'I am a feminist, I support one day period leave': Menstruation is healthy, debate ghettoises women

Author's note: This article is a response to Barkha Dutt’s "I’m a feminist. Giving women a day off for their period is a stupid idea" published in Washington Post on 3 August, 2017.

Agreed, that a shopkeeper slips a pack of sanitary napkins in a jet-black plastic bag. Agreed, that social conditioning still makes women ashamed of bleeding every month or talking about it. Agreed, that menstruating women are considered "impure" to enter temples or kitchens. But how is one day period leave paternalistic in any way? How does it ghettoise women?

 I am a feminist, I support one day period leave: Menstruation is healthy, debate ghettoises women

Representational image. Reuters

"Women" is not a homogenous category. Every body has different biology and sociology. One thing that feminism makes us understand is the importance and the diversity of experience, which can most definitely be applied here as well. Is it okay for any of us to call ourselves a feminist and then generalise the experience of menstruation for the rest of the women? No.

I know that many of us are able to function like any other day even during menstruation, but is it something to boast about or be proud of? I know how patriarchy makes men believe "mard ko dard nahi hota". But must our feminist goal be to prove how "auratein bhi mardaani haina ur unhe bhi dard nahi hota" or to actually de-gender pain?

The capitalist Brahminical patriarchy makes sure that our everyday experiences, desires, fears, emotional and physical labour, strengths, struggles, joy, and pain, are invisibilised.

Capitalism creates an anxiety where we all feel the constant need to be "productive" and this idea of productivity is majorly attached with wage labour — only if you work to earn is when you get validated from the people around of your "productivity". This anxiety when interacts with gender, creates a false gendered binary of productivity being attached to a man and unproductivity to a woman. Hence, it makes women feel the need to constantly prove themselves "productive" to be able to even demand equality. This attachment of the idea of equality to behaving "like a man" makes us feel guilty of even demanding our basic rights as women, and it is the same guilt and urge to show that even a woman can work like a "man" that makes us attach values of weakness and unproductivity to one day period leave.

I do not believe in the capitalist patriarchal binary of "productivity and unproductivity". I do not believe one day period leave will make me any less "productive". I do not believe in proving how "fit" I am for all roles and jobs by acting "like a man" and by keeping quiet about my menstruation. I do not believe that talking about pain makes us weak. I do not believe in being ashamed of my tears. I do not believe that the burden of proof of being equals lies on women at all. I do not believe in any of these masculine notions of strengths, productivity and equality. Hence, I do not believe in invisibilising my experiences or silencing my struggles.

And this does not make me any less happy to bleed or any less proud of having a vagina.

"Take the fight for the right of women to be allowed into military combat, fly fighter jets or be sent into space," writes Barkha. Well, why not? But does asking for women rights have an upper limit? Can we not talk about all of them together? Will I have to pick my top five issues and then fight for them? And how do I even decide my top five? Won’t my social location and experiences play a big role in it? As feminists, we must definitely fight for equal opportunity in all occupations, not just for women but for other genders too, however, this must not stop at the demand for equal opportunity. Our feminism must also make us deconstruct the growing militarisation and critique the masculine idea of war in which bodies of women and transgender individuals become sites of violence.

There's no doubt that the one day period leave debate is elitist while awareness about menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, gender sensitisation are a far cry in India. However, rejection of elitism will not come by dismissing these debates or belittling these struggles but by raising questions, debating and fighting caste, religion, language, gender and sexual orientation based atrocities which happen all around us — by people of our own community — and also at not so prominent places. It has to be opposed by challenging our privilege and the comfort of our everyday thoughts, conversations and writings. By not just proudly recognising oneself or each other as feminists in an urban space but also by knowing, acknowledging and learning from the adivasi, Dalit, Muslim and queer women who are fighting brutal attacks by multiple oppressive structures each and every day.

We, women, do not need to sympathise with each other. We need to fight our own battles and support other women, be it family, friends, lovers or strangers, in their struggles. We have enough people, here and there, trying to pity us or sympathise with us, we do not need more. Arguing for period cramps to be a reason for “medical leave” is precisely what ghettoises women by associating medical illness with something as healthy as menstruation. Fighting taboos and breaking gender stereotypes will never happen by denying rights which actually work as enabling conditions for women. We will have to actively challenge the societal norms by entering all “pure” places, and also create equal spaces by demanding our rights, be it recognition of menstrual health as “health”, reproductive health check ups for each and every female student in all public schools, fighting against GST on sanitary napkins, free sanitary napkins for all women or one day period leave.

Why must one day period leave be an exception when menstruation isn’t?

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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2017 16:43:05 IST