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This is why I think that the #PadManChallenge where celebrities pose with a pad will help the causes of women and menstruation in the long run.
For all those calling out the #PadManChallenge as ‘crass’, ‘vulgar’, ‘sick’ etc., aren’t we guilty of saying the exact same things that was said to Arunachalam Muruganantham when he held a pad in public for the first time? If Arunachalam Muruganantham can break social taboos and hold a pad with pride, so can you, me or anyone of us!
Is the #PadManChallenge a publicity stunt or a gimmick?
Yes! It certainly is! Isn’t it pretty obvious to everyone? Film making is a business and at the end of the day, every producer wants an audience in the theater hall. Resorting to such gimmicks is not only commonplace but also fair in the rule book of business.
Here are my top 5 reasons why we should all support the #PadManChallenge:
We often complain that Bollywood plays it safe and doesn’t make enough meaningful cinema. We often complain about the harm that Bollywood movies inflict on the society by portraying women as sex-objects and nothing more than a mere accessory. In Pad Man, we have an offbeat subject and treatment where the protagonist is a male feminist.
I applaud Twinkle Khanna for picking a subject such as menstruation for her debut as a producer which is not usually considered as a commercially viable venture. Movies with women oriented themes rarely do well in Bollywood. It’s a big gamble that she has played. Taboos around menstruation are far too deep rooted not just in the illiterate rural belt of India, but also among the educated elite living in the cosmopolitan. Everyone goes hush about menstruation. It is not the amount of wealth or education that one has that matters as much as the mindset to change for the better.
What are the chances of families going to watch the movie?
What are the chances of men going to watch the movie when some of them are even wary of going to buy sanitary pads for their own family members?
What are the chances of men and women taking their children (above a certain age-group of course) to watch the movie as part of healthy sex-education?
Phullu (2016), a movie based on the same topic got an ‘A’ certificate unfairly and went unnoticed due to lack of a celebrity star cast and promotional tactics. Seeing the promos of Pad Man, I can see the lengths they have taken to tweak the plot to cater to the taste of the masses. I’m very curious to see if Pad Man, with a more lenient rating from the CBFC, with a heavyweight star casting, and with promotional tactics such as #PadManChallenge can break people’s inhibitions and inspire them to watch this educational movie loosely based on Arunachalam Muruganantham.
I’m very certain that the #PadManChallenge is well-thought of, planned, and in line with the movie’s core philosophy.
Much like the first look of the Hindi movie PK which showed a nude Aamir Khan with his groin covered! It was a bold marketing gimmick designed to shock, generate buzz, and it represented the quirky and unabashed nature of the the movie itself. Similarly, the movie title Pad Man itself is quite bold and positive as it lends positive connotations and imagery to a superhero pride and power. And the #PadManChallenge is a reflection of the movie’s ethos.
We have to look at the pad in the complete context and backdrop of the film and not adopt a myopic lens while passing on a ‘holier than thou’ verdict.
In India, it’s amusing how menstruation is looked down upon. It’s pretty much the way we treat our women. We either deify them as goddesses for upholding traditions, or brand them as sluts if they don’t fit within the norms. There is no middle path. Period. Despite the strong insistence of the divinity status of menstruation, there is a lot of shame attached to it.
Having said that, it’s not a rosy picture for fellow women in other countries as well. Menstruation myths and taboos are rampant across the world. Be it Afghanistan, Japan, or the UK! A lot of it has to do with social conditioning of women over the centuries. Well, times have changed and so have the women.
Being a woman, I will not contest the divinity part (wink!). But, I will certainly contest the ‘dirty’ tag that comes with the package for menstruating women every month. Women are not allowed to enter some places of worship not just in India, but in other countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand. Women in Afghanistan are forbidden from taking a bath for an entire week during their periods because it is believed that it makes them infertile. This lack of basic hygiene during menstruation owing to menstrual superstitions is fatal to the reproductive health of women.
Women are considered weak and dirty in India as they are not allowed to prepare any food for the fear of contamination. Because quite apparently, pickles and men get spoilt when in contact with a menstruating maniac. (sic!)
In Japan, women are not allowed to make Sushi during their menses because it causes an imbalance in taste. Thankfully, chefs like Niki Nakayama have broken these unfair Japanese norms.
