In a country where most women across the country still have no choice but to use unhygienic and primitive alternatives to pads, it is hardly surprising that the #padsagainstsexism movement met with antipathy.
As a female reporter, there have been several times when I’ve faced the worst form of sexist jibes and comments but have swallowed my pride with a lot of effort just to wheedle out a story. However, a few days back during a heated argument with a male colleague about the ongoing #padsagainstsexism campaign by the students of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, I unleashed my repressed anger and feminist views on him and realised our argument had steered away from a healthy, professional debate on whether or not such a sensitisation programme, using sanitary napkins as a medium, was needed. The debate had taken an ugly turn but clearly pointed out that people are still squeamish to address the very point of the campaign: the taboo attached with menstruation.
Feathers were ruffled when the #padsagainstsexism movement hit India, where students writing messages on sanitary napkins and putting them up inside the campus of educational institutions to shun the taboo of menstruation. Started in Germany by feminist Elonë Kastratia as a campaign on International Women’s Day (March 8), her activism was aimed at linking the culture of shaming rape survivors with the taboos attached to menstruation. Emulated in India by students of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, the wave has now hit Kolkata’s premier institute Jadavpur University.
Messages like ‘I wish this rape culture repulsed you more than my blood’ and ‘Don’t make my body the site of honour and shame’, written in bold red on sanitary napkins, are posted inside the campus of Jadavpur University. The University has always been in the limelight when it comes to student movements and was recently in the news when a section of students observing a fast unto death forced Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to visit the campus and declare that their then Vice Chancellor had resigned for unleashing police violence during a peaceful student agitation.
Despite its fiery past of student movements, organisers of the #padsagainstsexism Kolkata edition have complained that many of the posters and napkins were removed within the first 24 hours of starting the campaign.
Recalling the ‘nightmare’ and confusion that her male friends had to undergo while working with sanitary napkins for the campaign, Jadavpur University student and one of the organisers Nabottama Pal says, “Perhaps the sight of sanitary napkins grosses men out as it represents all things mysterious and feminine. We welcome the backlash that we are receiving or else there would be no point in engaging in such a campaign. We had a hunch that the posters would be removed and their subsequent removal proves that men are repulsed to see women’s hygiene products. This repulsion [of seeing sanitary napkins publicly] represents a traditional, patriarchal mindset.”
Wondering where the repulsion is stemming from, Pal rubbishes the idea that they should have distributed the pads to women who can’t afford it instead of ‘wasting’ them by using them as posters. We are not here to do charity. We are here to protest against a misogynist attitude and the stigmatisation of menstruation, she says firmly.
Dear people, no matter how much how choose to ignore it when TV channels air advertisements of sanitary napkins, you cannot alter the fact that periods are a reality. Talking about it is also normal. What is abnormal is to get enraged when people openly talk about it and choose to create awareness about it. At a time when innumerable women across the country still have no choice but to use unhygienic and primitive alternatives, it is of little surprise that we are still repulsed by the mere sight of a clean pad.
Dear male colleague, I hold nothing against you and the likes of you. Initially, I was fuming with your point of view but I realised that a change of outlook occurs gradually. You had a point — education has limited connection with how radical or liberated a person is – but it is also education that helps inform masses about menstruation and debunk age-old unscientific myths associated with it. There’s nothing dirty or impure about a menstruating woman or pads.
Part of this period phobia also stems from the way you see others around you react to it. My father, a man of few words and a socially cautious person, has bought pads for me; although he gave it to me via my mother. At a time when advertisements for products like condoms, mango drinks, deodorants, men’s innerwear appear to be ‘progressive’, often uncomfortable and feature women in the throes of passion, we need more sensitive, sensible advertisements for sanitary napkins that address these period phobias.
It has taken me a lot of time to accept this function of my own body and publicly acknowledge it, so it will be harsh to expect that men also look at periods the same way we do. But the fact remains that periods and pads are not something we should be ashamed of. I don’t bother to ‘hide’ my pads when I buy them, neither do I go around talking about my period cycles with everyone. Sensitisation is necessary and campaigns like this, however crude they might appear, helps start the process.