It was Tuesday. Day four of Ramadan, day two of my period. My cramps were 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 was asked.
“I’m on my period so I’ll be starting next week,” I said, wondering why I had to now justify myself.
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, I don’t think excruciating cramps are a better alternative to not eating and drinking for 18 hours.
The reactions to a woman’s time of the month vary. Some men assume you’re unapproachable and a hormonal mess, while others 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.
A BBC article revealed that some Muslim women hide away from the men in their family to avoid having to lie about their period.
Beauty Blogger Sophia Jamil told the BBC: “Some people don’t want to admit this problem exists because they see it as a negative reflection on the Muslim religion, but there is a problem.”
She continued: “When my brother caught me I literally had the bite in my mouth and he stared at me. My brothers would try to catch me eating in order to embarrass me.
“I wish I had the confidence to say that this is natural and my religion commands that I cannot fast because I am not pure enough.”
Conversations about periods sometimes never happen between parents and young girls. This in itself is a negative start to how we think about periods. Rather than being seen as a natural function, it is associated with shame and impurity.
Why are periods a taboo subject?
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.
This kind of treatment creates an air of embarrassment, which leads to a lack of conversation when it’s most needed. Closer to home, research by Wateraid back in 2018 found that ‘in the UK, 1 in 8 women didn’t know about periods until they started menstruating’, while ‘1 in 10 cannot always afford sanitary products.’
There’s an underlying sense of shame connected to getting a period as well as a lack of education 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, there are gaps in their knowledge about the female body, which researchers said 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 can be harmful – health-wise and spiritually.
Religiously ‘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.’
Couple this with a lack of conversation surrounding periods, it’s no surprise that young girls lack the confidence to speak up.
Instead, they are conditioned to feel so ashamed they end up eating in the early hours with their family and hide during the day.
There are two stigmas at play here. One surrounding attitudes to periods. The other that associates not fasting with weakness, when being exempt during this time should be regarded as a gift.
There’s a clear conflict here where men are following the teachings of Islam but feel the need to question these teachings where women are concerned.
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, it’s not a surprise 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 that women can also change this dialogue. 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.