Blue Blooded Women who Whisper



This post explores the taboos around menstruation that the feminist in me abhors.

I was clueless

I still remember the first time I saw a Sanitary Napkin ad on TV. I was in my fifth standard. It was before my I knew what periods were. Seeing blue ink fall from a beaker on a white piece of sponge, I wondered when I would get one - to soak up all the ink from my leaky fountain pen! I thought a sanitary napkin would be a nice stationery item! Another time, I visited my friend’s home. While we watched TV, I noticed her brothers giggle and nudge one another when one of the sanitary napkin ads came on. What was so funny about an ad on something so useful I thought? Of course I never bothered asking anyone for clarifications.

I knew I had to hide it from men

When I was finally schooled by my mom on the monthly activity I remember she asked my father to leave the room while she spoke to me. She did explain to me the technicalities quite well and led me through the journey. But I associated periods with something private and secretive. It was a woman’s thing and not to be shared with men.

A red stain was a blot on our existence! If any of my friends had an unfortunate incident and left a stain on her white sports skirt, everyone rushed to hide it. The boys must not get to know anything!  well-meaning friend would nudge you and raise the ‘red flag’ and at once a handy sweater would be tied around your hips!

Later when I got older and started buying my sanitary napkins myself, I noticed that the guy behind the counter packed it in newspaper and placed it in a black plastic bag before handing it to me. Again I never questioned any of this.

Wish I had been a sport about it

I was an athlete in school and was very active. So I had to be extra careful. An incident on the field would mean the ‘run of shame’ to the washrooms in front of everyone. I dreaded that more than coming second in a race… and I rarely came second! In hindsight I wish someone had told me and my friends that menstruation was natural. I wish I had the courage to go up to my male sports teacher and say, “Sir, I am on my period. I think I have had a small incident because my flow is quite heavy today and I have stained my skirt. I need to go to the washroom. I shall be back soon. Please excuse me.” If only I could have unashamedly run without a sweater around me and go unescorted to the washroom (I think most women make best friends only so they always have someone to run with them during their run of shame!), calmly clean the stain/ wear my spare uniform, drink some water and come back.

Thank god some sense prevailed

I’ve heard of stories of friends taking hormone pills to postpone or pre-pone their periods so that they can go for a trek without the inconvenience, only to have messed up their cycles for life! Oh and these pills are available over the counter! That is how careless and misinformed we are about our bodies! I’m glad I never resorted to such quick-fix solutions.

I shall be forever thankful to my mom for never treating me as an untouchable with several restrictions. I never had a separate set of utensils. I never had to stay in my room. I could go to the kitchen as many times I liked (to raid the refrigerator…never cooked) and I could eat anything I liked…even pickle! Granted, that not allowing the woman of the house in the kitchen while she is on her period, could have been because the rest of the family wanted her to rest in olden times. If someone feels tired and doesn’t wish to work it’s okay. But when I see my friend eating from a special plate in her room while her family eats together in the dining room, it saddens me. They’ve seen it happen to all the women in the family and that’s why you won’t even get a whisper from them on the issue!

No more Whispers

When I came across this Whisper ad in the theatre one day – ‘Break the silence on periods’, I remember thinking that this should feel awesome…somebody was voicing my exact feelings as a teenager. But it didn’t evoke a positive emotion from me. Something felt amiss. It took me a while to realise that it was the word ‘Whisper’. ‘A whisper set me free' says one of the lines. And that was what ticked me off sub-consciously.

That’s when I realized that one of the biggest sanitary napkin brands in India, one that I have always used, propagates the taboo surrounding periods. A brand that has made several ads to showcase it as a friend of the empowered woman, (the ‘Touch the Pickle’ one being lauded widely), loses the battle because of its very name! Granted they came up with the name a while back, when period talk consisted of whispers. But today, I am not the same Ashwini as I was. Today, I do not want to keep quiet or whisper about menstruation. I definitely don’t want the younger generation of women to begin to whisper about the issue.  I don’t want them to treat the most natural thing in the whole world as if it were unmentionable. I want all of us to proudly carry the pack of sanitary napkins in our hand without any packing! I don’t want any of us to point at the product at the chemist. I want us to be able to call out the name of the product loudly.  But if the name of the product itself is ‘Whisper’, it defeats the purpose! And I am glad I am not alone in thinking this way. A petition on Change.org has been started by Shreya Gupta of Bengaluru asking the brand to change its name. They have also posted a video on their thoughts.

