While we struggle with the idea of shame, the silence, the stigma around menstruation, we often end up perpetuating shame; in our defense of it being a ‘natural’ process. Everytime I hear someone say, “Why should we be ashamed of our periods? It’s a natural process” – while I understand the place it’s coming from, the term ‘natural’ makes me uncomfortable.
As I begin writing this, I am going to make a disclaimer, that while I will try my best to articulate my discomfort in a simple, crisp manner; I am still at a stage where I am trying to understand the reasons for my discomfort.
If I say periods are natural for women, I am making a claim that all women menstruate. It is viewed as a prerequisite for a woman to be ‘fertile’ and eventually bear children (which also is often suggested to be a natural process for a woman.) There is a baggage of biologically determined assumptions that come along with the term ‘natural’. I do not want to use academic jargon, but there is an array of work which questions the fixed nature of biology and suggests for an alternative understanding they call ‘social construction’. To put it very crudely, social construction is a stance that whatever we know of this world is not because that’s how it is, rather it is because that is how we understand it to be. And this is the understanding from which I am raising the question of “Is menstruation natural?”
Now, I want you think of all the girls/women you know in your life, who, due to some problem, do not menstruate or have regular cycles of menstruation or started menstruating at an age later than what is expected. I also want you to think of a trans-man who menstruates. He identifies as a man but has a woman’s body. Further, think about all the older women who reach menopause.
The next step for us is to think a little further and there will be a rush of these memories when a 16 year old girl was ashamed that she hadn’t started menstruating yet. She was often forced to wonder “ Am I not a girl?”. A woman probably suffering from Polycystic ovary syndrome who was ashamed to talk about her illness because of the stigma. A woman who reached menopause and was anxious that now she is not woman enough. The trans-man who is not a woman, yet he menstruates. Is it ‘natural’ for him to menstruate?
They tell us we should be ashamed when we are menstruating. They tell us we should be ashamed if we aren’t. You are a ‘woman’ if you menstruate. You are impure when you do. You are anyway not the purest of them all in this society. My intent for writing this has been to start a dialogue around this aspect of shame associated with menstruation. It’s time to expand the ambit of our conversations and grow louder with each voice that chooses to dissent. Afterall, the notion of ‘purity’ is oppressive and the idea of us speaking out loud about our ‘impurity’ is dissent.