Last month, British tennis player Heather Watson attributed her defeat at the Australian Open to her period. She claimed PMS-related dizziness, nausea and tiredness affected her performance.
According to the Telegraph she had broken sports’ last taboo, by talking openly about periods.
I’m glad it’s not just Asians that have a problem talking about periods. Dr Miranda A Farage, a research fellow at Procter & Gamble (a massive global producer of sanitary products), remarked that it is “a topic that virtually all cultures are uncomfortable discussing at some level”.
My mum never told me about periods or puberty. I was only ten when I got my first period so perhaps it took her by surprise and she wasn’t yet ‘ready’ to tell me. Prior to this, I had heard various playground rumours around periods, sex and pregnancy, none of which were correct of course. In the meantime I learnt the truth by reading a book my mum had stashed away for me- which she later gave me. It would’ve been nice to have some advance warning instead of being taken by surprise by this brown stain one morning. Why was it brown not bright red? Why did my back hurt? If I ran in the playground would blood stream down my legs? Come on mum, my ten-year-old self needs a little information here.
Why is it that periods remain so shrouded in silence even today? Half the population experience them and yet it is still such a taboo subject even in the West. Thankfully, and for once it’s not just us Asians being backwards about a totally everyday subject.
One theory I have is that it’s because periods are so intrinsically linked to sexuality. It’s the stuff of so many playground rumours: “ooh you’re gonna get pregnant if you kiss a boy now!” and all the other ridiculous and worrying things young girls (and boys) tell each other.
In some sections of the Asian community, starting your period is called “attending age”. I was thinking about the meaning of that phrase. What age? Childbearing age? Marriageable age? My maternal grandmother was married at the age of 13 and had her first child at 14. I’d be willing to put money on the notion that had been matched to my granddad when she was very young, and as soon as she hit puberty and was able to bear children she was married. Is that what a woman’s value is to a man- that she can give him children? Is that a woman’s value in the Asian culture- that she can give her mother-in-law a grandson now? It sounds almost medieval but it’s not a million miles away from the truth is it?
Starting your periods isn’t just about having babies. It is a huge rite of passage for a girl, I’d argue one of the most significant. And there are so many more elements involved in “becoming a woman.” Yes the onset of menstruation is the biological marker but it’s not the only determinant of being a woman. The fact that she can now bear children is one (no less significant) by- product. The emotional and psychological ramifications are huge- too many to even list here. And yet society- all of society, not just Asian culture, equates menstruation and womanhood with the ability to bear children. This just reduces us to nothing more than breeding machines! What if a woman chooses not to have children- does that make her less of a woman by this definition? Or worse still, what if she cannot get pregnant at all, what then?
And let’s just deal with the idea that a menstruating woman is unclean, because a lot of the stigma, certainly in Eastern cultures comes from this. In Islam, a woman on her period cannot touch a Quran and she is not allowed to worship. Hello? Having a period is a natural as urinating- it’s a normal bodily function. So why is a woman labelled unclean and somehow unworthy- too unworthy to come before the God who made her?
It seems that it’s not just girls and boys in the playground that need to grow up when it comes to talking about periods.
(Fact: my back hurts and I have a terrible headache. I am actually getting my period.)