag. On reaching there, she told one lady to carry it with her (within the city). But she refused to do so, citing that she would not carry pads!
“I carried it from the village to Delhi, and she — being an urban woman — was ashamed to carry it within the city,” says Shabana. Some women in the unit also say that during the filming of the documentary, they weren’t shy because they had to speak about periods or pads.
Then came the Oscar-winning documentary based on the unit and its women. It puts an end to all the taboos surrounding periods in the village. And now, even the men there are open to talk about it. The women speak about periods with much more ease. “Ab toh papa ya chacha ke samne bhi baat kar lete hai” (Now we talk about periods in front of our father and uncle as well).
But even today, such is not the case in most of our urban surroundings. Though films have just started addressing menstruation openly, but advertisements have always promoted pads. This, again, reminds me of how whenever such ads popped up — my family members would either change the channel or look here and there.
Also, I have never seen anyone carrying pads openly in a public place. When in college, girls used to take their entire bags for the sake of hiding the pad! And now in office, people hide it somehow until they reach the washroom.
I could never say “I am on my periods” to the men in my family – be it my father, brother or uncle. Firstly, my mother told me not to talk about it with or in front of men. And secondly, the men themselves were shy when something like this came up. I remember when my elder brother almost ran away from the room when we started discussing periods.
This is not the case with just my father or uncle, even some of my male friends — who are my age — are not comfortable talking about periods. Once a friend asked me, “Are you sick?” I was on my periods, so I just told him that. He wasn’t shy, but rather gave me a rude reply — “I don’t want to talk about that! Don’t discuss it with me.” He was no doubt the typical orthodox male — who is somehow repulsed by the idea of blood coming out from a girl’s vagina. For them, vagina can serve only one purpose. Yes, young and educated men — living in the 21st century — but with such degrading thoughts, they do exist!
Ironically, it was one 70-year-old professor of mine — who taught me that I should talk about periods without any fear or guilt! He used to ask whether we, the girls in his class, are carrying pads or not — as it is a must when travelling. That was the time, when I decided to talk about periods openly. But no matter how openly I talk about it — if the one on the other end is still holding onto his patriarchal views — then what’s the point?
Basically, the place or age does not matter — it takes acceptance and a liberal mind to break stereotypes. But are we there yet? On one hand a documentary on periods won an Oscar, a film on Padman breaks the box office — but on the other hand, menstruating women are not allowed to enter temples and ‘forbidden’ pads are still being wrapped in black polythene bags before being handed over to the customer! Thus, it seems that there is a long way to go!