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In many parts of India, parents have a menstruation ceremony to announce a girl’s fertility. But the practice is not exactly period-positive.
I was 13 when I got my first period. Since talking about periods is blasphemy, my mother never prepared me for it. When ‘it’ finally happened, I was shocked and curious. But instead of answering my questions, I was told that there will be a menstruation ceremony to celebrate the ‘milestone’.
Before I could understand what was happening to me, my parents started inviting relatives and friends to a menstruation ceremony. The interesting thing about the menstruation ceremony was that nobody used the words ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’. Instead, people had a code word: Everybody said I was now ‘mature’.
I was decorated from head to toe with ornaments like a bride. Men and women would bless me and I had to look happy throughout the ceremony.
This might sound like a period-positive party but I felt ashamed. I was also confused because of the contradictory messages given by my parents and the society. On one hand, my mother would talk about pads and menstrual blood in hushed tones but on the other hand, my fertility was celebrated publicly. I had to hide pads and period stains but my extended family and friends had to know that I had started menstruating. While my puberty was celebrated, I was forbidden from touching any idols of Gods and Goddesses or entering the puja room.
Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a part of the event but they told me that I was now a ‘grown up’. Is my menstruation cycle a private thing? Or is it a public thing?
It is only now that I realize that the foundation of the ceremony was patriarchal. The event was not to celebrate periods but to tell the world that I can ‘produce’ babies. It was also a signal that my parents, my relatives and the society had a right over my body and its processes. I was ‘mature’ but the decisions about the milestones in my life and whether or not I should be celebrating them were still taken by my parents.
Society wanted me to believe that my worth as a woman is dependent on motherhood and it was preparing me for the role of the mother. I also realized that society was not exactly disgusted with the idea of me having periods (the celebration was the proof of this).
The stigma around menstruation is, in fact, a strategy to shame women. Society is okay with men urinating in open but only when it comes to menstrual blood does society starts worrying about ‘hygiene’.
The ceremony made me feel powerless and I developed a menstruation phobia. Thinking about it still gives me nightmares but thanks to numerous period-positive campaigns on social media and feminist literature, I’m trying to look at menstruation without fear and shame.
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