In today’s post Shikha talks about cultural influences on the perception of periods…
I come from a culture where gender roles are excruciatingly strong. You have men, you have women, and the concept of other genders is completely foreign. Men are the primary breadwinners and women are expected to care for the family, look after the household responsibilities whilst still being professionals. However, not so professional that their husbands jobs or other family responsibilities would suffer. Gender oppression is a norm, and so widely accepted that the slightest mention is immediately shut down.
Confusingly enough, different areas of Hindu culture have different approaches to menstruation ranging from it being seen as an incredibly positive thing to being seen as disgusting and shameful. In southern India, the first menstruation is reason for celebration with close family and friends, extravagant food and gift giving – which I would have fully embraced growing up.
More traditional and orthodox families have a much less accepting view to periods. If you’re on your period, you are asked to stay away from any domestic activities, physical contact is limited and any creative activities are prohibited as you are seen as impure and everything you touch will become impure too. You are also not allowed to enter temple, sacred areas of the house, or partake in any religious activities. In especially strict families, you are required to remain in a separate room or even not allowed to enter the household whatsoever. Once the menstruation period is over you are required to thoroughly wash and clean any items that you have ‘contaminated’.
However, speaking to family members that do belong to more orthodox families provided a rather interesting insight. They all said that day to day life was incredibly stressful balancing work and family as professionals when all the household chores and family duties fell on to them. So when it comes to coping with the additional discomfort of menstruating they embrace the break they get from their other responsibilities, if only for a few days a month.
I was personally incredibly lucky with my family in that menstruation was a relatively open topic in my house. My mother made sure I was made aware that it was a totally natural process and that its condemnation, like many traditions, stemmed from a time that it was not fully understood. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to conversation and education about periods, but I am incredibly grateful for the noticeable progress amongst the generations as it means we’re taking steps in the right direction.
About Shikha Kataria:
I am a British Indian woman forever trying to find a balance between the two cultures. Challenging sexism and oppression is incredibly important and something I’ve struggled with from a very young age, however very difficult to do in a family that strongly cling to religious and cultural tradition.
If you would like to contribute your own piece or share your ideas, let us know in the comments or tweet them to me: @maldrichwincer.