The Sanitary Napkin Conundrum

A couple of years ago, my wife (then my girlfriend), urgently needed to get a pack of sanitary napkins and called me over the phone and asked shyly if I could buy a pack and get it to her place since she couldn’t go out herself.

Well, I didn’t think twice about saying ‘sure, why not’. She was quite surprised because she expected that I’d be ashamed to go out and do that for her.

So I walk to this local provision store and ask the lady of the store for two packs of sanitary napkins. The lady looks around to see if anybody else was around – something that was more of a reflex action than anything else, and then gets two packs of sanitary napkins, which she hides inside folds of old newspaper, before placing them in a transparent plastic cover and handing them over to me.

I asked her, “Why bother with all the paper”? “Just given them to me the way they are.”

The lady gave me an annoyed look and retorted, “Whatever. Do as you like”!

I threw away the newspaper wrappers and left with the sanitary napkins to later give it to the person who it was bought for. She was visibly impressed with my act of ‘bravery’.

Nevertheless, till the time I handed over the napkins to my girlfriend, the only thought that crossed my mind was ”Why on bloody earth are people ashamed to show they bought sanitary napkins?”

We live in a country where nobody bats an eyelid when a man pulls out his ‘thing’ and answers nature’s call on the side of a busy road; and yet it seems strange that a person can’t carry a pack of sanitary napkins out in the open without being frowned upon.

I’ve often noticed over the years that a vast majority of young men have no clue of what menstruation is. As a teenager during my college days, I had come across youngsters who simply cracked a joke or two when they saw a female classmate leave class half-way because of some discomfort and then not return for the day. It’s simply a topic that nobody invites discussions on because the topic of menstruation is a taboo – a taboo that has roots in cultural and religious practices prevalent in each society.

Religions haven’t been particularly kind to the menstruating woman and every major world religion has its qualms and restrictions that apply to a woman undergoing her period and who is considered impure at that time (Sikhism is an exception in this aspect though– Guru Nanak apparently condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating).

There’s a rather interesting article published by a lady namedBeenish Ahmed that deliberates on why religion punishes women for menstruating. Her words couldn’t sum it up better when she says “Although there are efforts to reform restrictions around menstruation or to do away with them as outdated, the period still has an outcast place in many religions. Whether it’s a prohibition from entering houses of worship or a ban from the marital bed, the commands of many faith traditions seemingly seek to hide away a bodily function that stands unavoidably at the root of existence.”

Menstruation is a natural phenomenon that every healthy girl past puberty has to undergo (till she attains menopause in middle age) and it is a sign of sexual health well-being. Uncomfortable as it may seem or sound to others around, it is a fact of life everybody needs to understand, accept and reconcile with. It is nothing to be ashamed of and shunning it or pretending it doesn’t exist only helps reinforce the blighting ignorance and prejudice that surrounds it.

Societies evolve over a period of time, but often many out-dated cultural and religious practices refuse to die out because they are never pulled out into the open for debate because of the stigmas attached to even discussing them.

Coming back to my personal anecdote, every time I purchased sanitary napkins since that first time, I made no attempt to hide them. In fact, I would sometimes openly walk around it with it, swinging it in my hand to see if anybody comes and opposes it so that I could give them a piece of my mind. It never happened though I did get a disdaining look once or twice (and from women, surprisingly).

I do hope you will do the same and the next time you carry a sanitary pad around (be it for yourself, a friend, or a family member) and somebody cringes, complains or shows contempt, do remember to give that person an educational lesson he/she shouldn’t forget.

PS: For those interested to read about menstruation related myths in India and how to combat it, there’s a rather informative journal article published in the Official Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care you should read.


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