By Sakhi Thirani 27 May 2022
Out, damned spot! Out, I say!
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1
“Daag acche hai.” Yes, well, but if they’re blood stains from your menstrual cycle, then you’re allowed to only and only “whisper.” Right from school, to relatives, families and friends, India’s stigma towards the process of menstruation keeps from many people who menstruate (which includes a lot of, but not necessarily all women, transgender men and even intersex individuals) the platform to voice their individual menstrual narrative and stand in solidarity against rigid patriarchal mannerisms.
India, also known as Bharat Mata (Mother India), submerged in a perception of “disgust” towards vaginal blood, is home to a vast majority of its menstruating population using unsafe cloth and materials which makes them significantly vulnerable to infections that could prove to be chronic. From the unavailability and the unaffordability of proper sanitary measures to the brute and absolute silence surrounding menstrual health as well as religious stigmas of impurity and untouchability, a vast majority of the menstruators are caged in isolation with these patriarchal muzzles of normative disquietude withholding them.
The traumatic experiences of menarche (the first menstrual cycle) that many suffer throughout the country prove to have a rippling effect through their journey to menopause (the end of menstrual cycle), one that is instilled with fear, worry and most importantly, secrecy. There is almost a regimental fixation in the sneaking of pads and tampons into washrooms in the most discreet manner possible. This is not to say that one shouldn’t have the right to their privacy but, here, this motive of secrecy is governed by a normative “menstrual etiquette” specifically. It is one which manifests into an always impinging fear of somehow being “caught.”
The societal alienative treatment of menstruation and the disregard towards educative healthcare practices, along with the availability of sanitary measures to all, surges to be one of the many examples of patriarchy’s grotesqueness in India. And, with a significant part of the menstrual population unaware of the functionings of their own body, there is a brute absence of autonomy with respect to the body, its experiences, and the narrativising of those experiences. The under-diagnosed nature of disorders such as Endometriosis is a stark example of the biased gaze menstruation is viewed with. Menstrual health concerns are often trivialised with labels of over-sensitivity and there is often the dismissal of individual accounts of pain with gaslighting practices of “it’s all in your head.”
The very internalised disguise of shame towards menstruation emerges in the attribution of tags such as “dirty,” “disgusting,” and “impure” by the norms set by society. These norms are continually reinforced and restated through manipulative advertisements that sell their product by positing it as the “knight in shining armour” for the “damsel in distress” that one is reduced to because of menstruation. They promise “protection” and continually reimpose concealment in the most subtle manners, such as, the promotion of the absorbing capacity of their products by showing blue liquid instead of red subtly invokes the disgust towards vaginal blood, and branding processes with names that ironically scream a brandishing silence on sanitary napkins.
These patriarchy-generated dogmas further transform into harmful sexist jokes of “is it that time of the month?” which further the stereotype associated with the process and link it with a generalised overwhelming incapability for the people who menstruate. These stigmas invariably contribute to and coerce the belief that having a uterus causes tropes of more nurturing and domesticated “feminine” behaviour which is only fit for child rearing.
Patriarchal mannerisms and their rigid structures are driven towards taking away any solidarity that poses a threat to their capitalist mannerisms of investing in insecurities, reigning through hierarchical structures, and numbing voices. In order to transcend the frameworks of rigid societal barriers, we need to embrace menstruation and vocalise the dire importance of healthy sanitary practices and their widespread availability to bring about a transformative change. The process of sharing as well as celebrating the experience of the people who menstruate, by a vocalisation of their own stories, would lead to a reclaiming of their bodies by embracing its needs and differences and destroying the rigid moulds of the normative ideal.
Menstruation, a reality for a significant part of the population, should not be another one of patriarchy’s excuses to ventriloquise etiquette and establish “acceptable” behaviour which is subsumed in toxicity. Instead of being labelled as disruptive, menstruation should rather be seen as a cathartic process, a purgation of what is not required by the body. Fluidity needs to be accepted as well as embraced, in genders, as well as in the body.