The year is 2016 and society is still afraid to speak openly about the female menstrual cycle. Do not get me wrong, I am not calling for the introduction of a law that insists that in all your conversations there has to be some period talk. No, I am simply asking humanity to not make me feel like me bleeding is a serious crime against the world, a crime so serious that it must not be spoken of. We have found a name for ‘it’ or many names for ‘it’. It is puzzling because ‘it’ brings life and ‘it’ is quite natural. Whether it is “that time of the month”, “monthly”, “code red”, “leak week” and my favourite “imvula iyanetha”, these are a few of the names that people use in order disguise the biological process that is happening. Every time I have a conversation about my female parts, I am always forced to use a substitute name for them in order to make them less ‘disgusting’ or it is implied that one should not speak about such things in public. I remember the first girl who got her period in primary school. When the young students found out, boys ridiculed her and the young girls isolated her for the fear that her ‘disease’ would spread to the rest of us. Clearly, we had been programmed to feel ashamed of something that happens to every woman in the world. As I progressed to high school (a same sex school), I found the reception towards menstrual cycles to be the same. Girls with stains on their dresses where spoken about behind their backs for being highly unhygienic and not taking care of that ‘thing’ because ‘that is disgusting’. Where do these views come from? After all, a female having her menstrual cycle is often a sign of health. All these views on menstrual cycles stem from religious or cultural interpretations of books or beliefs. Most religions define menstrual cycles as time of impurity, women are not to cook or have sex for a week in order to prevent Gods wrath upon the household also they are deemed to be unclean.
Another stigma comes from certain cultures in which menstrual cycles are said to be female only problems and only females speak about such things. A campaign called Happy to Bleed was started in India as a response to an Indian temple chief wanting to place a ‘period detector’ machine, in order to make sure that the women that enter the temple were ‘pure’. This is not the only example of discrimination against women but there are many more. The Happy to Bleed campaign highlights the absurdity of the many ways in which the female body has been oppressed and calls for women to appreciate their own bodies and for society to understand that bleeding is not a sin nor is it a crime that requires a detector. Nikita Azad, a college student who started the campaign explained its ironical name as so “We are using happy as a word to express sarcasm – as a satire, to taunt the authorities, the patriarchal forces which attach impurity with menstruation”. From this explanation one clearly sees that women have been made to feel impure because of a bodily fluid and that society constantly taunts females by problematizing their bodies. Since bleeding is such a sin I would like to explain in layman terms what a menstrual cycle is. A ‘Menstrual cycle’ is that natural thing that women get every month to show that they are not pregnant. When you menstruate, your body sheds the lining of the uterus and the menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. Biologically explained plain and simple. Thus, the absurdity of labeling a simple biological happening as a sin has severely harmed as a society. A grown woman on her period has to hide her tampon or pad when going to the bathroom because she has been made to feel ashamed of her cycle.
Girls are not attending school because they do not have the money for pads or tampons (often classified as luxuries thus made more expensive), an occurrence that has a dire impact on their studies and their development. Women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies from a young age. And men cringe at blood more than they do rape. It is time that periods are not made a taboo, but are turned into a topic in which I as a female can speak about without the fear of being ridiculed, belittled or judged. It is time that we speak about this part of the female experience not because we want to make you squirm at the idea of vaginal bleeding but because I should be free to speak about my body without it being an abomination because after all WE BLEED, GET OVER!
By: Nelisiwe Mkhele