Periods of silence
This post is inspired by The Mad Momma’s post on periods and I so totally agree. Instead of letting loose my muddle in her comment space, I decided I will paint it red here on my blog space. (pun definitely intended)
I was in 6th grade when, one day the teacher sent out all the boys to another class and decided to do a “special” class for us girls. It was about periods and how some of us would be getting it soon, and how we could approach the teacher for any help in case of “accidents”. After the end of the class, even at that age, I could not tell my boy classmates what was discussed. Talk of subconcious programming! Soon, one by one, all the girls started hitting puberty and suddenly they were missing their classes for a whole month. And the teachers who were so strict about attendance and did not accept long absences unless you could not positively get out of bed took it very well indeed. The girls would finally make a comeback, with their knee length skirts suddenly hitting the floor and shirts atleast two sizes too big for them. Later I learnt that the girls had to go through a whole elaborate ceremony which included exclusion and seperation. Also, they had been advised not to talk to boys, wear more covering clothes and ofcourse if the red river ran on a festival day, that would mean they missed all of it too. Talking of maturity, it was painfully obvious that some parents were lacking it even after having “matured” quite a while ago.
Finally it was my turn, and I still remember feeling extremely embarassed about the whole thing. There were all aunties who came over and wished me, and even though my mother did not keep me in a seperate room or anything of that sorts, all the attention for the cause made me want to just hide. On the plus side, I got a few gifts ( I was thirteen, and I was easily distracted…with….say, gifts) and all went well. My parents never made a big fuss about it. Infact, my father has bought sanitary napkins for all of us ( me , my mom and my sis). The only restriction was that I was not allowed into the puja room. On days when we had to visit relatives and I had my period, my mom would advise me to keep it to myself, no go near the puja room and generally go about my business for everything else. Hearing what my other classmates had to go through, I did not put up with much of a fight.
Now when I look back and think about it, each time I was denied something because I had my period – it was humiliating. It was humiliating that I was being asked to not attend an event, and it was even more humiliating that so many people would know what was happening and avoid me like the plague. Men also go through puberty. They sprout chest hair, their voice breaks. But no one thought that was impure. No one quarintined boys for having their first facial hair growth. I am sure if men were to start menstruating, they would be proudly showing off who makes the biggest mark on the tampon.
The issue here is definitely not purity. Whatever reasons were given to us – less work, impurity, etc, it still does not explain the stigma attached to menstruation. The vermin treatment that is meted out in the name of holiness. We have been so conditioned to accept this treatment that even my fellow classmates were shocked when, during one of our college trips, they came to know that I had my period and still I was going to go ahead and enter the temple we were visiting. I told them that if God was everywhere, then wherever I am, I would be in His presence. Going into the temple should not make a big difference. A couple of other girls who had their period were not very convinced and stayed back at the entrace, and turned beet red when any of the guys stopped to ask why they were not coming in.
Science and common sense has shown us that none of the reasons given for the quarintine actually hold in today’s world. Yet, we choose not to go into religious places when we have the period. We feel embarassed to mention what must be a normal body function to our family. Us, the same women who has sometimes crossed continents to come to a place and set up a life for ourselves in a strange land, the same women who constantly display superhuman abilities by juggling work, life and kids without dropping the ball…still struggle to let go of this hideous custom. It is so ironic that we still call it the “curse” when it actually helps with new life, the new life that we would call a blessing.
In my home, we do not even have a proper puja room. We have a few ganesha idols scattered around the house. And I certainly do not hesitate to have my chat with the Almighty even when I am in the red zone. It is actually no longer even a concious thought. Maybe it is easier because I am sitting continents away where no one will point a finger. But I certainly plan to keep it this way. And I hope that one day, when (and if) I have a daughter, this will not even be an issue.
Edited to add: I read a comment on MM’s post about a lady going through isolation during her periods on the insistence of her family. Reminded me of someone I knew, who came from a very conservative family. The family rarely ate out, because of the south Indian “madi” system. She was also asked to practice isolation during her periods and her father would not even look at her during those days. She really did not like it forced on her. In all my teenage maturity, I told her that she should get married to someone who does not believe in all these things, so she would not have to do it. And her answer saddened me even more. She said she was sure her parents would select only a family similar to theirs for her to get married into, and that she would never get respite. I wonder what she is doing now.
Entry filed under: Random Banter.