It was Tuesday. Day four of Ramadan, day two of my period. My pelvic pain was unbearable and I was about to both cry because of the podcast I was listening to and shout at this guy whose rucksack kept touching me.
Commute aside, indoors with no one invading my personal space, I was asked how I’d been finding fasting.
“Oh I’m not fasting this week,” I said hesitantly, knowing what was about to happen.
“Why’s that?” I’m asked.
“I’m on my period so I’ll be starting next week,” I said, thinking that my previous response should have been enough.
And then it came. The eye roll followed by a scoffing, “Oh sure. Good excuse to get out of it.”
Now, even though I don’t particularly care what men have to say about a woman menstruating at any given time, I will say that I don’t think aching groins are a better alternative to not eating and drinking for 18 hours.
The reactions to a woman’s time of the month varies. Some men assume you’re unapproachable and a hormonal mess, whilst others I’ve found can’t bear to hear you utter the ‘p’ word.
Period shaming and self esteem
So why am I writing about this if it doesn’t bother me? Well, for some women, period shaming stays with them.
In an opinion article on The Logical Indian, writer Priyanka Watane revealed how women are treated in India when they’re menstruating. Society believes that during this time, they’re likely to dirty objects and food. As a result, women are unable to tend to their day to day routine. They’re isolated for five days after which they’re given a head bath and declared pure/clean again.
There’s an underlying sense of shame connected to getting a period all over the world. Whether it’s a woman being made to sleep on a mattress in India or a girl stereotyped as being hormonal in London.
We’ve created this idea that it’s a totally taboo subject when a period is actually a healthy and natural function. So why do men hate hearing about them? Well, because it involves an intimate part of a woman’s anatomy that they routinely sexualise.
Tell me I’m wrong.
An article on The Atlantic referenced a study where researchers asked men how they had learned about menstruation. The responses included ‘snippets of knowledge from female family members and, later on, girlfriends…’ Generally though, they were still fuzzy on the mechanics, which researchers commented on saying that their gaps of knowledge about the female body could lead to developing negative views about girls.’
Periods slowly become synonymous as being a nuisance and dirty, which can then extend to how a woman feels about herself.
A blessing, not a burden
Your body goes through a massive strain when you start fasting in adulthood. It’s a mind over matter discipline and if I’m being honest, I’m grateful for my cycle during Ramadan.
However other women are so ashamed to admit when they’re on that they continue to fast, which may be doing them more spiritual harm.
It’s said that ‘it is forbidden for a menstruating woman to fast, whether it is an obligatory or an optional fast, and it is not valid if she does it.’
Cleanliness is a huge part of our religion. If this was truly understood then men wouldn’t feel the need to berate women or make them feel inadequate.
Instead, women are conditioned to feel so ashamed they end up eating in the early hours with their family to conceal that they’re menstruating.
There’s clearly a stigma that associates not fasting with weakness, when being exempt during this time should be regarded as a gift.
I often wonder why men feel the need to wade in with their opinions and attitudes where women are concerned. They’re doing the right thing by not fasting, so why make them feel ashamed? Why question them?
Take the power back
Some would say this is male patriarchy at its finest – imposing their beliefs and dominance over females. If I’m honest, I’m not surprised about this within the South Asian demographic. It’s long been this way within this diaspora.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are some men who are open to dialogue and are even trying to encourage the same between couples and families. Clue Connect is a period tracking app where women disclose information about their periods to their partners, family and friends.
Yes it’s unconventional, but if some men are using technology to open up conversations, we should be supportive of that.
It is worth noting though that women can also change this discord. Speak up and be vocal. Stop adhering to this idea of being a silent figure just because a man expects you to be. Call out misogyny when you see and hear it too.
Yes, it’ll be met with disdain. However women are the key to normalising the conversation around menstruation and changing attitudes – period.