First, the bright side. People are talking about menstruation. Nearly 10 years ago when I submitted “Greeting Aunt Flo” to a daily Indian newspaper, the editor replied:
A fascinating story! But I doubt if our conservative paper would use
it…. Too bad, though, because many women would find it really interesting!
In 2008 during a session on Gender issues at the AID conference we reached back 30 years and read aloud from Gloria Steinem’s what-if scenario “If Men Could Menstruate.” She wrote that in 1978! Oddly enough it begins, “Living in India …” Could we ever imagine to find something discussing menstruation so boldly, written in India today?
In 2010 when we started manufacturing and marketing cloth menstrual pads in the villages of Srikakulam District some of the village level workers balked at the idea that in order to work for social upliftment they were now reduced to peddling “gochi guddalu” or underwear. Our advertising slogan was “No Need to Whisper!”
Today we regularly get orders for the cloth pads and requests for the pattern and training in making them. And don’t even ask me how many times I get forwarded articles and videos about the “menstrual man,” Arunachalam Muruganantham. BBC, TED, DNA … he’s all over the place. The other day when I took a peek into Talking Cranes I came across “On Math and Menstruation.” The thing is, it was only about math … nothing much about menstruation. That was just a catchy title! Everyone wants in on it. Menstruation is the New Black.
Another article I am getting forwarded right and left concerns menstrual taboo. With a great show of respect for religion, culture and even woman power, it refuses to criticize menstrual untouchability. Honestly I thought we were DONE with that! What did Chokha Mela fight for in the 14th century? He questioned untouchability, purity and pollution.
“The only impurity is in the five elements.
There is only one substance in the world.
Then who is pure and who is impure?”
Chokhamela, Abhanga 11
as found in
H.C. Sadangi, “Emancipation of Dalits and Freedom Struggle.” Gyan, 2008.
Indeed! What is pure? How can menstrual blood be polluting, he asked, when from this blood comes life itself? I am afraid I do not know the verse that refers to menstruation but that Chokhamela questioned the entire concept of purity and untouchability, including menstrual untouchability is something I heard years ago in a conversation with a group of women in Maharashtra.
And so it was with particular velocity that I recoiled from an article that is now in 2014 making the rounds, connecting “ancient wisdom” to the practice of menstrual taboo, and pitying the misguided women who think that modern ideas of gender and feminism will empower them.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Some say that all publicity is good publicity. At least it has served as a wake up call to me to get back up on my bandwagon and speak for the integrity of a woman’s body, the dignity of menstruation and for a world where women are free and confident.