Menstruation is Not a Flaw
Menstruation is Not a Flaw
Three summers ago, my paternal uncle and his family moved to New York from our home country, Bangladesh, and my parents had them stay with us for several months. It was the onset of the Islamic holy month, Ramadan. Each day of this month, Muslim families like my own fast from dawn to sunset, typically culminating in a large and much anticipated evening meal. In Islam, however, women can't fast while menstruating, and so every year we're exempt from the obligation for a few days. During the Ramadan of three summers ago, I spent those few special days hoarding food in my room and snacking intermittently in solitude, as per my mother's instructions. Why? Because, I was told, it would be indecent for my uncle or his sons to catch me not fasting. It would be shameful to signal that I was at the moment experiencing the wholly essential bodily function that is my period.
Around the world, menstruation is a social taboo. A period is not talked about, only quietly endured, and any allusion to it - especially in the company of men - violates proper social conduct. The stigma is entrenched in misogyny. Associating a perfectly natural female body process with guilt and shame pushes the idea that women should apologize for their bodies; that they should apologize for merely existing. And of course that isn't true.
While the stigma of menstruation is real in virtually every part of the world, in many developing countries it can have much graver consequences than just embarrassment or shame. A lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities in low-income regions causes many girls to drop out of school, exacerbating economic and educational inequalities. Furthermore, these girls are often shunned from religious and social institutions and sometimes even isolated from all interactions. It is an unfortunate truth that society's discomfort with female biology creates terrible ripples in girls' personal, social, and educational lives.
In the opening scene of Stephen King's 1974 novel Carrie, the titular girl gets her period for the first time in a high school locker room and goes into a state of horrified panic, because she believes she is dying. Her conservative mother, in the pursuit of "purity," failed to educate her teenage daughter on one of the fundamental realities of being a girl. No female should have to conceal the fact that her body is doing what it is supposed to do. It is not wrong for a girl to speak candidly about her period, and it's time we all recognized that.
Born and raised in New York City, Zahra is a sophomore at New York University majoring in Economics and minoring in Mental Health Studies. She has worked at NYU’s student newspaper, Washington Square News, as a staff writer for the Opinion section.