The campaign to destigmatise menstruation will only succeed if women start talking about the subject openly, and if men are made more aware of how physically exacting it is for women to menstruate.
To the woman, he said, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”—
Aunt Flo, on the business/rag, girl flu, that time of the month, jam and bread, red wedding, moon time—these are just some of the many English slangs used to avoid talking directly about the subject of menstruation. The time has come to speak plainly and directly about this straightforward biological function of the human body. As you are going through this article, more than 700 million women worldwide are on their periods. None of us would exist without it and yet it remains one of the most baffling and tenacious biological “taboos”. Writers and broadcasters happily discuss sex, digestion and blood circulation—all natural processes—while menstruation is still off-limits. This write-up is for every woman who, whether assertively stating an opinion or adamantly disagreeing with someone or showing the least bit of emotion or, well, really doing anything at all, has been dismissed with a simple, “Looks like someone’s PMS-ing!”
PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period. Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, back aches, heightened emotional response, depression, anxiety and moodiness. For some, these symptoms may be so severe that they miss work or school. There have been cases of women committing even murder, though it’s an extreme state but that is not to scare you. On an average, women in their 30s are most likely to have PMS, which ceases only after menopause.
There was a time when women on periods were not allowed to enter the kitchen, let alone worship areas. They had to meekly bear the cramps, not react even though the oxytocin triggers emotional heat. Conditioned to just act feminine, they were in a true sense “lesser mortals”. Talking about the status quo in our country, things have definitely got better over the years, especially in the big cities; but still, there are only a handful women who talk about menstruation openly. Blame it on the education system or the lack of awareness among parents that kids, especially males, are not sensitively taught about it. So instead of becoming the centre of a responsible and mature discourse, it becomes the butt of all jokes. PMS jokes aren’t funny when they undermine a woman’s potential and intelligence. It’s a form of gaslighting, because their bodies are vulnerable and are going through a lot of stress. It’s like steam accumulating inside a pressure cooker without a vent. Imagine giving your best in a presentation mentally when your body is fighting cramps, dizziness, weakness, depression and emotional upheaval etc.
I am an entrepreneur and a motivational speaker, and for 10 days in a month I am the one who feels demotivated, who struggles with unbearable pain and is expected to perform and cheer up an entire team along with maintaining a work-life balance. I am expected to simmer down my emotions and shroud them by a smile. So are those 90% women who menstruate. The struggle is real.
We women do not derive pleasure in crying or being depressed. It is a physical war which we are aware of. We know that we are gushing it out but things are not in our control. It’s involuntary.
The idea behind this article is not to blurt on about this frustrating state of affairs, but to enable women to understand their symptoms, recognise them and develop strategies to cope with them. These might include taking time out for self-care, avoiding conflict, expressing need for support and reducing life stress. There are myriads of anti-depressants, but in the long run these might adversely impact the body. Not just women, men too need to understand and not be callous about it. Many men say that they do not understand PMS and they are unable to predict when a woman is going through it. Most of them are insensitive towards the topic. They may even avoid their partners when they have these symptoms, which makes the woman feel rejected and makes the premenstrual stress worse.
Women in same-sex relationships have reported greater premenstrual support and understanding from their partners. This kind of support is associated with reduced symptoms and improved coping. Male partners, who are supportive, can make a similar positive effect.
The author is an award-winning fashion photographer and motivational speaker