Remember in school when they would usher the girls to one dark room and show them a presentation containing information about menstruation? In mine, the boys would stay in class and we would be asked to keep mum about where we were going. No discussing what you just learned – especially with the boys! Similarly, if you’re a menstruator, you may have bought sanitary napkins or such items and watched the medical shop’s clerk discreetly wrap them in a black polythene bag or a newspaper. For good measure, they’ll avoid eye contact and slide you the package. Very discreet.
Menstruation and the ‘secret’ normal
Roughly 800 million people menstruate every day. This typically normal physiological phenomenon is often kept secret from non-menstruating people – mostly boys and men. This becomes a problem since, in most households, men are key decision-makers. Men hold power over everything a woman does in their house; how they dress, where they go, what they do and even who they speak to. This may not reflect my or your reality but it is still extremely true in a lot of households all across the country.
Taboos and myths
Lack of knowledge is one thing, while ignorance is another. The word menstruation comes rife with taboos, myths and oppressive rituals. For instance, in most religions, women aren’t allowed to offer prayers or enter a place of worship while menstruating. They are considered ‘impure’ and often made to eat and sleep separately. Girls often miss school because there aren’t enough facilities. After all, no one thought of menstruating girls while building schools – especially in rural areas. They skip school to avoid shame and teasing from boys. This leads to them not getting proper education and we all know that when girls study, they are more informed about health, the world, get higher-paying jobs and marry at a later age. In short, these are the very women that lift communities out of poverty and keep this cycle intact. Most men have no idea what periods are until a woman in their life – their girlfriend or wife, educates them about it. And men who do know about it, know mostly half-truths exchanged between peers or from overheard conversations in the house growing up.
India’s Menstrual Man, Arunachalam Muruganantham invented a machine to produce low-cost sanitary napkins as his wife couldn’t afford to buy any. His revolutionary actions sparked a much-needed conversation surrounding the facts of menstruation. This was much-needed in the rural landscape where women are still considered ‘impure’ when they menstruate. Similarly, Jaydeep Mandal, founder of Aakar Innovations laid the groundwork in designing a 100% compostable sanitary napkin to address the issues of sanitation in rural and urban slum areas. To communities that have always hushed conversations around this topic, these men are pioneers in India of boldly advocating for accessible and affordable menstrual products for all menstruators.
Shattering gender roles
Men have a meaningful part to play in the conversation as only with awareness and understanding, can we even begin to break taboos. Speak to your father, your brother, and your uncles about the need for a better understanding of this very normal bodily function and encourage them to do their own research. Advocate for better sex education in school curriculums that ensure that children grow up with a healthier attitude towards menstruation, PMS and what menstruators experience so as to cultivate empathy. If you have a little one at home, educate them early on!