As I had mentioned earlier, it is not the wealth or education that matters as much as the mindset to change for the better. I remember distinctly one of my classroom lectures during my stint as an academic professor. The subject was Personality Development and one of the topics dealt with emotions. Considering that my students were in the age-group of 19-21 years, I spoke about menstruation and its emotional impact on women as an example. Most of the students tried hard not to look shocked and keep a straight face. While the boys listened with rapt attention, one of the girl students loudly remarked, “Cheeeeeee!”
That’s when I understood how much these so-called educated cosmopolitan students needed to unlearn from what they’ve previously been taught, in order to relearn things in a new perspective. I told her affirmatively that there is nothing ‘Cheeeeee’ about periods. The next time anyone brands you ‘dirty’ for menstruating, tell them that science proves otherwise.
Menstrual blood is power-packed as it is the richest source of stem-cells on planet Earth. Be proud and hold your head high that you bleed power. You bleed love.
What happened to Arunachalam Muruganantham is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the stigma and bias that affects most women in our country. The poor man was called a pervert for trying to bring a positive change around periods and was disowned by his own family for doing so. The ironic part is that women are so conditioned and trained from birth that they have become immune to bias and prejudice and fail to recognize the symptoms that come in the garb of tradition and culture. There is nothing sinful, shameful or heroic about displaying a pad in public. In fact, on the contrary, calling them sanitary pads or products is blasphemous and technically incorrect. Because then, our brains are immediately wired to associate menstruation to being unclean and dirty. We should be calling these pads straight up for what they are – menstrual pads/products and NOT sanitary pads. Come to think of it, we should be calling baby diapers as sanitary pads because that´s what they truly are.
This, for me, is the biggest reason why we need to ditch the secrecy around periods. Period poverty is a grim reality not just in India but all over the world. Just that the magnitude of the problem varies from country to country. Menstruation is one of the biggest reasons for school dropouts of the girl child in India because of the lack of access and affordability to menstrual pads and sanitary toilets in schools. In the UK, school girls miss up to a week each month because they cannot afford sanitary protection. Sanitary pads, as they are currently called, is a luxury item. The need of the hour is not just providing sanitary protection to our girls but also training them on how to work around their menstrual biological clock and make the most of it.
Only 20% of women experience severe pain during periods while the other 80% can go about doing any task as in any other normal day. Our girls should be given full knowledge access and training on how to manage periods, lessen PMS, mood swings naturally via exercise, yoga, diet, supplements etc. Our girls should also be told that any task can be accomplished at any time of the month despite the challenges. Period leave is a highly debatable topic and my stance is that it should be made optional so that it is inclusive and sensitive to all women.
Menstruation is an integral part of womanhood. The negative perceptions that surround menstruation stem from ignorance. This lack of understanding and sensitivity has a huge negative impact on the self-esteem of teenage girls. It’s like we rob our girls and women of their power and pride.
Before concluding, I would love to bring to attention the name of Chella Quint, founder of periodpositive.com. Please do explore her educational site where she tries to make periods a happy, positive and empowering experience for everyone. It is a lovely gender inclusive site where both men and women are welcome to bring change. What I loved was how she rightly spoke about the subtle difference between privacy (which is welcome) and secrecy (which is not because of the social and media conditioning when we associate words like ‘Whisper’, ‘Secret’, ‘Discreet’ etc. with menstruation and its impact on our subconscious mind) and her dedication to end period poverty.
Conclusion: Yes, the #PadManChallenge is a marketing gimmick but it is nonetheless a noble one. I loved how celebrities from Shabana Azmi to Deepika Padukone, from Twinkle Khanna to Aamir Khan, from Rajkumar Rao to PV Sindhu and many more who have come together towards making periods a truly positive phenomenon. For me, the #PadManChallenge was far from repulsive and more welcome.
What I found more questionable and offensive was saffronizing of the marketing promotions (Akshay Kumar flashing the ABVP flag at DU). Politics could have been clearly avoided in a woman empowerment initiative such as Pad Man.
Should we all click a sanitary pad selfie in support? No!
Does holding a pad and clicking a selfie make us a hero or pervert? No! Just like holding a diaper doesn’t make anyone a hero or pervert.
Should we all support the #PadManChallenge? Sincerely, I hope we all do! For all the reasons just listed above.
Image Source: YouTube