My aunt whispered to my mother, “You know her father taught her how to use it!” To which my mother replied, “That’s the way it should be. How else is she going to learn?” This conversation has stayed with me ever since.
A family friend lost his wife early on and had to raise the couple’s daughter on his own, from the time she was two years old. So, from the traditional, breadwinner dad, he had to transition to multiple other duties which are usually left in the hands of the mother. And amongst several others, menstruation was one of them.
Now that was a rare case of a father’s involvement with his daughter in an unconventional manner. But the overall scenario is totally different.
Men and Menstruation
There’s always a hush-hush affair in almost every household around “that time of the month”. Sanitary napkins are brought in black polythene bags and wrapped in a newspaper and kept under a closet to hide ‘it’ from the sight of male beings in the family. And that’s how assumptions and myths such as “Menstruation is a natural process to help purify blood in a woman’s body” start circulating. Why? Simply because we don’t talk about this normal biological process openly and lock it inside us.
Stigma Attached to Menstruation
But why does that happen? When I first started menstruating, I was in school and the only information I had about it was from a group of girls who just discovered that “we need to be prepared at all times”. So, whenever I was in ‘that situation’, I would feel ashamed that I’ll have to go back home and face my mother. Imagine! Something which is important, and most normal, would often become a matter of shame for many of us.
We don’t know what’s the root cause, but these taboos and stigmas around menstruation became a part of women’s lives at some point in history, which still persist even in the twenty first century and make the topic uncomfortable to openly talk about.
There are numerous superstitions around the globe, especially India. Women are told that they can’t enter a kitchen or cook food, else it will become poisonous; entering a place of worship is not allowed, otherwise, they’ll be doomed; they cannot water Tulsi plant and are asked not to touch pickle jars!! In rural areas, women are often asked to live in a cowshed during their cycle in isolation. In many parts of the world, women still think that they’re cursed by God when they bleed. Countless superstitions like these impact the health and well-being of females. In financially underprivileged households, women are forced to use everything from leaves to old rags on their periods. These practices are extremely unhygienic and can cause severe health and reproductive problems.
Periods Should Be Normalised
However, to do away with such practices, it is important to normalise the phenomenon first. And that’s not going to happen till the time we do away with subtle euphemisms such as “happy birthday”, “lady time”, “that time of the month”, or “I am down”.
Rather than use code words, we should talk about it openly. And we should start with our own households.
And times are definitely changing. Coming back to our hero dad, he not only normalised periods for his daughter when she hit puberty by explaining the entire process, but also taught her how to use a sanitary napkin.
Another young friend was alone at home with her younger brother and grandfather when she got her first period. In fact, her mother was admitted in a hospital with a life-threatening ailment, with the father by her side. So, when she complained to her grandfather of a ‘severe’ problem, the grandpa listened patiently, laughed away the ‘problem’, bought her a packet of sanitary pads, and reassured her that everything was okay.
Hats off to these cool new age dads and granddads. Probably then, we can also hope to have our dads by our side during “that time of the month”.