Period Talk 101
Leela Moza sheds light on the lingo around menstrual, menstrual hygiene, and periods.
“I am down”
“It’s shark week”
“Aunt Flo is paying me a visit”
“It’s that time of the month”
The shame that is interwoven with menstruation festers and nourishes itself in the lowered voices of the people around you. Historically, menstruation and people who menstruate are seen as impure and dirty. It’s easy to see the taboo hiding amongst the many rules that surround the people who are menstruating: you cannot enter places of worship, you cannot enter the kitchen, you cannot sit in a religious ritual if you are menstruating. 66% of girls are unaware of menstruation before their first period; 70% of mothers think periods are dirty.
These taboos are passed down from one generation to another, and our inability to talk about menstruation openly leads to ignorance which breeds more stigma.
The Language Surrounding Periods
One of the ways in which we keep perpetuating this cycle of shame is the language that we use when it comes to talking about our periods. Phrases like, “I am down” and “I just do not feel well” reinforce the idea that menstruation is something that puts you down. Through the medium of language we imbibe meaning into events and objects. The symbolism behind how we talk about periods, how we advertise ‘feminine hygiene’ products are powerful weapons in our battle against patriarchy.
When we refuse to say the phrase, ‘I am on my periods’ out loud or in front of male family members, we give in to the eons of conditioning that tells us that there is something inherently impure about our own bodies. Menstruation, historically, and even today is often used as an excuse to keep people who menstruate from fully participating in society. And hence, lessens their power. From the idea that people who menstruate are irrational and hormonal, to using menstruation as an excuse to refuse education to those who menstruate. For example, in India, it has been estimated that 1 in 5 people who menstruate drop out.
In a classic system of patriarchy, every action carries with it the idea of subversion. Showing period blood as blue instead of red, refusing to teach young people about menstruation, the fact that feminine hygiene products are a commodity and not seen as a necessity, using phrases that indicate secrecy, shame and incapability to participate in society. All of this reinforces the idea that bodies that menstruate are inherently weak. It is important to question the language that we use and realise how it reinforces ideas about our own bodies. “When we don’t talk about periods, when we emphasize the importance of hiding it, we reinforce that it is shameful.”
The Ripple Effect And How To Stop It
While the language surrounding menstruation reeks of misogynistic intentions, it has more profound impacts on the people who menstruate. When we talk about our bodies and normal bodily functions with an air of shame, we distance ourselves from our bodies. We make conversations regarding menstruation taboo and distasteful. It becomes impossible to educate others about menstruation, and when people are not educated properly, it leads to misinformation and social ostracization. Refusing to talk about menstruation and normalizing it also leads to economic barriers in the form of issues such as the ‘pink’ tax. The high rates of pads, tampons, and other menstrual products assume a certain level of economic privilege; it effectively pushes a number of people who menstruate to the periphery. In India, according to a survey, only 36% of the total number of people who menstruate can afford menstrual products. Many people who menstruate have to use rags, especially in rural India, which can be unhygienic and cause health problems.
The language surrounding menstruation feeds into the social problems and power imbalances that we notice in our society. These problems are often reflected in political, cultural and other aspects of our lives. Until and unless we make a conscious effort to unlearn these euphemisms and actions that surround menstruation, we cannot truly unlearn the internalized misogyny that runs rampant inside us.
How we talk about something often symbolizes what we think about it in a social context. The advertisements regarding menstrual products, the names of menstrual products, the euphemisms we use are all reinforcements of a certain misogynistic mindset that tells us that our bodies are inherently impure and weak. It disconnects us from our own bodies as we start seeing our periods as nothing but a ‘disruption’ in our daily lives; something to sweep under the carpet and not talk about at all. If you come closer, and look carefully, you will notice certain linguistic loopholes; never mentioning the word ‘vagina’ or ‘uterus’ and instead resorting to the word ‘sanitary’ which contributes to the juxtaposition of menstruation being inherently ‘dirty’ or ‘impure.’ When hidden, menstruation promotes inequality.