Every time I go to South India, there is one issue that plagues me.
Since I usually go there for a month or two, I’m always on schedule to deal with my period, which also means that I have to cope with the beliefs that my extended-family hold. These beliefs involve isolating a woman on her period and are practiced by different households to different extents. The mildest form of menstrual isolation includes providing the woman with separate daily use items like utensils, sheets, etc.
The most severe form of practice involves not letting a woman inside the house.
When I had my first period in an orthodox South Indian home where the most extreme form of isolating rituals are practiced, experiencing the isolation first hand made me angry. This practice disrespects the very events that make women who they are.
Many South Indian women are used to this concept and don’t mind it because the practice continues from a time without the menstrual technology we have today, but to me, it was a very new and puzzling concept.
I honestly can’t believe that this practice still exists in today’s society.
Menstrual isolation isn’t followed at my house except that a menstruating woman can’t practice religion, which doesn’t usually bother me since I’m not religious.
For religious ceremonies that occurred with my extended family, like weddings, I either had the option of being isolated or the option of delaying my period through drinking a mixture of lemon and milk (I have no idea why it works but for some strange reason, it does). But how long can you delay a natural process without the side effects of procrastination?
Constantly delaying my period actually led to really awful cramps and other menstrual symptoms.
No matter how hard I prepare to not feel targeted and victimized by these traditions, it happens every time. I feel a sense of hurt and guilt which I can’t really explain but, I think it comes from the feeling of being treated like you have a disease for something that is a natural part of being a woman.
While my grandparents and relatives take extra measures to not touch me, I know it’s not personal, but the feeling of being hurt and feeling dirty combined with the symptoms of PMS makes it feel like a fire is burning in my chest.
I think that it is necessary for people to see the need for change and be able to change themselves with changing times. I am on a mission to try and change how my family thinks of the unholiness of menstruation because I believe that younger women deserve to see a new perspective. I am trying to make them see the logic behind my perspective – a pro-feminist perspective that reflects the hygienic menstrual practices that have been developed.
I desperately want older generations to see menstruation as a natural, hygienic body process.
The worst part is that when I try to talk about how menstrual isolation makes me feel, my voice isn’t really being heard. I haven’t really succeeded in convincing my family but I have realized a couple of reasons behind the belief trailing its way throughout multiple generations. My grandparents say “We were simply taught to obey our parents. We never asked them why they did things the way they did”. My grandparents feel that they are too old to change their perspectives, which makes them reluctant to actually try.
A big breakthrough (kind of) occurred when I was on the phone with my paternal grandmother who told me, “I understand your perspective, but some people’s minds are harder to change.”
Even though they still disapprove of my beliefs, my close family is beginning to have these discussions with me and I know now that they are at least open to some conversation even if they still practice menstrual isolation.
The big takeaway for me is that there are ways to help people see something differently, but it’s a slow process. I am not out to change the minds of every person in South India, but I definitely take the time to talk about it with my family.
Hopefully, they will slowly change how they see things.