Thanks to Pad Man, people are openly talking about menstruation. We ask men about their ideas, knowledge and reactions to periods
Remember the incident when Kiran Gandhi, an American Indian musician and runner ran a marathon with period stain on her clothes? While some praised her for being gutsy and ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude, she also received a lot of flak from people across the globe, especially in India.
It is known that in India and in many other parts of the world, a woman’s monthly cycle is spoken about in a hushed tone, worse, there are many taboos, superstitions and even shame attached to it. Young girls are told not to speak about their periods loudly or discuss it with boys. Even in 2018, when you go to a pharmacist to buy sanitary pads, he’ll ensure that the pack is wrapped properly in a newspaper or will give it in a black polythene bag to camouflage it.
On one hand, women are fighting to get an entry into religious places when they are menstruating, and on the other hand, in rural parts of the country, women have no access to sanitary pads nor any awareness about menstrual hygiene. Men too shy away from talking about periods. But a man called Arunachalam Muruganantham from Tamil Nadu did something revolutionary and created a machine which produces sanitary napkins at an affordable price in rural areas. Actor Akshay Kumar, through his much-talked-about film Pad Man, which is now scheduled to release on February 9, is trying to show Muruganantham’s journey and striving to make period sound like any other normal topic. A period being an important part of a woman’s biological process, it is important that men, and boys know about it and the need for hygiene products so that they can help women when they are in pain. We talk to some of them...
ANUPAM JOSHI, 34, MUSICIAN
I have an elder sister, so I first got to know about periods when I was a kid. But I had (wrongly) perceived it to be some sort of physical illness which is accompanied by stomach ache. I went to a co-ed school and saw my female classmates being exempted from attending PT classes when they complained of stomach ache, so I associated the ache with periods. Later, as a sixth grader, I learnt about the biological process through books that I read in my school library.
Watching TV advertisements of sanitary napkins made me curious. I used to think that these pads provide relief from the pain a woman goes through during her periods. I realised the truth much later.
I feel there is a clear lack of sex education and awareness about periods at school level. There is great discomfort among people while discussing the topic and that needs to change.
As men, I think we need to be patient and sensitive when it comes to a woman on her period. In fact, it is important to be of support to anybody who is in pain. In light of the discussion that Pad Man has started on the topic, I would say that I will not show any awkwardness about periods and will try to educate rural and underprivileged people about menstruation and hygiene.
I urge young boys to buy the hygiene products for their sisters, girlfriends, etc. An overall comfortable environment needs to be prepared for such things to be spoken about publicly. I also feel it is sad that we are a country stuck in silly superstitions. We need to revisit what is written in some religious texts about menstruation, specially its association with impurity.
SK SHAHID, 29, ASSISTANT MARKETING MANAGER
When I first learnt about periods and the pain associated with it, I thought it was some kind of disease or illness. So I used to pray to god to keep all the women suffering from the ‘disease’ safe and sound. Later, I not only learnt that periods are important for a woman’s health and body growth, but many of our religious scholars also told me that the almighty has assigned them the duty to create awareness about periods, sex education and female hygiene. I was told not to feel shy about it.
As far as I know, while some women suffer from severe stomach pain and mood swings during periods, others don’t get affected so much. But all I know is that they should be allowed to rest. Today, people are propagating a different concept of what is written in religious texts.
SIDDHARTH GUPTA, 29, BUSINESSMAN
With no siblings around and my mum, like most Indian mothers, not even mentioning periods when I was young, I was completely clueless about the phenomenon until I got into a relationship. Though I had seen advertisements of sanitary napkins on TV, I never really got to know what purpose they served.
I first bought sanitary pads for my girlfriend. We were out on a trip and she got her periods. I was curious and scared at the same time — I thought she was really sick. The thought that a girl bleeds frightened me. Later, when I spoke to my mum to seek medical aid for my girlfriend, they both laughed about it. It was then that I realised it is a normal thing that every girl goes through every month.
