PERIODS AND PATRIARCHY
Updated: May 13, 2020
“I think masculinity is a bravado against the mystery of the universe of women. It’s just a fear of not knowing what women have that’s so powerful.” – K D Lang
Toxic masculinity is tricky phrase that, if misunderstood, can seem wildly insulting, even bigoted. It’s one of the most ignored flaws in our society. We often associate men with standing up for others, with fights, with bloodbaths. It’s amazing to me how that goes down the drain when it comes to dealing with period blood. Suddenly, it’s a gross and disgusting concept which shouldn’t be talked about.
In addition to the deeply rooted disgust, there’s also disrespect. This can be highlighted through countless examples by almost every womxn I know. Some pinned down by traditions, while some, patriarchy.
Rarely, if ever, is menstruation about womxn. We work collectively to keep the horrors of menstruation from men, to protect them from this ‘shameful secret’ that we are taught it is. When we discuss it, our focus isn’t the health of womxn, menstrual hygiene, or newer and better ways of sustainable menstruation. Instead, we try to keep up with the idea that menstruation is a taboo, that shouldn’t be spoken of, that shouldn’t be revealed.
We’ve stuffed, crammed, smeared and wiped our way to an acceptable level of cover, because it’s frowned upon to openly discuss the fact that we need to use a pad, a cup or a tampon. You would never apologize for needing medicine, or shove a band aid down your sock as you run to the bathroom to apply it. But when it comes to doing what we need to do to manage our period blood, we act like we’re handling forbidden materials.
Not surprisingly, menstrual stigma is as old as patriarchy. Generally treated as an inconvenience, they’ve had us believe that nobody wants to hear about it. Treating a menstruating womxn as a handicap, or getting back at her strong display of any kind of emotion with “is it that time of the month?” shows how they are routinely invalidated.
Predominant (or rather outdated) religious beliefs deem menstruating womxn ‘impure’. Cultural myths are often aggravated by traditions rooting from shame. This gives many men and (unfortunately) womxn the right to take it upon themselves to teach the society about the restrictions to be imposed on these females. Womxn on their periods are compelled to sleep on the floor, stay away from cooked food, and from the supposedly ‘clean’ people around them. It continues to this day, as I see stories of men getting aggressive due to a period stain on their sheets, or those who are ashamed to go out and buy a pad for a family member in need.
Guess what? Womxn don’t need this monthly dose of aggression in addition to the already excruciating pain.
This patriarchal control exerted to constraint womxn during menstruation undermines equality. And that, combined with the stigma and shame, is truly, disempowering.
Menstruation and the uninvited misogyny that it brings along has been a reason of so much violence in our culture. So many men have been taught to value power and dominance, regardless of the cost to themselves and others.
Loathing patriarchy isn’t just about hating men. It’s also because of the mother who teaches her daughter to carefully hide her tampons, the womxn who chastises another for the length of her dress, and the womxn who gang up on each other, who slut-shame, who body-shame. So many of you might come at me with #NotAllMen or #NotAllWomen, demanding that the ‘exceptions’ should be acknowledged. Sadly, this is not an issue that should’ve gone up to the point of having ‘exceptions’ in the first place.
Womxn have the power to demystify this, to break through. Powerful womxn frighten and disgust a patriarchal society. Which is why, menstrual stigma doesn’t serve and protect womxn- it exists to protect men. Feminity is depicted as a weakness. Yet, masculinity is so fragile that apparently, even the slightest brush of feminine power destroys it.
But why do womxn hesitate? That’s what interests me. Why support an institution of thinking that holds them back? Why do womxn continue to perpetuate these beliefs that serve a patriarchal society, that hurts them and their daughters? Why, even as I write this, do I worry deep down about what men will think of me?
We have been taught, that behavior like this (talking against a society full of privileged men) could either lead a man to anger, or to not liking you. Unfortunately, we weren’t taught which one is supposedly worse.
To conclude, ‘toxic masculinity’ is not anti-men, it’s anti-dominant-alphas.
And if your masculinity is affected by the choices a womxn makes, your masculinity is toxic.
Written by Nibha Patil
Cover design by Urbndck