Holy Hormones Journal: This is an excellent article/commentary by Sinu Joseph – as she explains the the only relevant way to share information about menstruation with adolescent girls. Too often the classes are set in a tone of shame and embarrassment – because the teacher/presenter is even too embarrassed to discuss the issue. No wonder young girls are feeling shamed about their bodies. This early shaming leads to a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. And it could lead to doors opening for abuse. I love this woman’s attitude when training other to teach about menstrual hygiene – “If you want to tell others about their period – you first have to talk about yours – so who will go first?”
However, India is still filled with myths about menstruation that actually thwart efforts like Joseph’s in training and teaching. In an article in the India Real Time, on October 4, blogger Isha Singh Sawhney cites that many myths that still abound in this country:
“Don’t enter the kitchen. Don’t touch the pickles. Don’t bake cakes. Don’t come in contact with men. Don’t swim. Don’t wash your hair. Don’t go into a wine cellar. “These are some of the strictures still in place for women during their monthly period in parts of India, where old wives’ tales about women’s impurity during menstruation persist.
All the more reason for Joseph to be training the trainers to teach about menstruation and menstrual hygiene without shame so that these age-old myths can be broken and buried one last time. And then she needs to come to the United States. We may not have the same myths – but as I posted in a recent commentary about menstrual myths in this country – we have the ‘wandering uterus’ – a sign of a feeble mind – and the weeping uterus – a sign of a pathological, malfunctioning uterus.
Personally, I would rather stay out of the kitchen and not bake cakes for a few days. As far as not being in contact with men… hmmm, that is also manageable – and even enticing for some.
It is time we talked about Menstruation
Sinu Joseph, 25 Sep 2013
These are the opening lines that play on most women’s mind when it comes to even thinking about menstruation and all the embarrassing moments that surround it. All women, and I mean absolutely all women in India, have had one or the other moments during her period, especially as an adolescent, that she feels she can never talk about openly. And this is true for rural, tribal, urban, educated and uneducated women.
Pretending it never happened
During trainings for women leaders in IT companies or for ASHA workers in a village to undertake menstrual hygiene sessions, they all begin with the assumption that I will tell them what to tell young girls and their job is to pass on some information regarding menstruation. Instead, I always begin by asking them “If you want to tell others about their period, you first need to be able to talk about yours! So who will be first?” This is usually followed by pin drop silence, with most (previously confident) women now avoiding eye contact with me, and hoping that I’d just vanish into thin air and leave them alone!
Why do women need to talk about it? Can’t we just shut it out of our mind and forget all about it? Can’t we just pretend the moments never happened? Moments when boys in class would see us carrying Sanitary Napkins and tease us about it; or the big deal that was made out of attaining puberty with celebration and festivities; or when we would be so nervous about staining our clothes and ask friends to walk behind us; or the time when we were unprepared and suddenly get our period in school and are just too embarrassed to get up and ask the teacher to excuse us; or the time when our body suddenly develops and we want to hide beneath sweaters all the time; or the time when we need to announce that we can’t attend a religious function because, uh-well, its that time of the month………..Why can’t we talk about it?
When I started talking about it
When I first started working on this issue in government schools, I began by roping in the “experts” to talk about it to high school girls. So the experts would draw a picture of the uterus on the black board and explain the biological aspects of what caused menstruation. By the end of the session, if the girls were still awake, the experts would invite questions about the uterus, ovary, egg and sometimes, the sperm. Some of them would begin by saying “As a woman, I too feel embarrassed to talk about it, so I understand if you hesitate…” And that would be a good way to kill whatever little possibility there might have been of girls expressing their hesitation and fear about menstruation.
It hit me that these women experts, despite their seeming confidence and education, still cannot talk about their own period without cringing inwardly. It also occurred to me that most girls don’t care about how menstruation happens, but rather about getting answers to some of their basic questions and fears, which were never addressed because no expert ever asked them what they wish to know.