There was a time when one would squirm whenever the “chup chup baithi ho, zaroor koi baat hai,” advertisement would play on TV.
In a gradual but welcome move, the ads evolved into high octane action sequences of women in white trousers running marathons, doing parkour, climbing hills and then mischievously swearing by their love for pickles.
But it is only in the last few years that the conversation has gained critical mass, thanks to the efforts of ordinary women like the one who ran a marathon while on her period and with a visible blood stain on her clothes. She said she did this to express solidarity with women who did not have access to feminine hygiene and menstruation management products – which was commendable.
But of late we've started seeing a lot of polarising chatter around menstruation.
The ‘Sanskaar’ of Menstrual Hygiene
One lobby is busy vying for your attention by either guilt tripping you for threatening the environment (using sanitary napkins instead of cloth pads), or offering you new things to stick into your vagina like menstrual cups.
While they educate you about how it is healthier to use organic cotton cloth pads and how it is cheaper in the long run (given cloth pads are washable and reusable), they also make you hate yourself for contributing plastic waste to landfills across the world.
What’s worse is that traditionalists keep highlighting how the good old days and traditional Indian methods are better. So, in a sense they are accusing you of not only being anti-earth, but also anti-national if you use disposable sanitary napkins.
Sanskaar is awesome, but it doesn’t solve a lot of very real problems.
For starters, what am I to do with the soiled cloth pad once I’ve replaced it with a fresh one? If I can’t throw it away in a waste bin, am I to carry a bloody pad in my purse all day? Even if I were to pack it in a zip lock, it’s still going to sit right next to my lunch, my books and my laptop. Yes, I know, it’s my own blood, but a bloody rag in the bag is still gross AF! So thank you, but I will not let you haul me over the coals for this one choice.
I find this period politics more than a little unsettling because there’s something fundamentally wrong about judging women for what they do to make their own menstruation experience slightly more bearable. Why don’t we let women decide what they want to use?
Many Women, Many Voices
“Why, why, why would I want to put things inside me,” asks 24-year-old Unnati Yadav. “Also, I’m gonna have to stick my finger inside my vagina to insert and take out the damn thing and I’m not comfortable with that”.
However, 26-year-old digital media professional Upasna Naithani who has noticed the increased press mentions about menstruation doesn’t care if it is a part of some elaborate PR campaign.
Even if it is a part of some promotional strategy, I welcome it because it’s high time we started talking about menstrual hygiene products as a basic requirement for women. As far as using a menstrual cup goes – so far it hasn’t been a compelling thought, but I’m willing to try it.
Moreover, cloth pads don’t work for a lot of us for other very real reasons.
While I’m concerned about what chemicals I expose my nether regions to, a cloth pad would just not work for me given my heavy flow. That’s when I discovered disposable napkins with 100 per cent cotton overlay!30-year-old Suhani Mukhi (name changed)
See, that is a middle ground I’d be happy to walk, but nobody is talking about it.
As someone who has been menstruating for the last 25 years, I can tell you it is a very stressful time for any woman. You wake up in the morning (or the middle of the night) to find your chaddi looking like a crime scene because your vagina is spilling the remains of your unfertilised ova even as your uterus is shedding its inner lining. Add to that the mood swings, the horrid abdominal cramps and zits that miraculously appear on your face even if you are in your forties!
So, isn’t it understandable if we women ask to be spared the judgment when we choose how to manage our own period?
(Deborah Grey is a communications professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism, public relations and celebrity management. As a freelance writer she focuses on entrepreneurship and leadership, sexism and gender justice as well as sex and sexuality.)