Thursday, June 6, 2024

Periods - preparing our next generation

Smriti Irani lost in the elections. I hope she finds her way back in parliament. I say this as I remembered one of her attendance where she calmly but confidently replied in the question hour, "Period is not an illness", Smriti Irani had confidently put her 'personal' opinion in the parliament. I appreciated the way the discussion around the often taboo subject happened so openly, respectfully and in a dignified manner especially between the two genders. Each person that participated in the debate epitomized how mature we can be when discussing such issues.  

It coincided with my own internal discourse of how personally I feel about periods as a woman. Especially, since I have two daughters who will grow up one day to face similar situations, this become even more pertinent question for me in general. How should woman feel about periods? And to answer this for my girls, I revisited my own story as a girl and how did I feel the first time. But first lets start with

Should we or Shouldn't we?

talk about periods with our daughters. I came from a generation where there was no question of talking freely and confidently about it. The general attitude was nobody would. Forget about open discussions. Women were huddled together into the kitchen in the patriarchal setup and the D-day would be looked upon as a filthy disability. By the way have this outlook really changed? 

And then came the times when it couldn't be ignored any more but women just tend to be hush hush about it or giggle sheepishly too embarrassed to discuss anything relevant related. Remember those initial days of Sanitary pads showing in TV commercials. And in most of our families everyone, men or women, would do their best to ignore that Ad even though seconds before and later our eyes were glued to the rest of the content on TV. I remember being so confused what the fuss was about as a little girl who had no idea as the women in my family always dismissed my curiosity too ashamed to talk openly about it.

What does all that say about our own feelings about being a woman?

Over time, in my personal experience, after speaking with so many woman from all sorts of backgrounds, I understood this hate towards periods have led to woman in general not feeling great about herself. Sad, two beautiful genders needed to make a beautiful world but one feels constantly bad about her biology! Beauty begins at home. Instead the one word that describes the feeling most of the girls feel after starting a period would not be beauty but - 'ASHAMED'. Yes, girls feel ashamed of periods. And we have to break this cycle of this feeling of being ashamed. It is nothing but social conditioning being passed down between generations and generations of women. And don't get me wrong, by breaking the cycle, I don't mean going totally opposite and become shameless about it. We need to be confident and keep our grace. 

Some woman believe they can talk confidently about periods. But talking is different. That is your attitude. Deep down how do you feel about having periods? Especially that icky feeling you cant avoid to have about those days. To young mothers I ask to reflect, if you have a daughter would you teach her or you will escape till she gets to know from the special sessions at her school? What would you tell her when she asks if this happen to everyone even boys? How would you make sure that your girl who till now enjoyed being a girl wearing pretty dresses and playing princess dolls suddenly start seeing being a girl as a not so pretty affair after all? Will you talk to her with grim expressions lamenting on the fate of every girl or will you be carrying a smile on your face while talking?

Your deep down feelings are going to decide the foundation of next generation of girls - if they are happy being girls or not. And if they are healthy. Knock knock, the emotional health play a big role deciding the physical health of a person. A happy woman is likely to take care of herself every day and hence, have happy periods. And you have an important role in deciding that.

Think about it like this : You have to move to a new region due to some circumstances and the natives there aren't welcoming to anyone as they are not happy people themselves. A happy person is welcoming but they are not. They talk in a different local language but don't guide you. You learn with great difficulty that local language and struggled so much that in time, you also end up becoming a bitter person. You hate the country, the people and the language. And now another new foreigner arrives in that region just like you. Chances are you will not be welcoming too. The cycle continues.

We have something similar in our period-land. You talk to any woman, ask their first experience, their first reaction about having periods. And they will say they were scared, shocked, cried. How many were encouraged by their mothers or elder sisters and got to share their feelings? They hated why it happens to girls and in some cases they hated why are they girls? 

As a mother, as a human, who see myself more as a soul in a vessel, I find that feeling absurd and something that needs to be addressed. No one should feel why are they born like the way they are! We are supposed to just carry on in the best way we can with what we have got and let the life happen. 

Ok, so we agree woman should not feel ashamed about having periods. But how to feel great about it?  After all, it IS a mess we have to deal with every month. And its just us the woman suffering from it. Suffering - hmm, yes that's the root cause why we feel its a bad thing. Lets tackle that. Our social conditioning that it is a suffering. Lets challenge that.

What did I feel the first time?

The first time I had periods, I was glad and thankful. I was not ashamed, I didn't cry. The reason was I was a late bloomer. I was not conscious enough to feel bad about being a girl and yet conscious enough to understand the women in the family were so ashamed of it that nobody wanted to guide me. I am a self learned person and that helped me to learn a lot and without any prejudice against myself as a female gender. 

Why shouldn't having periods make women lament on being born as a female? 

For that I want to answer a very basic question - with a gross but ironically, not a taboo analogy.

What are periods?

A human female body goes through this periodic cycle where it cleanse itself from the reproductive waste created inside it for the purpose of continuity of procreation of life.

And now, just remove some words -

A human body goes through this periodic cycle where it cleanse itself from the waste created inside it for the purpose of continuity of life.

The first line is definition in plain language of menstruation, the second one is definition of excretion.

Both definitions are similar except the biological detail. And so I ask - do we feel or are we made to feel ashamed of excretion?

It is just a regular routine process of a healthy body that we have to deal with not monthly but everyday!

But we are conditioned not to feel sad about it. Its just a daily businessWhen we think rationally, we are thankful everyday when we have a good one. And we never lament about this as a suffering. We never cry for having life just because we get poo every day! And for bad days, we talk it normally with family and see a doctor and take care of our lifestyle. So why do we cry about being a woman when we get periods. It is a normal healthy routine of a body. It should be managed the same way, normally and if we have problems we should be easily talking about it and taking care of ourselves. I am sure the more we feel comfortable and calm, the less issues we'll have.

So what should we feel about periods? Should we feel proud?

Nothing. We should feel nothing about periods. Just like we feel nothing about having motions every day. We don't feel ashamed, and we don't shout about it from rooftop either. Yet if there is something relevant to discuss there is no hesitation, we discuss within our family, with our good friends. Just a normal routine, part of our living as a beautiful soul in this world. We should be discussing with our children about it freely too and as normally as we talk about any routine body functions like having good motions. Just like the sign of a good civil society is how well managed its sanitation system is, similarly the sign of a strong confident woman is how well managed her monthly periods are. And that happens only when we don't get disgusted about it or see it as a bane.

But men don't have it so it's exclusivity to us women that we moan about it 

Men don't have lot of other things for which they pine for a women. They are incomplete without us. As we are. And they have their share of struggles as we have. So we uplift each other. Sadly, women are more invested in uplifting the men in their families then they are in the girls. And to support the girls when they first start their periods is the best time to ensure a strong, confident women.

So what should we tell our young girls?

My good friend once put, for our little girls we should definitely tell them it's a good thing because periods start the beginning of becoming a beautiful woman, just like that beautiful princess she loves to dream of. And I am sure, no girl will ever be ashamed or cry about being a girl because she gets periods. Instead they will look forward to it.

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