Beautiful Dirty Women
Don’t let a little superstition ruin someone’s (probably your beloved daughter’s) life.
Although I had read this a couple of months ago, the memory of a recent post on Periods (for (open-minded) Adults only) on Twitter is still very very fresh in my mind to the extent that I keep playing it over and over in my head at random times sheerly for the truth of it – her words couldn’t be more true – “I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species.whether i choose to create or not. but very few times it is seen that way…”
Belonging to a “modern” world, living independently in US, earning my own way through this life, talking and thinking big things about women’s liberation and women’s equality, I am left shaken since a conversation on my first night in India some days ago (as I visit from California (sometimes when one starts living in a certain world, one might forget the truth of other worlds that exist in parallel)); as this young married but separated maid (living with her parents) who works at our home was packing left-over dinner for her younger brother and felt necessary to clarify to me that she was avoiding touching the food with her hands (hence the use of spatula) because she was in time and that she should not commit sin and bring bad luck and make the food inedible for her brother by touching it even by mistake during this time.
The manner in which she narrated those sentences (using 3rd person instead of 1st), it was clear to me that it was not something she understood but just something she had heard repeatedly over the years and she had simply recited those exact sentences to me like a parrot. It occurred to me that she must have been thinking about it in her mind when I walked in. She had been brainwashed to believe that she was dirty this time of the month. The irony of this thinking couldn’t be more obvious than now when she was bringing food on her brother’s plate and still made to believe she could be dirty at any time in her life.
I had a strong urge to make her sit right there and tell her otherwise. I thought of telling her that, in fact, we worship women who are in Time and that it was considered a very fortunate thing to happen and that in fact she should touch the food with her hand to bring good luck. But I knew better than turning her into a rebel at 11 PM on a random evening of her life as I did not know the consequences she might face had I taken that rash emotional step without thinking it through. What if she blurted what I told her back to her family and got beat up. That wouldn’t be helpful at all. I felt so stupid as I realized that I had never given a thought to what I would do if I experienced something like this (which is very common in India) first hand.
If anything had to be done about it, it had to be properly thought out, planned and implemented, not randomly try to change one person’s mindset without changing the environment they lived in and get them into trouble. For all the activist thoughts I have otherwise, in this one moment, I felt humbled as my heart truly sank while reality slapped me in my face.
As I am writing this blog, it is becoming more and more certain to me that although I am feeling helpless at the moment, I will do something about this when the time is right.
The morning after I wrote this blog, I got invited to a Goddess Puja at a neighbor’s home (We Indians are not only very religious, our religious beliefs are highly ceremonial and very frequent). My otherwise very kind and progressive mother gently reminded me that “I hope you are not in Time, otherwise you can not go for that Puja (for the fear of it being a sin)”. I had forgotten this cardinal rule ever since I moved to the US, where my life hasn’t stopped even once because of periods.
This is such a common superstition in our culture that even the most progressive women/people believe in it very honestly and staunchly. I rebelliously asked the same question to her that she has heard me ask for several years in my childhood – “But isn’t the goddess a female too Mummy? Haven’t the Gods made me like this?” She left me alone because she secretly agrees with me.
As a child, when I was IN TIME and my (highly religious and old) grandparents were in town, every one in and around my house, who had no business in my Periods, knew about my personal matter and I was asked not to enter the kitchen and kept away from all Gods because I was considered Dirty. Of course, it wasn’t just me who was subject to this funda, all women in the house were. Everyone knows this system in our culture, no-one has to be taught or told. All the Beautiful Dirty Women, in good intention, believe, accept and follow it very sincerely. Essentially, they have all accepted they are DIRTY when IN TIME.
It isn’t enough that we feel PMS-y, moody, in pain and sick during these Periods, now we also have to feel highly embarrassed, ashamed and shitty. It is a very subtle way of making women feel inferior.
I am about to share a secret as this seems like an apt time and space.
After I was past my 10th grade, I learnt how to hide my periods from my family and since then, I have lied shamelessly to everyone who reminded me about MY TIME. I have, in fact, gone to ALL the ceremonies and temples while having Periods that I wasn’t otherwise allowed to attend (and some times my mother knew but chose to act ignorant because I know in my heart, she agreed with me – Don’t ask Don’t tell). I can assure you through my first hand experience, NO bad luck was ever brought. I had secretly fought for my right.
This thought process and culture can and will NOT change, until every parent starts letting go of this superstition against women and is willing to take a chance. Sometimes bad things may happen, but I hope the educated, wise and intelligent people of our society will put a little mathematics to work and associate that random bad luck to probability rather than a woman in Time.
The only way to change this taboo is by worshipping the women in Time around you, especially inviting them to all special, religious occasions where they are otherwise uninvited and by treating them normally, with love and care. The only dirty thing about Periods is our taboo-ed thinking about it.
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