Once, as a 14 year old visiting my grandparents in India, I lived one of my worst nightmares. I got my period. Back then we didn’t used to have apps to tell us when our period was due (how old do I sound when I say this?), so it was only anybody’s guess because we weren’t keeping track, and so I hadn’t anticipated that I would get my period on this trip and didn’t pack any essential supplies of lady things like sanitary napkins or tampons. I headed to the nearest corner shop with my cousin and the man handed the pads to us, all wrapped up in a newspaper and then in a black carrier bag. He then proceeded to pack the other stuff in a thin, white, translucent carrier bag. What is this discrimination for? Why were the pads packed in a newspaper and then put into a black carrier bag? Are you actually keeping a stock of black carrier bags for this purpose? When people ask for condoms or lube, do you pack that in a similar fashion as well? This is not just an Indian corner shop thing. People continue to refer to the week of menstruation as shark week, the time of the month, and whatnot, as if it’s something to be ashamed of, something we can’t openly talk about. May as well call it Voldemort. Or That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named. But also remember Dumbledore’s words, ‘fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself’. In a world where there is so much other messed up stuff I just feel that a passer by on the street looking at your shopping and realising you are on your period or might be getting your period because you are a woman should probably be the least of your worries.
When we were in school, part of our uniform was a dark grey skirt. A few years in they decided to redesign our uniform and girls from middle school were now made to wear beige skirts. Think of the agony we went through when we had to wrap maroon cardigans around our waists to cover up possible stains. I remember overhearing some boys in a corner ‘Oh, look, she’s got a cardigan around her waist, she’s got her period’- and then sniggering. The poor girl was so embarrassed, she literally ran into her classroom. Nothing against the beige skirt or the disgusting cardigan; obviously our school needed better fashion designers, but that’s for another time. My problem is with the boys who were sniggering. Why are you sniggering? The girl is probably going to think twice before standing up now, wondering if her skirt is stained. If it is stained she can no longer use a cardigan to cover up because everybody knows what that means- she’s on her period- and apparently that’s something to be laughed at. Teachers have legit yelled at girls who have used cardigans to cover up stains because ‘you are a big girl, don’t you know how to take care of such things?’ She isn’t actually a big girl, though, is she? She’s 14, she’s probably scarred from the stain as it is, and now some mindless blokes have just laughed at her and so she’s going to fear leaving her house and going to school because clearly school is not where she has a supportive network of peers and teachers to take her through this massive transformation in her life.
The problem here is that when we were in school we never had any dedicated education for this stuff. When we were in the 8th grade in school, we had a chapter in Biology titled ‘Reproduction’. A good 80% of this covered plant reproduction, which was rather uninteresting. When we got to the sub section of human reproduction, I remember every single person in our classroom was curious to see how our middle aged Indian teacher would deal with it. It’s going to be so weird to hear her say the word ‘sex’ or ‘vagina’. Even saying the word ‘bra’ would alert everyone in the room, think about the chaos that ‘sex’ or ‘vagina’ would cause. So we waited eagerly until she said, ‘Okay, class, next topic is human reproduction but it’s never tested so you can just read it yourself and if you have any questions you can let me know…so that’s that.’
That’s that. That’s what? Are we never going to talk about contraception? Why we have the urge to suddenly start being nice to boys instead of our usual whine of ‘ew, I hate boys’ (having said that, I do still find myself saying ‘ew I hate boys’ at the age of 27)? Why we bleed nearly to death every month? What equivalent thing happens to boys? Nothing?
I get that teenagers are ruthless and boys, in particular, are probably the worst nightmare for teachers. But if we had some early sympathetic learning about these things, the boys would not have laughed at the girl, she wouldn’t have run into her classroom, and nobody would ever have reconsidered tying the cardigan around their waists to cover up period stains on that disgusting beige skirt. The teen years are a hard time as it is, why not create a supportive system for boys and girls? Maybe they’ll grow up with a healthy understanding of the human body and nobody will ever say ‘I think you’re being hormonal’ to a girl suffering from PMS- which, by the way, is a serious condition, and not all ‘I want chocolate cake and a big juicy steak and a 2008 bottle of Malbec from Argentina, and a man with the exact size, shape and face as Jay Sean from the video of ‘Nakhre’ to cuddle up to.’