Un-learning Menstrual Stigmas as a Young Man
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By Siddhant Pasricha:
As a man, I didn't know women experience periods every month until I reached class 11th. I just remember learning about it for my biology exam and that's it. When my friend told me in class 11th that she was on her periods, my only reaction was "oh yeah, even that happens". And then I avoided her for the next few days because I was feeling uncomfortable around her. I told her not to tell me that she was menstruating because I didn't like that. Every time she told me that she was bleeding, I spoke to her with some distance in my mind. The first time I heard my sister telling our mother that she was menstruating, I felt so awkward that I didn't speak to her for the entire day. There was no reason for it, I just didn't feel comfortable because I wasn't used to hearing things like that.
After my college started, conversations around menstruation became a bit more casual. My friends used to mention if they were Menstruating or bleeding without hesitation, and that is when my views about menstruation began to change. I accepted the fact that women do bleed regularly, and that it was normal for a woman to do so. Now when I look at it, the awkwardness was me accepting it as a routine.
When I started conducting sessions on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), I realized that it is an important process for women. Now, just talking about it feels like an empowering thing. I believe that by speaking about menstruation I am normalizing it for myself and for people around me. What I enjoy the most now is speaking about the stereotypes that are often associated with it – menstruating does not make women “impure”, and it shouldn't change their lifestyle. My friends can now initiate a conversation with me saying that they are not in a good mood because of PMS, and I make them feel comfortable.
I believe that engaging with CSE has made me more sensitive towards women. What makes me uncomfortable now is the stigma associated with menstruation, how it is considered something to be ashamed of, and how men can just get away with saying that it is "just an excuse" for being moody.
The reason why most men have misconceptions about menstruation, and get uncomfortable at just the mention of it is because it has always been a hush hush topic. Be it in schools or at home, adults think that it is something that only girls are supposed to know about, and hence all we ever get to hear are misogynistic jokes, and rumors. Gender specific sex education leads to the spreading of misinformation, which we then do not fact-check because off all the stigma that is associated with such issues. As a result of this, hearsay becomes reality.
I am glad that over time I was able to get over my inhibitions of talking about what the society considers ‘girl problems’. Now I know what to do when a woman tells me that she is Menstruating - and it's simple, just make her feel comfortable during her 'that time of the month.'
The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate and currently studies at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.