No more blue blood

We are not aliens to have blue blood running through us! We don’t need it! With normal red coloured blood, we are still able to create life. And when we don’t conceive, the blood is shed. It’s time that the marketing teams of the sanitary napkin products stop just pretending to be feminists and really embrace the issue. If not rebrand themselves, Whisper should at least show red liquid depicting blood on a sanitary napkin like a brand ‘Bodyform’ did in the UK did recently. It will definitely get Whisper a lot of publicity but also give them an opportunity to right some wrongs. And to all those men who will feel uncomfortable while watching a red liquid fall on the sanitary napkin, I have this to say – women feel just as uncomfortable when we see you touch and feel your crotch area in public. At least the ad shall be about something that is natural!

Why it is important to ROAR: WE BLEED RED

It’s time that the world knew that we are not blue-blooded women who whisper about menstruation!

Ok…so we have had a movie on menstruation. We have had celebrities holding a sanitary napkin in their heads and posting it on social media. But when is the government going to subsidize sanitary napkins? When are we women going to come across and talk about emotions that come with the flow...pun intended? 

I came across this article on how music artists in the West have expressed their emotions while they undergo their period in a very vivid and direct manner through songs. In India the closest we got is with this song parody by Girlyappa. I did read about a song titled ‘Come and Let’s Raise the Voice on Menstruation Taboo’ penned by social activist and lyricist Gowri Vandana but I am yet to hear it. Will we ever have a mainstream singer… say a Neha Bhasin come up with a realistic song that all women can listen to and hum that time of the month?

Why it is important to change men's perceptions on periods

Most women have at one time or the other wished they were a man and didn’t have to go through the monthly hassles! Do read this brilliant article on how different the scenario would be if men were to menstruate. 

The unfortunate truth is that most men have a lot of misconceptions about periods. Don’t believe me? Watch this funny video. And it is our fault. We need to speak to our husbands, brothers and sons and sensitize them. 

Pravin Nikam is another ‘Padman’. This 24 year old social activist imparts training to women on menstrual hygiene through his NGO, Roshni. In his TEDx Talk on Men need to talk about menstruation’, he speaks of the need to educate the society about periods.

Menstrupedia is a comic strip that was the brain child of Aditi Gupta. Also available in Hindi now, it was a pioneer in spreading awareness about menstruation.

Sometimes I wonder if an Indian woman will have to resort to something more creative and in-your-face for people to pay close attention!

You have to talk. Period.

A few years back, I was going through a particularly difficult phase during my periods. The pain would get so bad that I would invariably take at least 1-2 days off from work in a month. I brought this up one day at a dinner table discussion and suggested that if Maternity Leave is ok…why not Period Leave? My dad disagreed vehemently. He said that women will never be considered equal if we ask for privileges. I think a lot of women will agree with my dad. But what about the women with conditions such as dysmenorrhea and endometriosis, for whom period pain could be as bad as a heart attack? For them, Period Leave would be a big boon. It may surprise you to know that menstrual leaves have a provision in Bihar government since 1992! I don’t think anyone will grumble if the HR provided additional 5-10 days sick leave to women in a year. We need to continue to have discussions and debates and arrive at a solution for the issue.

Own your Period

Women must openly discuss PMS and other issues they face every month. It’s ok to not be ok on your periods. Everyone is different.

Also don’t smuggle your sanitary napkin to the bathroom. What would happen if they saw that green plastic pouch in your hand? Nothing!

Don’t shy away from telling people you are on your period. Don’t call it chums, aunt flo, that-time-of-the-month etc. I think women and mothers particularly need to treat it as normal as possible so that the next generation is more empowered. Boys and men should also be taught not to treat menstruation as a taboo.

My last words on this…

Periods are not embarrassing. They are empowering.




Comments

  1. Wow, that was an interesting read. Your writing is very powerful. Love how you have addressed the situation and especially the ending.
    Yes, there is nothing to be ashamed about menstruating. And truly it is powerful. It is because of this process that I am a mother today.

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  2. Great piece of writing. Kudos to your mom which has enabled you to voice your opinion so unabashedly and yes it is high time we bleed red and be not ashamed to speak about it.

