Womanhood Unplugged: Stop Menstruation Stigma!
Then, it was such an embarrassing situation to ever find yourself in, but when I think about it now, there really was nothing humiliating about it. All that was needed was nothing other than owning our womanhood and ripping it off the board, then possibly throwing piercing stares to the other gender for failing to fathom things that are bigger than them. After all, we are women, we give life and menstruation is part of the process. We will own it and be proud.
By Sihlobo Bulala
It was one of those sunny, birds chirping, flowers blooming kind of a summer morning. The sun’s rays had beautifully shone and set the new day in motion, and despite that, it was a school day and we had Math in the morning, everything about the morning was pure bliss. Moving in flocks and in varying packs of friendship from our dormitories; we had never in a giant’s blink of an eye anticipated a situation where the smiles and the lively happy faces would be short-lived.
Like in any other high school, getting in class for the first period is usually a drag, and that day wasn’t any different. Surprisingly, the mood was different. The male students that went in our class came out laughing their hearts out to drag an audience, while the females who went into the class remained quiet and most certainly uneasy. It seemed as though the joke was gender-based, most favorably, humorously satisfying the male while the females wished the earth would swallow them all at once.
I eventually went into the classroom, had my back against the teacher’s board until I got to my seat. When I tried to ask around on what the joke was about, a friend motioned her hand towards the board and there it was. My first thought was ‘Who dropped it’, but as I’m reflecting now, my first thought should have been ‘Then what is the joke'? It still remained unclear if whether or not a female had mistakenly dropped her pad in class, or if a male student had taken it upon himself to search on someone’s school bag and go as far as dressing the teacher’s board with it. The pad was displayed in the center of the board, all wings out, the same way you would prepare it if you wear to wear one, and as though it was some sort of a huge cosmic joke, we watched our male-gendered classmates laugh and crack jokes about it while our faces were turned down and nanoseconds eventually felt like hours in captivity with a mythical monster. Thank goodness, a strong-minded female decided to take charge, and remove it off the board. The experience felt like some sort of betrayal, where for the most part, we felt that our privacy had been invaded. Although none discussed that particular experience, the very fact that we remained voiceless and failed to stand up for ourselves says a lot about the treatment of women and menstruation. We shouldn’t have had bitter feelings of how our privacy had been invaded, the boys shouldn’t have had the guts to throw it in our faces and watch our priceless expressions after learning what the joke was about, but then it shouldn’t have been a joke it the first place, and we shouldn’t have felt embarrassed and humiliated by a part of who we are.
It is quite baffling and disappointing that women across all cultures have had to be subjected to menstruation stigma in so much that they, when they should be proud about it, often feel embarrassed and have resorted to the use of euphemisms such as ‘it’s that time of the month’ when they are on their menstrual cycle.
The subject alone has never seen the daylight and is amongst the other tabooed subjects which people never dare to explore, and as a result has for a long period of time remained coiled in the shadows as if it doesn’t exist, when in fact it should be comprehended by all despite gender. The denial of its mere existence has thus brought forth varying challenges and hurtful experiences to women, with some women hardly recovering from the experiences, if at all.
In an interview with Nonkosi Dube (not her real name), she highlighted that menstruation stigma is unfair and a serious human right concern that needs to be addressed.
‘Women didn’t choose to shed blood each month. It’s a force of nature that needs to be respected regardless of gender’.
Ms. Dube further highlighted that women need not feel uncomfortable speaking about it in the name of ‘bazothini syndrome’ or with the consideration that the topic is off the radar within the society as that will be the route to ending the stigmatization of the experience.
“It’s a shared experience and women should have the freedom to talk about their struggles without fear of being judged”, she sternly added. “We must call it out as it is, that is Menstruation or period and not Aunty Flow, Shark Week or any other nickname that has been adopted as these are subtle elements of how women have accepted and normalized the stigmatization that already exists in our society”, she further added.
It, therefore, leaves a lot to desire, especially in engaging and participating more in health education in schools. Men too need to be educated, in a way that will propel them to desist from wittingly addressing women issues and can as well stop their misogyny towards women because of menstruation. More so, women should feel empowered and never let their self-esteem waiver should they find themselves in an experience which for the most part might be labeled as embarrassing. There is no reason to feel sorry about having your period for the first time, and that kind of knowledge needs to be circulated the whole world around and more knowledge should be disseminated on how girls can best prepare themselves for that first time experience.