Why Menstruation Is Also Men’s Business

Posted: September 4, 2019

Men need to know about menstruation and menstrual taboos too. Talk to your boys about this, so that they grow up to be men who’re sensitive to the women in their lives.

Why should men know about something which happens inside a woman’s body? After all in most cases it’s the women of the house who enforce various superstitious norms and beliefs about menstruation on younger women and girls starting their puberty. And since women themselves shy away from talking about it, hence men too don’t talk about it.

I have witnessed the Pads Against Patriarchy movement where male students were equally vocal and concerned about the taboo, where these youth fixed pads with messages around campuses. So I had assumed that most educated, urban men are like that, but it’s not so.

I say this because since the time I have come across those male students in mostly social science institutes, I have also come across other types of men.

The ‘clueless’ privileged Indian male

I’m surprised by how little even the average urban educated man knows about menstruation, the taboo surrounding it and the overall female reproductive process. And these men’s lack of knowledge about what the taboo around menstruation is actually about, is because they haven’t seen or heard about it themselves. Their mothers, and sisters didn’t talk about it, perhaps maybe never their women friends also.

I remember talking to a man who said he has never felt that women of his family and as well as his relatives residing in rural areas are subjected to any stigma associated with menstruation because he has personally never witnessed girls and women of his family being shut in another room, or restricted from doing certain things. It may or may not exist in his own family in actuality, however a man denying the possibility of the existence of something because he has personally not witnessed it is absurd.

These men fail to understand that the taboo around menstruation goes beyond sometimes the strict physical isolation which is no doubt the harshest of all. However other more subtle forms of stigma such as women not doing puja, or engaging with anything auspicious, is far more prevalent in urban India.

What we tell our boys and men

How are men raised by urban educated families? Are they told explicitly not to giggle if in their co-ed school they find a girl’s skirt’s backside spotted? Just because it’s a biological process happening within women does it mean that boys’ parents shouldn’t tell them about it? How do such boys grow up to become men?

I remember in my childhood some co-ed schools would separately take girls of 4th and 5th grade- the age when they are about to begin their puberty, to another room, and talk about menstruation. But what about the boys? They are not told anything until 7th grade biology demands it be told, that too partially, without mentioning a word on menstruation (at least that’s how it was during the time when I was in school). And in some school like mine, biology teachers gave wrong information and most of the times no information at all.

I remember an instance where the biology teacher of the 9th grade barked at a group of boys running in the corridors, and told us that since men don’t have menstruation, they find means such as these (running in corridors) to expel that energy. I can still excuse the behaviour of teachers of those days because probably they didn’t know any better then. However this practice is still on amongst today’s teachers.

I had once heard of a former biology teacher of my generation telling me that when a 12th grade female student personally asked her whether masturbation is bad for men, she had replied that this act wastes your energy, and you end up wasting your sperm, so it’s bad. Such students who might soon engage or are already engaging in sexual activities get wrong ideas, and might engage in unsafe sexual practices.

What the average urban educated man knows

Any educated, urban man if directly asked about the taboo around menstruation would probably say it’s a bullshit taboo, and it shouldn’t be there. But then do they know what particularly counts in this taboo? Do these men know anything regarding menstruation which goes beyond stereotyping ‘PMSing’ women?

I once asked a South Indian man whether at this day and age, the puberty celebration should be performed or not for girls, he opined that it would be something that in future his wife and his sisters should decide for their own daughters. He will support whatever is their decision. I might ask now, what about your own opinion, don’t you have one yourself? Why is thinking about a women’s issue that outlandish for men?

Women, talk about periods, men, don’t block it out!

At first I empathized with such men, I thought if menstruation is something not happening in their bodies, they wouldn’t understand the process. They also wouldn’t intimately know the taboo since no one tells a boy about this taboo even if it’s practiced in his own family. These boys grow up oblivious, and become men who have such opinions.

Parents and teachers of most boys are doing them a big disfavour. Such boys, when they become fathers, leave the onus of educating their daughters (mind you ONLY daughters) on their wives because obviously it’s a ‘female’ matter and men don’t need to concern themselves about it. How will such men become capable fathers and most importantly capable human beings? Men would often argue that they have gathered enough knowledge through the media, but have they truly?

Parents and teachers, please educate the men as well about menstruation and its taboos and why these should be fought. And fathers, kindly participate more in your daughters’ lives, there’s no shame in talking about menstruation, and your abstinence from talking on this subject goes on to reinforce the taboo which is hampering so many women’s lives.

Image source: a still from the movie Dum Laga Ke Haisha

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