So, why talk with men and boys about menstruation?
The answer is simple: because one-sided conversations are not as effective as a two-way dialogue when it comes to change-making! Boys and men are the other part of our population and thus need to be involved in conversations surrounding menstruation.
Knowing this is one thing… acting on it is another – these conversations don’t magically happen – it’s not a topic that generally happens to come up in our day-to-day conversations. Fear not, this article will look at:
Firstly, how do you explain menstruation to non-menstruators? (Yes, not all menstruators identify as women and not all non-menstruators identify as men… but that’s another article in itself!).
Secondly, why bother talking to non-menstruators about menstruators?
Thirdly, what does all of this have to do with sustainability?
How do you explain menstruation to non-menstruators?
Imagine complaining to a male friend about how the Delhi air pollution is affecting your lungs and him saying “Wait, what is b-b-reathing? Does it happen only to girls? Does it spread? Oh no! Am I going to start breathing now?” Doesn’t seem like such a sensible question now, does it? That’s because, just like menstruation, breathing is a NORMAL physiological process.
The most simple and effective way to talk about menstruation is to explain it the same way biology teachers have been teaching photosynthesis to students for decades – clear, open, and based on accurate information. Give people the facts, tell them in a way they can understand – be open, be frank, be brave! They deserve to know.
The biological facts: Basically, periods are the uterus’ way of telling you that you’re not pregnant! The uterus makes a ‘home’ for a potential fetus and when fertilization doesn’t occur that home breaks down and comes out the vaginal canal in the form of blood and tissue. This video contains a simple yet biological explanation and is a great resource!
Periods are a physical process and ANYONE in their own capacity can and should understand what they are. I lay emphasis on anyone based on my personal experience. My 14-year-old brother who is on the Mild Autism Spectrum and has Asperger’s Syndrome understands and is supportive and understanding when it comes to menstruation. This conversation came about when he was hanging out in my washroom (welcome to the world of siblings) as I brushed my teeth and he saw my cloth pads soaking in what was by now, bloody water. With his eyes wide open he asked, “where did you get hurt!?” because sharing our gruesome wounds and cuts is one of the foundations of our sibling bond, of course. I was contemplating what to say to him when I thought – you know what? He deserves to know the truth… and, why not? So I replied, “Nanak, sometimes girls bleed without getting hurt.” And something seemed to click and he got it; that this is completely normal.
Later in the year, I was stuck in my washroom with an INCREDIBLY MESSY period and he was lurking right outside (again, welcome to having siblings). I asked him to hand me a PINK cloth pad and with no questions or qualms, he did.
Now, I don’t recommend this explanation of periods for everyone. But what I do want to emphasise is that the way we speak about menstruation, and our reaction when people ask questions is key.
If you are comfortable talking about menstruation, then you help others also feel comfortable and relate to periods as something natural and healthy.
Practice, practice, practice!
Once you’re confident about the biological facts, you’re ready to go forth and raise awareness. This may require some courage – as we all know, there is SO MUCH stigma surrounding menstruation. And, like anything else, practice makes perfect – before you know it you’ll be openly and easily talking about periods to anyone, anywhere. Case in point below…
I remember my classmate (let’s call her Hermione, cause she would love that) had a really heavy, painful period and chose not to play handball with us. This conversation took place amongst my classmates:
Classmate 1: Why wasn’t Hermione playing?
Me: Because she’s on her period.
Classmate 2: You shouldn’t have said that; it was too much information.
Me: Sorry, mera matlab tha uske vagina mein se khoon nikal raha hai. (Sorry, I meant to say there is blood coming out of her vagina)
All: Run up the staircase in horror and disgust.
Now, the only person chuckling beside me was Ranbir. Which is what brings me to the second question…
Why bother talking to non-menstruators about menstruation?
The short answer to that is BECAUSE WE DESERVE RESPECT AND SUPPORT! It’s a whole lot harder to build authentic relationships and communities if we are keeping parts of our body a secret. Imagine knowing a person for decades but never telling them you have a tongue.
Ranbir is my go-to period–person. He’s the person that checks me for period stains and hears about how my cramps are really bad this month and listens enthusiastically when I talk about my work with EcoFemme.
I recently asked him why he is so comfortable talking about periods, especially when the other boys (and girls) in our class aren’t.
“Whenever I was in fifth or sixth grade my mom would tell me ‘dukaan se pads le aa’ (bring pads from the store). Because it was mentioned so casually, I just thought it was something natural. I didn’t delve into the topic as though it was excessively weird,” he said.
When we were on a field trip a couple of years ago, I had really bad cramps. Ranbir started giving me suggestions on how to relax a possible muscle pull, cause apparently that’s what athletic boys do. I hesitantly told him that they were menstrual cramps and he replied “Oh, I wouldn’t know how to relieve those”, sympathetically and with care. I reminded him of this incident and asked what motivates him to be open and supportive about menstruation. “I was shocked to learn that some men deny their women proper care for their menstrual cycle and realised I have to compensate for them!” Turned out pretty well for me!
What does all of this have to do with sustainability?
The climate crisis is a war.
Sustainable menstruation is a battle within that war.
Historically, no single gender has ever won a battle alone.
We need ALL genders to unite. We need a lot of people on the side of sustainable menstruation; lives depend on it.
We cannot remain stuck in the outdated mindset where “women will deal with women issues” and “men will deal with men issues”. We also have to work towards a culture and society where gender is not binary. A powerful place to start acknowledging and celebrating diversity is by understanding the difference between our bodies and their cycles – a perfect example being the reproductive system and menstruation.
Collective voices are amplified voices and amplified voices can create cultural change.
The takeaway… you can do it!
Here is a picture of my dad taking a business call during lockdown, unbothered by his Eco Femme cloth pad companions. This article was inspired by this picture. Somehow, my father’s indifference (in a good way) shows just how normal periods can be – nothing to hide or be embarrassed about.
Talking to a boy about menstruation for the first time can be awkward and uncomfortable. I always look at it as a favour to the next menstruator he has to interact with. How many of us wish our friends or even mothers were like Ranbir or my dad? Someone who inculcated the normalcy of periods in them at a young age?
At the end of the day, when you talk to a boy or man or anyone about menstruation you are allowing them to be a more caring and empathetic husband, brother, father, classmate or co-worker.
By Nritu Luthra, Eco Femme Ambassador