I appreciate how Akshay Kumar is talking about periods. There are still many misconceptions and taboos associated with them. After understanding about menses, I had googled to find out if my girl is fine and in that process learnt their importance in the reproductive system. I also realised the importance of maintaining hygiene while menstruating. I believe if men become sensitive and open to discussing it and do not feel shy uttering the words ‘periods’ and ‘pads,’ the ladies in our lives (mother, sister, wife and daughter) would never shy away from reaching out to us when they are in pain or need help.
ZAID AHMED, 28, ASSOCIATE, CONTENT MANAGEMENT
I got acquainted with the word menstruation after reading a newspaper article when I may have been 12 or 13. I never had any misconception about it while growing up. But I feel there is still ignorance about periods in many parts of the country because sex education in schools here is laughable, if not nonexistent. Right information should be given in senior schools about periods, in a way it will reach the students.
I believe it’s time we (men) became caring towards women, especially when they are menstruating. I do that — I try to make my girlfriend feel at ease through words, massage etc.
I feel the present generation with easy access to internet and information at fingertips is moving away from ancient mindsets which fostered superstitions about menstruation.
ADITYA GAIKWARD, 14, STUDENT
Once in school, one of my female classmates had to change her trousers because of blood stains. The boys made fun of her. She was embarrassed but managed to ignore it.
I decided then that I will make sure, in my little way, that such incidents don’t happen to girls again. In future, I won’t shy away from discussing this topic and will definitely educate my friends about it.
If my female friend is in pain while she is on period, I would definitely help her by getting medicines. When I grow up and have a deeper understanding about periods and hygiene products, I will try to spread awareness about the same in rural areas. I have been reading that there are many taboos and superstitions attached to periods. I think they need to go away.
ABHISEK SINHA, 27, MORTGAGE ANALYST
I learnt about menstruation the first time when I was a 12th grader. My eagerness to know why sanitary pads are used and some help from friends cleared my doubts.
Sadly, there are numerous social taboos surrounding periods, even today. The unwillingness to spread proper sex education in schools leads to ignorance and misconceptions. I really don’t understand why there is such an awkwardness about menstruation, which a normal biological phenomenon.
I have come across men who make fun of women who are menstruating which is disgusting. It is time we raised our voice and took a stand against such sick mentality and made people understand that there is no dignity in laughing about something that’s so natural.
We also need to make women feel comfortable talking about their menstruation, it will give them confidence. I have often helped my friends in whatever way possible in these matters. When they are in pain, I try to comfort them or make them laugh so that they can forget their pain at least for some time.
Simultaneously, we must reach out to the rural areas in India and teach people the importance of sanitary pads and hygiene. Every one, and men in particular, must stand and unite to stop the superstitions and practices that lead to ill treatment of women. You don’t need to do something very big or impactful to bring about a change, sometimes even small steps or initiatives help to achieve the impossible.
MRINAL BANERJEE, 27, SALES OFFICER
Learning that there is something called menstrual cycle in girls happened during the Biology classes in school, but I actually understood periods when I was in my first year of Engineering at the age of 18. It is so ironical that sanitary pads are on display at pharmacy stores, but are sold wrapped in a newspaper as they are not meant for our eyes. The idea about periods and hygienic practices came quite late to me at 23.
In schools, this natural process in a girl’s anatomy is not openly discussed. In my school, many boys cracked jokes about it. Even at home, discussing it was out of question. Even if a guy was curious and wanted to know what periods are, it was seen as indecency. Many a times, oblivious to the fact that the girl may be having her period when she complained of cramps or irritation, I have offered her medicines for stomach ache. At times, when they had mood swings or were PMSing, we had no idea what was wrong with them. Hence, I feel it is important to accept that a period is a regular biological process in women, just like sneezing or burping. We men can certainly extend our support and make them feel comfortable around us. We must appreciate their strength to go through this every month.
In rural areas, the taboos around periods are propagated by women and not men. Hence, awareness needs to be spread about it. Women must be encouraged to be themselves when they are menstruating. This is not a disease or impurity but an important biological process that makes them ready to create a new life. We need to respect and celebrate this life process.