It was a Friday afternoon; she always hated the Physical Education (P.E.) period in middle school. She would wait every week for this preposterous class to conclude, she could sense people gazing at her with scrutiny as some resorted to laughing. Little did she know, her bleached white skirt seemingly stained crimson red, just like her schoolhouse t-shirt. This has been the story of every pubescent girl who experienced menarche. It has been horrific growing up in a country where a girl’s existence is at risk as soon as she is conceived. By the age of 12, Biology in Indian schools’ address puberty issues of adolescents by separating them into different rooms by gender and impose a monologue on the chapter ‘Reproduction’. 60 minutes of inappropriately awkward explaining ‘sex education’ or just promoting safe sex.
Picture Courtesy: Swathi Subhash Nair
During this time, there is be a supplementary chapter on ‘menstruation’. Post the explanation of what the female body excruciatingly undergoes physically every month, teachers wrap up their lectures. Even though the sex education lecture is termed “interactive”, the monologued facilitators never wait to answer questions or clear any doubts due to the “embarrassment” of openly discussing such “taboo” topics.
Ever since a girl undergoes menarche or even puberty, most of them are kept hushed about experiences of the menstrual cycle. Even when it is taught to us or talked about, there is absolutely no awareness that there were several mental and emotional cycles syncing with menstruation every month. Mood swings, Pre- Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), cravings, etc. were learned to handle by most of us individually and independently, as we experienced it.
Today, everyone talks about the taboo of menstruation and how people perceive it as something ‘dirty’. But what about the mental state of a girl when she experiences menarche? And every menstrual cycle after that? On one hand, there is fear and astonishment to see her panties filled with blood for the first time, while, on the other hand, when she finally gathers the courage to confront her mother, the issue is nipped under the bud, because “it isn’t something that should be discussed in front of male members of the family.”
A girl is compelled to succumb to her pain, irritation and several other anonymous emotions just to appear ‘civil’ in front of other members of the society and her family. The angst of staining her dress and being ridiculed by others coerces her to avoid company and be aloof during ‘that time of the month’. Several girls in India STILL drop out of their schools because they feel discomfort in being around people during these five days of the month.
People in several villages in India still believe in marrying off a girl as soon as she hits puberty because it implies that they would have to give less dowry. The prospect of being a child bride has made many girls hide their menstrual cycles for months and for some, even years. These are the harsh realities for most rural teenage girls in India. Numerous girls also end up becoming teenage mothers and giving birth to several kids throughout their teenage years. Grievously, this affects a teenager’s body, emotions and mental state is enormous. Menstruation in this country is synonymous to taboo. Innumerable women and girls are still facing various mental health issues because of oppression and shame around something that is natural and has been a biological part of femininity for the longest of time.
Everything that is feminine in a woman is symbolized in menstruation and the events around it. Every time a woman feels the aches and pains, why are they forced to slow down and become gentle? Every time a woman feels the surge of emotion just before her periods, does it not remind us of how beautifully vulnerable we can be? Every time a skirt is stained during periods, does it not naturally make us circumspect others’ feelings? Every time a woman bleeds from her vagina, why is she reminded of her ability to create life? Even though Motherhood should be a Choice, why is a woman always reminded and imposed on the thought of it being her biological destiny?
In this society, we tend to overlook the simplest of things. Mental health awareness for children and adolescents hitting puberty is undoubtedly one such thing. The physical changes that occur during adolescence have always been widely addressed, but what about how their mindsets or emotions alter? This society has come a long way in terms of understanding the concept of menstruation and hygienic practices that need to be followed. But we, the society still need to spread awareness about the fact that menstruation is not just blood on our panties every month, but a process of comprehending and educating ourselves and others more about a woman’s body, mindsets, and emotions. SO, DON’T LET ANY BLOOD STOP YOU.