Period talk is not a dirty talk

Rakhshinda Shakir
Posted May 14, 2017

I grew up in a society where discussing about period experience would mean bringing shame to self. I have always been told to not be open about periods and deal with it as a private matter. When I was already going through the process of menstruation, I remember gossips about periods with my friends as a disgusting thing to ever happen to a woman body and that no one was ready to welcome it. Our gossips would make periods sound like an ugly slang. For example we would say “There comes a certain period in her life when woman bleeds, it’s when she turns to an adult a complete woman”. This feeling of bleeding as a mean to adulthood was not considered normal but an infrequent thing to discuss. Because periods were not easily discussable I always panic, if someone knew I have started menstruating I would be the center of discussion in my friend circle so it’s better to keep it to myself. That very moment of our gossip about periods, I would feel ashamed of talking about my body from bleeding and pretend like I am not ready to welcome it either, too young to bear the shame. I would tell my friends, just like them I too was afraid to enter that stage of life where I would be getting periods. With my initial months of menstruation I don’t have a beautiful memory to cherish. Similarly, I think everyone in my friends circle might have a story to tell, a different or comparable story as mine but I am sure everyone got one because we were never taught to talk about this beautiful thing openly and friendly in good terms.

I cried all day long when I first got my periods because my knowledge towards period was very cold and unfriendly. I was educated to welcome periods with guilt and disgust and keep it to myself as if it’s a curse when people are brought into notice. However, the past few days after I got my periods, I remained with a heavy heart, mood swings and completely heartbroken. I kept feeling disgusting about myself. It’s like hating one’s own self. There came several times in my life where I strongly wished would that I never had to experience periods. I wished to have got it at least two years later so that I would be in eighth grade enough mature to face it and be able to admit it without feeling shame. Eighth grade because it was the minimum age people in my society thought perfect for a girl to enter menstruation cycle. The later you bleed the best it was thought to be for you. But sadly I got my periods when I was in grade sixth. That traumatize half of my childhood. They would say “if a girl starts bleeding it would mean to have lost innocence from childhood and have entered adulthood”. I did not know what it meant to enter adulthood because personally via my experience of periods the blood did not make me any different person. It was just another cycle my body entered and I would not comprehend people including myself from hating it.

However, until I became familiar with periods and educated myself with the details about it from my biology class in grade eighth, I had feelings of hatred towards periods. Therefore, I have lived my initial womanhood stage with a heartache because I felt like I was the only girl having periods because none else talked about it and I would see no girl in my neighborhood crying due to stomach pain over periods, but only me.

My early experience with periods have not been pleasant as I mentioned earlier, but gradually when with each month of my periods I started getting cramps that’s where I made periods an easy talk in my family. I would die out of fatigue and of unbearable abdominal pain. That would worry my dad and brothers. Therefore, everybody would remember that specific one day of each month. That one day in my life even now, would mean a pain that makes my conscious fade and leaves me with an ache all over my body that would neither let me bend down nor sit straight. One second if I am over my knees another I am getting up and walking and sitting and lying down!! Such a level of restlessness in my body and they don’t want me to be open about it. How is it possible? When I could not explain in words to my family of the pain those periods brought, the ache from having it certainly did. My brothers by now would not know what periods mean. They did not know what periods are but definitely knew the pain it brings along. My dad became well familiar with the exact pain killer that heals my cramp and this is how talks about periods became common in my family and I never shied of my body for how it operates after that anymore.

However, I want to share one of the terrible stories that happened to me on my journey of battling against menstruation taboo. Once a lady came to visit my mom and I was told to make some cups of tea to serve them. I did as I was told. The tea was ready and as I was serving them the tea my dad entered the room. When I sat near my dad I ask him silently “did you bring me pain killer and he handed me over. Then suddenly that lady asked what the medicine was for. I said aunty it’s for my stomach pain. Periods? I was like Yes!! Oh dear daughter never offer me tea or anything while menstruating because its advised to me by a saint to stay away from menstruating girls because it is said that they go through “ impure” process that could have a bad effect on my health. It was like someone stabbed a dagger in my stomach and there was no way for me to go but take the cup from her and hand over to my dad. My blood boiled and I could not stop myself from saying “how do you stay away from yourself when you get your own periods” I don’t know what her response was but then, I left the room. It’s still considered as impure blood and in some societies menstruating girls are kept separated.

Moving to Bangladesh I have another experience of breaking period taboos. Once, I and my friend went to a shop in Dhaka to buy sanitary pads. The shopkeeper rolled the pads into a news paper and put it in a polythene bag and gave us. I asked him to unpack it and hand over to us. He did not listen to me and upon asking the reason why can’t I just take it on hand and go he replied, “In Bangladesh we hide pads because in Bangladesh it is consider bad to carry pads is an ethical issue. It is considered bad and shameful to openly carry pads in hands”. I did not how to respond to him directly, but I certainly knew how to challenge this very belief of one must feel shame carrying pads openly.

With a dare to both me and my friend we accept the challenge to holding pads in hands and walking through the street. As we kept moving I kept telling my friend. “Nothing is impure about monthly bleeding. It is just a natural process that every woman goes through. If you think the blood is impure and makes you think of girls going through dirt then you are impure and dirty as well because without this natural process no human life would be ever made possible. Say no to taboos and yes to woman rights”. While people kept gazing at us as we walked down the streets of Dhaka, holding pads in hands without getting them covered, we felt like coming out winning battles.

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Comments 4

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Tamarack Verrall
May 14, 2017
May 14, 2017

Dear Rakhshinda,

You have touched on so many points in how we are expected to be secretive and even ashamed of bleeding, and your story is a gripping read, especially to know what you were thinking and feeling when presented with these societal expectations. It is amazing that such expectations are passed almost wordlessly, and also through overt expressions of prejudice, such as the treatment by your neighbour. My own experience was on the one hand knowing my friends had started and wishing it would come, then the embarrassment of having to hide it from males in my family, and from public when buying pads. I love your daring insistence in carrying pads publicly and insisting on the acceptance of society that menstruating is a natural part of being a women. Your story will I am sure give hope, courage and a new way of thinking to many women and girls.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Jill Langhus
May 15, 2017
May 15, 2017

Hi Rakshi. Thanks for sharing your post. I love how you challenge norms and taboos. While I don't think most Americans think that women and girls are impure when they menstruate, in my experience there isn't much difference from what you experienced. The mystery and shame around it. We never talked about it at home, and my mom always gave me aspirin for cramps which did absolutely nothing so every month I was in extreme pain and even when through an even more embarrassing time where I was fainting. That brought up even more shame. It's so wrong that women and girls worldwide have to experience any shame or embarrassment around a natural cycle and process. Anyway, we all need to do better to stop perpetuating these norms and taboos.

Yo
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

Dear Rakshi,

I totally empathise with you, and to some extent, I don't know whether to be angry or to be sad at the reactions which people still have in this day at age on menstruation. It is one of the most natural things in the world, and in fact is beautiful since a womb can have the ability to nourish and bring to life a foetus. And yet, it is so misunderstood. Kudos to you for standing up against this, and we should all encourage other women to do the same to dispel the myths and taboos.

Terry Shiundu
Apr 13, 2018
Apr 13, 2018

Hi Rakshi, so sorry about the terrible experiences you had to go through because of being a woman. I love your boldness and strength to stand out not just for you but for the girls in the community who are not as bold, eventually, they will have the boldness to stand out too.
Keep going strong.
Terry