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  3. That was a well written piece! Own your period summed it up! It is not a secret, we do bleed red. Thank you for voicing your opinion on behalf of all of us, loud and clear

    Bodylicious @NamySaysSo

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  4. Thanks Tamanna, Meha and Namratha for your appreciation. It feels great to know that my writing has touched a chord with you guys. :)

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  5. A very powerful essay and I can totally relate to it. From childhood we are conditioned to think of periods as a shameful thing ... Even now many women at my gym can't freely tell the instructor that they have their periods. They'll use other excuses.

    This is something we all have to fight and as you as own our periods.

    I read Gloria Steinem s essay in college which changed my view about periods. You can read it here ...http://www.period.media/quotes/men-menstruate/

    Kudos on a wonderful article.

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  6. Ashwini, that was a masterpiece bof powerful writing. Periods are not taboo. It's as natural as we are. Thank you for writing such a piece. It will help many teenage girls out there

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  7. Anonymous8:32 am

    Loved it. Amazingly written. The age old beliefs need to change. About time.
    Priya from priyreflects

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  8. This needs to be talked about more and more, I have done so several times on my blog too. here from Second thoughts First

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  9. "It’s ok to not be ok on your periods" ~ So well put! Loved reading this post :)

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  10. Periods are still kind of painful for me they exhaust me mentally and physically but never is a taboo. I have always been open about it. Lovely to see such an amazing post.

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  11. I come from a family where talking about periods is a taboo but no other restrictions. I am married into a family where periods are not a taboo but comes with a whole lot of restrictions. I have seen both sides of the coin. Loved reading your take on this subject. Good one!

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  12. Well written on a subject that is so stigmatizing. I grew up in a family where it was never considered anything other than normal. I have tried to give my girls the very same environment. But this society still has such biases. How many can we fight? Make a difference to one person and hope she will carry forward to the next generation, is my motto

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  13. Not sure of changing a brand name does much. The point is - how comfortable are we as progressive women to talk about it normally. Instead of making an excuse at office, how many of us would tell Pur male colleagues "hey its stomach cramps due to periods" The day we normalise it in this way, we can say we have got rid of the taboo

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  14. Hey Ashwini! You have summarised your thoughts on the topic quite well. And love the research you have put into it.

    I remember in school, I actually explained to a guy what periods meant. When he sort of asked me openly one day when I was literally bent over with stomach cramps, I remember the stares I got from fellow female classmates.

    Thankfully, we have come a long way. Yes, there is still a lot of distance to cover but I think we have made a good start :)

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  15. Hi Seema. Thanks for you comment. I have actually mentioned the post you refer to in my article.

    Hi Pooja. I agree, we must talk about the issue till there is no taboo.

    Puspanjalee, Priya and Purba...thank you for your kind comments.

    Hi Snehal...you must write about your experiences. Someone else who shares your pain will feel that they are not alone. Thanks for your comment.

    Surbhi...it was interesting to read your perspective. Thanks for your comment.

    Meena...may all mothers be like you.Thank your for your appreciation.

    Akshata I agree. Why I ask for the change in the name is because, it is one more thing that propagates the need to keep menstruation hidden.

    Aparna...thank you for your kind comments. We need more men to be sensitized to the issue.

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  16. A wonderful post. I recently read how a woman buried the contents of her menstrual cup in soil and then planted the holy basil in it. She had put up a picture of how lush and thriving the plant was one year on. I wondered if i could do such a thing despite not being the kind of person who does not believe in silly myths about periods. But oh well.. I am glad women are doing things and talking about menstruation openly. I have a son and I dont hide when I wear my pad (he is only 2 and follows me everywhere.) He is old enough to ask me what it is and I say it is mamma's diaper for special days. Hopefully we raise a generation with a different mindset.

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  17. Thank you Nayantara for sharing such wonderful thoughts. I am really thankful to Blogchatter for this challenge. Otherwise I would not have been able to get to know such nice people like you. :) A big hug to you and your 2 year old! :)

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  18. Anonymous3:17 am

    Bravo! Wonderful essay. I hope change comes swiftly. No woman should feel ashamed about menstruating. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that it's 2018 and woman, in some parts of the world, are still being shunned for this.
    And yes, red blood in those pad commercials would be fantastic! It's not like we're asking them to be too authentic and add clots of blood. Red liquid is fine.

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    1. Thanks for the visit and the comment. :) Do read my latest posts. Are you on Twitter?

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