The vicious circle of menstrual taboos

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“Today I learned something new at school. Periods. Mamma says I’m a big girl now. I should be careful and should not talk about it in front of Papa and my brother. I should also sit with closed legs and behave properly.”

These are some of the eternal statements that young girls usually get to hear from their mothers. I don’t really remember the story of my first menses, but they were a few taboos that I found unacceptable even back then as a teen and upon which I would now like to throw some light.

I find it very problematic that most of the mothers don’t discuss this with their daughters before they begin to menstruate. This discussion always takes place after the shock and for a girl between the ages of 10-14 or even younger, it really does come as a shock to see their favourite dress stained with blood one fine day all of a sudden. Some might even think that they are sick or got themselves hurt ‘in the place where they pee from’. Yes, that’s what it’s called. I have had experiences of mothers either pointing downwards or using the phrase above but never really explaining things the right way.

Then there is the school which plays its part in further hushing up the topic and creating more confusion in the minds of young girls and majorly in boys as well. I remember when we once had a seminar on menses when I was in the seventh grade. Mine hadn’t started yet, but I had a vague idea about them. While the boys were sent out to play, the girls were made to gather in a room where they were introduced to menstruation and sanitary napkins for the first time. As expected later, the girls were all giggly and the boys were seen strutting around, hinting that they knew what it was all about and additionally shouting out the names of popular sanitary napkin companies in order to embarrass the girls. Schools really do a great job in messing up young girls and boys in this regard because Instead of having a co-ed seminar and focusing on sensitising the topic, they go for the most convenient route they can find, which is by segregation.

Another thing that I remember during those first years was how I and/or the other girls were taught to keep this hushed up. So you should not mention it in front of your father, uncles, brothers, elders and such. Again, this kind of attitude just reinforces the fact that menstruation is something to be embarrassed about and should be kept a secret. Or the time when you go to buy a packet of sanitary napkin, the discomfort you feel to tell the man standing behind the counter that you need Whisper Ultra which is then compounded by the fact that he in turn puts it into a black polythene bag. So nobody should see what a girl is carrying because it is shameful, right? In the later years that follow, boys again make fun of girls which further forces them to go inside their shells.

There was another incident where I got to know about yet another taboo around menses and this not time, it was not by an adult, but by a female friend who belonged to my age group. When I wanted to accompany my friend to a temple, I was prevented from doing so because according to the reason furnished by her, I was not allowed to enter the temple because I was menstruating. Since I am not a Hindu, I was not aware of this fact and apologised appropriately as I didn’t want to hurt the religious sentiments of my friend. Later I was explained that in Hinduism, as women are considered unclean during this period anything they touch is also believed to lose its power. So if they touch anything in the prayer room for instance, the deity that is being worshipped will leave and evil will take over the idol. One will then be praying to some spirit and not the deity one has in their mind and faith and the whole area would then have to be cleansed by calling a priest or a saint. Same goes for the kitchen. Menstruating women and girls should not enter the kitchen, touch the utensils or cook because yes, you’ve got it right, they are considered to be unclean and impure. At that time and during that age I did not realise that I was not doing something wrong, rather being wronged or that my brainwashed friend should be the one who should apologise in the first place. However, I don’t see it as her fault, she only reproduced what she had been taught was right.

Sadly, there are still a lot of women and not just middle-ages mothers and elderly grandmas but also many educated women who still contribute to the tabooing of menstruation and the process of shaming and embarrassing young girls on its account. We still do not take our ability to menstruate as a pride.

On this note, I would like to end my take on people’s attitude towards menstruation and the taboos surrounding it and would additionally recommend everyone to read Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate for a hearty laugh and for taking pride in your monthly struggle.

Image courtesy: Menstrupedia
P.S. This article was originally published on Menstrupedia’s blog and later on The Alternative and Youth Ki Awaaz.

Marriages in India- a social obligation?

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Why does young India get married? Or to be more precise, why does young educated urban/sub-urban India get married? The ideal answer(s) to this question would be:

  • Because they have found the love of their lives,
  • that person is the one for them,
  • they want to wake up every morning next to them,
  • they cannot imagine their lives without them,
  • they want to spend the rest of their lives with them,
  • they want to grow old with them.

