Why Whisper?

Why Whisper?

This is definitely not a comfortable post to write. But some things are worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. So here I am.
While I was growing up ‘periods’ were just a pain. My mum had told me about them, however when they did come, they took me by surprise, not a nice surprise at all. I found it difficult to reconcile myself to the idea of those troublesome days every month – month after month – for ever – or so it seemed to the 13 year old me.
I was in an all girls’ school, yet when one of the girls ended up with a stained skirt it was a huge ‘haw’ moment. She would disappear to the washroom and spend the rest of the day fidgeting in her chair, cardigan tied at her waist. Strangely, and rather unfairly, the other girls, though not unkind, weren’t really supportive.
I never stopped resenting my monthly trial – the idea of no jeans, no whites, no pastels was annoying. And then there were the cramps and rashes to contend with! Ugh!
The discomfort was bad enough, what was worse was the whole idea of keeping it a secret, like it was something I was guilty of. I hated the little white lies I had to think up each time my stomach hurt and I needed to excuse myself from PT class, or when the family was going to the temple and I had to opt out (that’s something I have since done away with) – it was truly painful. But that was how it was and, sadly enough, I accepted it.
Years later, after an exceptionally busy day at work, one of my young colleagues sat down with huge sigh and said, ‘Lord, my feet are killing me. Day one of chums is such a bummer.’  I still remember the appalled faces of everyone around – girls and men alike. Talking about periods openly wasn’t the done thing, still isn’t, perhaps.
Why the big secret?
That incident stuck with me. Why should the whole issue of periods be such secret? Why  should sanitary napkins be sold in those black opaque plastic bags at medical stores? Why should it be referred to as a ‘woman’s problem’? This, when every girl/woman goes through it every single month.
And I thought…
How wonderful would it be if one could talk about it openly. If one could simply say, ‘My stomach hurts because I have my periods’ or ‘I have a migraine because of my periods’. And staining a skirt would just be an unfortunate accident like staining it when you slipped under the jamun tree… how liberating that would be. 

And how wonderful it would be to be shown just that little bit of extra concern during those days when you are not at your physical best!

I have to admit talking about menstruation publicly doesn’t come naturally to me. Put it down to years of conditioning and my natural conservativeness.

However, I have been talking to the children about it. As they stand at the brink of puberty, I hope neither of them feel a sense of discomfort if the topic is brought up. My daughter should never feel the anxiety that I did. She should never need to lie or hide away. As for my son, I hope I can instill in him an awareness about menstruation. I hope I can engender in him a sense of empathy and sensitivity towards his sister and then, by extension, towards all women.

Most of all, I hope no woman ever needs to be ashamed of it for it is as much a part of her being a woman as anything else.

Linking up with  Write Tribe and #Period Pride.

41 Replies to “Why Whisper?”

  1. Although I was prepared by Mom, the first period was scary. I hate the secrecy and the snide remarks that accompany our periods. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently, Tulika.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Vishal. Men have to be a party to this change as much as the women. Often they are more uncomfortable than the ladies when there's period talk.

  2. Oh yes!All the excuses that had to make to cover the reason behind our absence or exhaustion! It would truly be very convenient if we didnt have to hush it all up. Its a good thing that you're educating your kids well. Let's hope the coming generations don't face any hindrances because of secrecy.

  3. Yes I have never understood the reason for either not talking about periods openly…or going all out to prove a non existent point by not wearing a pad during periods….I hope to be able to teach my daughter that periods are as normal as any other bodily function…nice post tulika….

  4. I don't know what to say as I don't think men will ever understand it wholly..

    But on other hand yes education will help and needs to be done..that is a good initiative and my best wishes. .

    Our nation is way way behind in so much that is going on.. just 3 or 4 days back bbc was showing how just about recently the myth that girls don't have autism is not true.. even females have it and it just does not get diagnosed easily as with men..

    And to be truthful I had no idea till almost college or was it after college..

    1. The men just need to be empathetic about it that's all Bikram. There really are too many misconceptions prevalent in our society.

  5. I wondered why everyone was writing about Period Pride. But yes, it's something that we shouldn't shy away from talking or even writing. IT was never my mom who talked about it – rather it was my dad when I moved into my teens. But after I did finish talking to him, I talked to my mom and I remember promising that if there was anything that I could do to help her, I would. She just smiled and held my hand 🙂

    1. Whether it's a mum or a dad – the idea is to make the kids aware and comfortable with the idea. That was sweet of you Sid.

  6. That is such a well articulated article Tulika. I love the way you make your points and they're so assertively written and make so much sense!


  7. I remember staining my white skirt during a sports meet. I was given the permission to go to my friend's house near the school for changing. I wore her skirt and tied up 5 sanitary napkins inside so that no more staining and embarrassment results.
    But to my misery I had severe outbreak of rashes when I went home in the evening due to 5 sanitary napkin I had tied up.

  8. I have been there with school uniform's white skirt getting stained. It was summer and thus I did not have the luxury of tying the cardigan around the waist so I had to place my bag at the back there while on the way back home from school. These days I have been open about periods that when I take off from yoga classes and the male teachers asks why didn't I come, I tell him I had cramps due to periods. For a long time he thought I was a Christian since Hindu women are meant to be conservative and I wasn't in this respect. The other reason proving his point I know none of the shlokas which are chanted in the class.

  9. I studied in a co-ed and we had pure white uniforms. Such nightmare where even a spot showed. I do wish that we would be more open about speaking on periods. But l would still find it awkward to share something as intimate as this with male colleagues. Things have changed quite a bit since l was a teen. I have all makes in the family and have never felt the need to buy sanitary napkins surreptitiously. And l have been very open with my sons about periods.

