Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Just over two months ago, I arrived in Texas. My boyfriend and I had driven my baby blue bug across the country to spend my last month of college and the upcoming months in COVID lockdown with my little brother. It was a scary time (it still is), but one thing that kept me going throughout the journey was the fact I was going to be able to see my new little cousin whom my uncles had adopted just a month before. It was a long two weeks of waiting to say the least, but when the day finally came that it was safe for us to meet him, I walked up onto the familiar deep grey porch and rung the doorbell hoping to be greeted by the smile and laugh of a beautiful baby boy. Instead, however, my 5.0 ft very traditionally Indian grandmother dressed entirely in floral opened the door and swept me aside. Before even saying hello, her head began to sway slightly from side to side as she proceeded to ask me in hushed tones if I was on my 'menses' and telling me that if I was, I shouldn't hold the baby for the proceeding four days.
As I smiled slightly, trying to remain respectful, I asked why my period had anything to do with me holding a newborn baby- especially since a young women's period is partially responsible for his being in the first place. The response? A wave of a finger while being told it would bring him bad luck. Before I could say anything else, my uncle pulled me away and said ignore it, "She told your aunt the same thing a few days ago but then realized she was a married woman, and somehow that rule vanished." Don't ask. From then on, it became a little bit of an inside joke between us all, and in good spirits, we would laugh about it when my grandmother was safely out of range. Now don't get me wrong we love my Nani, and she is an incredibly intelligent and educated woman; she just grew up in a time when saying and believing such things were normal and never really unlearned those ideas. In her own way, she truly believed she was protecting her grandson from any 'nazar' that my period would somehow bring.
Yet, in protecting her grandson, she inadvertently implied that something was inherently wrong with me because my body was doing what most healthy female bodies do. I was a problem because of a natural biological function. See, I have had issues with my ovaries for years, and because of that, my immediate family is very used to hearing me scream about my uterus trying to murder me and dealing with my very bitchy self for a hell week every month. Me being on my period was never treated as a negative; my father always knew what tampons to buy for me, and my brother would know to bring me a hot water bottle the second my little self-curled up into a bean shape. But for many ISC (Indian-Sub Continent) individuals, that isn't the norm, and it wasn't until a few years ago that I realized how lucky I was. As I got older and began to speak about the issues beyond just the pain of a period, I realized I had friends who weren't allowed to work if they had their period. I knew kids who weren't allowed to sleep in beds because they were considered dirty- not too many of their families had somehow normalized the idea of not being allowed within 10 feet of the temple because of their 'chums'. What astounds me, even more, is these are young ISC girls living in very privileged households around the world (yes, in the west too)- meaning most have been educated on the biological function of a period. So we aren't even getting into the shame and lack of respect women in many poorer ISC communities who don't have access to education or even the ability to get sanitary napkins have to deal with- because of something as simple as a period. In fact, according to a study by Dasra in 2014, in India alone, nearly 23 million girls drop out of school a year because of their period, which affects not only their social/ familial life and mental health but also their ability to learn.
Anyway, I'm not here to shit on anyone's beliefs, but to be clear; this is an issue. A period is a natural function of being of a woman; it allows for the creation of life and is a sign of a healthy body, but instead, because of society's beliefs, it often instills fear and shame in young girls. And what's worse is other women are propagating this contempt. Im not saying I love getting my period because it sucks to bleed for seven days straight and feel like your stomach is turning inside out. Still, I am not ashamed of the fact I have one, nor does it stop me from doing anything I want, and I don't think anyone else should be either.
See again, let's repeat this; I love my grandmother. She's a great person- but when trying to prevent me from doing something as pure and simple as holding the newest member of our family because of my period, it made me feel less than. At the end of the day when there are so many other concerns in the current state of the world, why are we still worried about this natural biological function?
So as ISC's, I encourage you to share stories like mine, where you were made to feel like your period was a detriment to others or simply a shameful thing. Then maybe just maybe we can help each other overcome the stigma and prove that period or not; we shouldn't be made to limit ourselves in any way.