(Okay, sorry! Too much mushiness happening here!)

But hey, we are talking about India, aren’t we? So who is this young India? Let’s define them first:

we are the young Indians, we go to collge, we complete university, we have fancy degrees like B.tech/M.tech and MBAs from even fancier institutes like the IITs and IIMs. Some of us even have foreign degress, you see imported maal is always good. We work in big multinationals and banks and what not. Our dear young India is very modern, you see. We only talk in English, drink black coffee, strictly use Apple products (hey don’t you dare, Steve Jobs is our God), we eat in high-end cafes and loung bars and we mingle with all sorts of people, men and women alike. We are very open-minded, you see. But we also don’t forget that we, at the end, are Indians. We should never forget our sanskars. So when it comes to finding “the one” for us, we turn to our mommys and papas. Because we respect our elders and we trust their choices, even blindly.

So besides these (obvious) reasons what are the other ones that make young Indians take the big step? Let’s list down some of them.

  • My parents think I should get married.
  • It is high time, I should settle down, get married and have a couple of kids.
  • The society expects this of me.
  • Getting married is a social duty.
  • If I don’t get married how will my family grow, and most importantly the heir who will carry on my name.
  • I want a big fat dowry.
  • It is beneficial for my business
  • I want to have sex, unlimited sex.
  • I am now in the marriageable age (or what that even means)
  • My friends and cousins are getting married.
  • I have a few grey hair now, better get married than sorry.
  • After a degree in engineering, an MBA and a job as an investment banker, I am earning enough to settle down.
  • Ooohh, I have always dreamt of getting married, and all my girlfriends are already hooked up. So it’s only fair that I should be too.
  • Arranged marriages- because that’s how we roll.
  • Because I don’t know how to talk to women, better mommy finds me one.
  • Because I never talked to guys, and of course mommy knows the best.
  • Because “log kya kahenge” (mind you, this is one of the epic ones..)

(My head might crack up but the list will go on and on. So I better stop here.)

Young India has a truck load of pretty good reasons to tie the knot. Mind you, they all are very rational and logical. You see, the young India strives for perfection. And what is perfection without a fair, homely convent-educated girl or a teetotaler boy from a decent family based in the USA/UK with a handsome package. What else does one need? The young India follows it’s timetable very sternly and marriage is of course a part of the timetable. Then comes the kids and after that we all know how life goes on.

How does young India contribute to the society? By getting married, which is very important. It is almost a social obligation. And you HAVE TO get married, no choice bro! Doesn’t matter if you are ready or not, doesn’t matter if you know, let alone love the person, you have to get married. Because it is the right thing to do. And who told you that? Of course your mommy and papa and they know the best. And who told them? Of course their mommy and papa. Hence it goes on, without any one ever questioning the mommy and papa that why is it so important to get married. It is a tradition, a ritual which has been passed down generations and young India doesn’t dare to raise an eyebrow (well, at least the majority doesn’t). Because you see, we are Indians and we don’t argue back with our elders. And we are very much better off than the West, where relationships are weak and divorce rates are high. Chi! We are so much better! Although we do ignore the fact that we have a low divorce rate because divorce is still a taboo in our country or domestic violence is rampant or many women are not financially independent or the parents don’t accept their dauhters back at their homes and many more such archaic excuses. We only care what the statistics say. And numbers speak louder than real situations, of course. So 10 : 1 and we won. Bohoo West!

We are the young Indians and we are proud of it. Although even after having white-collared jobs, we expect a large dowry and also want the woman to leave her home, her family and everything and come and live with us. Our parents should become her parents and our family should become her family. Because that’s the way it has been, isnt’ it? And who questions such traditions? Tauba Tauba, not we! We are the cultured young India. We havn’t forgotten our values. So our wives come and live with us and our families and take our name, and wear ridiculous symbols to shout to the world that they are married (even if they don’t like to, they must). Then our kids take our names and we become their first guradians. And so with kids we fulfill our duty to the society. We have given them the future of India who will make India a better place to live in (hopefully).

And that’s how my dears we make marriage a social obligation, because this is our happy land and to reach the happy land what do we do? Yes, you guessed it right. We get married!

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Youth Ki Awaaz.