    1. I wonder who thought up white uniforms. They're so the bane of everyone – children and parents alike. You're right Rachna it is difficult to talk openly about periods and while I would't bring up the topic, having to hide it sometimes from everyone, specially your own family members is what I dislike.

  10. Thankfully both my sis and I were already briefed about it at home and in school. The best thing about having a dad who is a chemical engineer is that you begin to look at your body processes as chemical processes. Which basically means there are reactants and products and byproducts. I learnt to think of the period as a byproduct.

    While it isn't something that I'd want to put on display while buying, I don't bother hiding the sanitary napkins either. I wouldn't shout it out from the top of the building but won't shy away from letting people know about it. I wouldn't purposely make plans to go to the temple only when Aunt Flo visits, but I'd not change my schedule either just because Aunt Flo unexpectedly drops in. There are times when I do just play by 'someone else's' rules but that's because I feel the task at hand is more important. But if there was time enough I'd tell them that while it is fine that they don't want to change and want to hold on to old rules that have lost their contextual significance, it isn't fair to hold others back.

    Our domestic help's daughter(very smart) quit school when she started her periods. For years it sounded like an unintelligent reason to me and that she was using it as an excuse. When I put myself into her shoes, I realized how lucky I have been. All of the things you have mentioned, I've faced but this girl must have faced all that and a million more. Hopefully one day it won't hold her back anymore. Arunachalam Muruganantham has brought that day a lot closer.

    PS: The festivities Rajlakshmi mentioned, we have something similar where the girl is paraded through the streets. Mom told me they did that in the olden days as marriage proposals spread by word of mouth and the occasion was like letting the world know that you have a daughter who has come of age.

    1. You have no idea how happy your comments make me Anitha and I'll say it again – Write a blog. It's interesting how Raj and you are familiar with similar practices regarding menstruation although you speak for two different parts of India. Just goes to show how widespread these practices are and how hard it will be to bring about change.

    2. I swear I did try writing a post. I had it all figured out in my head. Once I starting typing, after just four lines my brain gave up on me. I couldn't even squeeze another ounce of whatever 'creative juices' people talk about. When I read what I had written it sounded weird. Then I tried once more in vain. Maybe third time's the charm.

  11. I didn't even understand what was happening when I got mine. If I tell you about all the rituals you will die laughing. There was a whole day of festivity when relatives all over the state came to visit me, bringing me gifts, while I was sitting wearing half spree with a fake baby and then since there was some 'dosh' in my period horoscope (yes there's a thing like that) I was banned from looking at any man's face for three days. It's all true… no kidding.
    These days I have seen guys being comfy about menstruations, they don't say much but understand. I am sure your daughter will grow up non as confused as we were once 🙂

    1. I don't think I would laugh Raj – however ridiculous the customs might be. But then a fake baby… seriously??? The gifts sound good though.

  12. My experiences aren't any different from yours but just like you, I have now started talking about periods more comfortably and confidently than ever before. Its because of the efforts of open-minded women like those of our generation that the change we wish to see in the society are possible. I agree, allowing our children to be free from stereotypes is going to be a huge help in bringing about the change.

  13. It is so sad that we call ourselves progressive and yet grown at the mere mention of periods. I wish it is not as difficult and embarrassing for our girls and that our combined efforts make our boys empathetic towards females. The stain on the skirt was indeed the worst possible experience girls of our generation had to deal with.

    1. I read your post Rekha. It's terrible the things girls had to go through. At 11 and 12 years of age they are hardly mature enough to handle the seclusion. I am glad your girls are growing up with far more support than you did. That's a huge step forward.

  14. still remember my school days when I feel ashamed to share with my boy classmates and think "they will make fun of me".. it is a girly topic…But, I think you took a right decision so that this new generation should be aware of these facts and stay safe.

    1. Thank you Dipannita. Glad you agree. I think it is important for us to make a beginning. The new generation is smart, they'll take it forward from there.

  15. Oh yes, I remember my school days when the uniform would definitely get stained on 'those days' amd the whole junta would go, "hawww"! How I hated it. As also the way the chemist packed/packs the pads as if packing cocaine so the world knows not my big secret!
    Tulika, you are doing such a good thing by speaking about it to both your kids. Everyone needs to be aware of it, as well as be empathetic about the whole issue and caring about women, in particular. The world will be a much more tolerable place for women for sure! As it is, tempers fly high during these days, and on top of that 'it' gets treated like some disease!!!

  16. I do not have happy memories of periods until I turned 24 and moved away from our joint family with my Mom, thanks to a job transfer. Periods meant embarrassment, pain and misery. 🙂 I do look back and see it in a humorous light, but back then, it wasn't even remotely funny. Nice post, Tulika! And yes, I do remember tying my sweater around my waist!

    1. That's the thing Vidya – I think none of us have happy memories. But with so many people talking about it, I see hope for the younger lot.

  17. I hope things change as we move forward and start speaking comfortably about this. I have a dad and a husband who are equally comfortable buying sanitary pads for me and I have tried to be as open as possible in my interactions with people too.

    When the time comes for Gy I hope she finds all the support she needs from us as well as her peers and others to help her navigate this stage effectively.

    1. That is great Shailaja. A supportive family can make the whole idea so much more acceptable. And that's what will help dissolve the taboo.

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On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Unfinished #BookReview

Unfinished #BookReview

Priyanka, with her grit and her determination, as also her ability to stand up to all kinds of trolling and bullying, has always been inspirational. Everything about her seems to spell, ‘Say what you will, I’ll do my own thing’. To me, that’s the greatest kind of freedom anyone can ever aspire for. And that’s what prompted me to pick up her biography.