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Isha Singh Sawhney
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Isha Singh Sawhney is a writer, musafir and obsessive people watcher. She loves seeing new places and hates leaving them.

Menstruation and regressive patriarchal discomfort

hy does my menstruation blood bother you so? Is it because you cannot fathom a world where the lining of my uterus does not shed in a clean, fragrant, unseen manner? Is it because if the remnants of my baby-maker don't quietly slip into oblivion, the wires of your patriarchal circuits get angrily crossed? If my monthlies, mensies, chums don't come and go, every month, without smell, sound or sight... or mention, you feel a discomfit akin to a spider crawling up your skin? Every since I was a little girl, like little girls everywhere, my periods were considered something to be ashamed of. Along with a princess whose every inch of self worth was tied into the prince's acceptance of her, came a bevy of orders. Don't leave your pads in dustbins, or leave stained clothes lying around, or wear white, or let the world see your sanitary pads, tampons, blood. The rules of womanhood and fertility in haiku form. The never-ending list of donts girls are bombarded with are exhausting, and differ dramatically across countries and communities.

In the west or in urban India, it's the shame we feel while buying or carrying sanitary pads and tampons, which are hidden in brown bags at every inch of their journey from storefront to my underwear. It's the shame I feel when advertisements make my menstrual blood an imperceptible, clinical blue liquid. What in god's name does that blue liquid have to do with my very red, or scarlet, vermilion, crimson, ruby, cherry, cerise, cardinal, carmine, wine, blood-red, coral, cochineal, rose, brick-red, maroon, rufous, rusty, cinnamon... *phew* coloured blood? Month after month, for three or six days of my life or an average of 3,000 days of my lifetime, I shove tampons up my vagina, I use sanitary napkins that remove the smell, I watch advertisements where women emit little digital flowers from their vagina, or use every other euphemism in the book to not mention the word menstruation or period, and I learn over and over again not to talk about it.

And then Rupi Kaur did. The Canadian Indian artist found herself in the middle of a social media furore when Instagram removed a picture of hers. The picture wasn't particularly sensational, until it was. In the image, we see Kaur lying on her side in bed, and when you look closer, her grey track pants are marked by a red round spot, mirrored on the bed, where she's obviously been a few second before. The rest of her images show her on the pot, throwing her pad into a dustbin, her in the shower, looking down onto her feet where splotches of blood lie.

If my monthlies, mensies, chums don’t come and go, every month, without smell, sound or sight... or mention, you feel a discomfit akin to a spider crawling up your skin?

ithout nudity or human excreta, or used condoms, it's unclear why these pictures are unsettling to so many, including the powers that be at Instagram. To me, that objectionable picture of hers in bed just brought back memories of having your periods during your teenage years, when beds and uniforms were stained. Those memories of spending one day just rolled up in bed, in a fetal position. Today, who has the luxury to do that? You pop a painkiller, and march on. Memories. That was all Kaur's images were for me. Others wondered why we even need to talk about such private matters. That they didn't necessarily deserve a public platform such as this.

But the horror or discomfort people feel in the biological vs sexual conversation is very real. Patriarchy is okay with a woman in a societally perfect thong, her vagina almost peeking out from its constricting sides, her ass not at all covered, but when it comes to a biological function, we must all be co-conspirators in silence. Ignore the red elephant in the room, and pray to god it just goes away.

Until of course, a Kaur comes along. Or her predecessors, like British artist Ingrid berthon-Moine, who shot portraits of women wearing their menstrual blood as lipstick and even showed at the Venice Biennale an installation where she plays a song on the string of a tampon, or Judy Chicago who, in the '70s, created Red Flag, a lithograph of a bloody tampon being pulled from between a woman's legs; Jezebel's story on what happens when a tampon is left inside a woman's body for 10 days.

In Delhi, just last month, a group of Jamia Millia students started #Padsagainstsexism, where they left sanitary towels around campus with messages against sexism written across them, trying to kill two birds with one stone.

An artist uses what she or he has around them, to create conversations. That's what Kaur does. And whether I think I need that dialogue or not, I do. And you do. We need challenging. We need, as Kaur's writes in online magazine Emaho, "to demystify the period and make something that is innate 'normal' again"; we must, whether we consider this unimportant or private or not really a big deal, support her. Because, as the artist continues in her letter to social media at large, "rape categories in porn are okay. objectification and sexualization is okay. people getting off on naked underage women. bondage. torture. humiliation. abuse is okay but this makes them uncomfortable. that's what this work is supposed to do. make you as uncomfortable as you should feel when you watch others get abused and objectified.  This just goes to show who is sitting behind the desk. And whose controlling the show. Whose controlling the media and who is censoring us..." [sic]

Yes, Kaur, we will not be censored. And for all those trying to control us, we want to have the last word and tell you, having your period regularly is a sign of health.

 
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