When I was 17 years old I tried to send my brother to the local pharmacy because I needed tampons. My brother, being the absolute sweetheart that he is, said sure and took the money off me and headed to the door. Within 5 minutes I could hear a mumbled conversation and then a loud resounding What?! before he was loudly told to get upstairs and my father stormed into the living room to give me a piece of his mind. Little had I known that my insensitive request had nearly turned my brother gay, or worse, transgender. I was astounded by the ignorance flowing out of the mouth of someone I respected as a well educated, well read individual, and one who had no problem discussing fashion and make up with me, hardly the manliest of conversations. However, the line was drawn at periods. The attitude towards periods he had experienced growing up was one where they were treated as a curse, a sign of uncleanliness, a burden women had to endure as discreetly as possible without tainting any innocent men with it.
In the later years we managed to educate my father away from the fears borne from menstrual ignorance; he no longer handles a box of tampons at arms length or washes his hands compulsively afterwards. My mother however remains, like many Indian women, quite sheltered on the topic. I remember as a child, watching her lead my older sister away secretly and giving her a bag of things and when I asked my sister what was happening, she gave me that annoying smile siblings do: “You’re too little to know. It’s a grown up conversation.” A few years later, when my mother was not around to share this important information, my sister looked a little less smug and a lot more panicked when she tried to explain to me how the whole thing worked. I was terrified, no wonder people only whispered about it and would stop talking when a man came into the room. My mum would be away the rest of the year and my dad’s only recognition of the event was when he had to add sanitary towels to the shopping list. He promptly reminded me I had to help him buy them, else he be considered a pervert by the rest of London. When my mum returned, the fact my dad was now privy to my cycle and I was now using tampons which was worthy of an “Oh lord, the shame!” and an afternoon of praying. She will never see it as a positive, as something life affirming. She was taught that it was something to be ashamed of, something women suffered. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a pleasant time of the month, but I never felt suffered, nor would I allowed myself to be shamed because of it.
Maybe it’s that attitude that explains the continued general ignorance regarding the menstrual cycle. Some of the men I dated were aware of periods, but only in terms of it being an inconvenience. To them. It meant that sex was now a hassle or had to be moved to a shower. They may get their bedsheets stained. Or worse: father a brain damaged baby. They may have to deal with an exorcist like being. One who put you at risk of a bear attack. Yeah, these are the same men who believed it was impossible to get a woman pregnant in the shower because the water would wash away all the annoying sperm. From her ovaries. Men who would glare at you if you said the word period loudly or forced them to enquire whether female members of their family might have any tampons.
To be fair, this kind of attitude is better attributed to men like Mr Trump, Ron Burgundy, or members of my father’s generation. Not all men think women are untouchable while menstruating. Some don’t oversimplify the hormones involved by claiming women turn into a demonised version of themselves, nor do they ascribe being impassioned, angered or aggressive to the fact that it was her time of the month. Unlike Presidential candidate Trump, who implied as much with his recent asinine comments. Personally, I think his inability to answer Megyn Kelly’s questions intelligently was what he should have focused on. More time preparing, less time blaming her hormones for your inability to answer a tough question.
Luckily today, most men my age aren’t as ignorant or sexist as Trump is. That isn’t to say they are well informed though or that they want to be. A few months back, my boyfriend asked me how I was able to be in the swimming pool of our local gym if I was on my period. Confused, I replied tampons. He continued to look at me waiting for an explanation and it dawned on me: Why would a man know the difference between a sanitary towel or a tampon? Or how they worked Why would he care? My dad hadn’t known, hence why I was allowed to just buy them, much to the horror of my mum. There had been years of Bodyform adverts with sexy shapely females, roller blading carefree, and even the launch of sanitary line, Carefree, questioning why we should stop because our periods started. But men normally switched off at this point and went to make a cuppa. So did my boyfriend have to know how they worked? Not really. Did he want to know? Not really. But could he wipe the terrified look off his face and stop scanning the water for Sharks. If he knew what was good for him- yes.
The ignorance surrounding the menstrual cycle used to really anger me as a young woman. Periods are considered unclean in my culture. You are not meant to enter a holy place when menstruating nor are you meant to touch a man who about to pray or give offerings to god. Not being religious myself, the whole idea seemed ludicrous. It wasn’t my culture alone though. In some indigenous cultures they would send the women away from their village until their cycle was complete. There was actually a time of the month where we were better off not coming into contact with anything for fear of spiritual contamination- something I didn’t quite understand. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the real fear was from actual contamination, women having accidents and soiling holy terrain. Once again something that seemed really stupid to me. The most embarrassing part when I was a young teen, was you would be asked whether you had your period. I could understand this from a doctor, but not when all I wanted to do was step into a building. My mother would discreetly inquire if I had my period and if I did I didn’t have to go to temple, or religious events, or partake in religious ceremonies. Needless to say, I was always on my period during such occasions.
“What bleeds for five days but doesn’t die?” Yeah, funny. How some men have demonised women, and turned them into a supernatural other just because of a biological process we have and men don’t, is worrying. I think it might do some men well to remember that without the existence of the menstruation cycle they would not exist. The fact that men can’t really experience this and can only know of it from a scientific stance, might explain the ignorant attitudes possessed. A uniquely female experience doesn’t have be seen as a curse, or unclean, or a negative. It amuses me that these female experiences are often depicted as embarrassing, horrifying and something men should be grateful they don’t have to suffer. Only we’re not suffering. We’re just different. Thankfully, plenty of men already get this and leave the archaic comments to the Trumps of this world.