I got my first period when I was nine years old. Yes. I was still a child and back then, many decades ago, the average age at which girls first menstruated was around 13 or 14. Needless to say, my parents were very worried and took me to a lady doctor to figure out if all was well with my reproductive organs. It was, she assured them. I was just an early bloomer. It also had to do with the fact that I was, err, as they politely put it back then, very healthy.
My mother sat me down and explained to me that once a month, every month, blood would come out of my private parts for a few days, and it might be a trifle inconvenient and uncomfortable. My dad brought me my first packet of sanitary napkins. Covered in a newspaper. My dad died a few months later.
I grew up without a dad. But it took me many decades to realise that my father was unique, a man who had absolutely no qualms about going to a chemist and asking for a pack of sanitary napkins. Even if it came wrapped in a newspaper.
Now many years later, when I ask for a pack of sanitary napkins at the chemist’s, they continue to be stealthy about it. Wrapping it in newspaper, burying it beneath the pile of whatever else one has bought in the carry bag. Handing it across to you, almost embarrassed to be associated with this evidence that you are in the reproductive bracket. And that you bleed.
It was only a few years ago that we got supermarkets and we could pick up our choice of sanitary napkins from shelves stacked with various options. Extra-large, with wings, dry gel… you name it. And we could toss them on the shopping trolley in full public view and not feel embarrassed about it. Because, yes, that is how nature created us. We bleed as women. Because we bleed, we can carry babies within us. And because we carry babies within us, the human race continues. Is that an aberration to be embarrassed and ashamed of?
Yet, across cultures and religions, the female menstrual cycle has been viewed as ritually unclean. Barring a few religions, most religions mandate that a menstruating woman is unclean, and bars her from certain activities. Most religions have their own menstrual taboos; much of it was based on the lack of understanding of why it occurred. Depending on the degree of orthodoxy, a menstruating woman might be even segregated until she completes her menstrual cycle.
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