Just another day at the office. Suddenly, I feel a stomach cramp.
Damn it, not again, not now. I’m having my period.
My heart sinks at the prospect of the weekly meeting that I have to attend in the next ten minutes, which would probably last for a couple of hours. I kick myself mentally for letting this catch me unawares and resolve, for maybe the umpteenth time, to finally start tracking my monthly cycle.
To clarify to the uninitiated reader, let me try to give an honest account of menstruation. Imagine that you are seated inside a roller coaster and your cart reaches the highest point and suddenly dips downwards. That feeling, which you get in the pit of your stomach at that moment, is similar to a stomach cramp. Now, imagine sitting on the roller coaster with a blindfold. So basically, you have no idea at what point the dip is coming, resulting in heightened anxiety levels. Remember the Slap Bet challenge where Barney chooses to get five slaps throughout eternity? Girls have to endure this challenge every month, where you don’t even know how many cramps you have to endure. This is the primary reason why a girl becomes sufficiently irritable by the end of it and is basically ready to lash out her frustration on any innocent soul who dares to anger her further.
As I’m trying to think about how to best deal with the situation and decide whether I should go in late at the meeting or not go at all, I feel some pain again and blurt out loud, “I’m not feeling well.” One of my male colleagues hears this and naturally, gallant knight in shining white that he is, comes forward to rescue me with whatever help he could offer. He asks with concern, “What happened?”
Now, I just want to confess over here and say that I blatantly lie in this situation. Always have, always will. Somehow, the answer ‘I am having my period’ forms in my mind but gets lost in the transition where I have to actually say it. Most probably, I will give him an answer involving some mundane ailment like fever, headache or the more metaphoric kind, “stomach pain”. The stomach pain concept is my feeble attempt to discreetly make him understand, but on the other hand, a completely legitimate cause which can be publicly mentioned, in case he doesn’t.
I can almost visualize all the feminists rolling their eyes at me and wondering – why do I do this? Well, let’s try and guess his reaction, if I would indeed have told him the truth….
From my past experiences and conversations with guys, where the topic was anything period-related, I have basically encountered two kinds of people. The first kind is the guy who clams up when a conversation veers off towards the topic of menstruation. He will shuffle his feet, not make eye-contact, nod at you when you are finished talking and basically behave as if the conversation never happened. Yet this is something which doesn’t offend me anymore, because it is not his fault. Unfortunately, this is just one of the side-effects, which affects boys and girls alike, of being raised in a patriarchal society. Why should I judge his discomfort if I too, am being hesitant? Over the years, this behavioral pattern is somehow deeply rooted in our minds. I feel the only way to overcome this situation is if the discussion about menstruation, the teaching of boys and girls alike, starts at a younger age.
The second kind of guy has a more fierce reaction to the actual reason, where either he thinks it’s just another excuse made by girls to get out of work or unnecessarily victimize themselves in order to seek attention. Let’s just assume either of the reason or both are true. In such a case, I am more intrigued to know what exactly their anger is directed at. Is he angry because I’m using an excuse to get out of doing work or because I’m using a gender-specific excuse which he will never be able to use or challenge? Obviously, he won’t say these things aloud to me in which case, the damage is already done and I can almost sense him silently judging me.
Recently, China offered leave for women suffering from extreme menstrual pain. And, soon after, numerous articles started popping up in my newsfeed questioning- When will India follow suit? My first reaction to that was – Are they serious? I mean, is this notion even realistically enforceable? Based on my experience of working in a male-dominated space, the concept of getting paid leaves every month for 2-3 days on account of my monthly cycle is unthinkable for me. Not only will I miss and delay a whole lot of workload or responsibilities, but also this will completely skew the concept of equality amidst the male-female employee in the office environment, springing up even more issues like the female employee not being hired at all, blacklisted from being involved in critical projects, termed to be “unprofessional” and so on….
Seriously, the second kind of guy couldn’t roll his eyes any further. Please don’t fuel his anger towards me.
Just to clarify, the “menstrual pain” being discussed over here is of a highly crippling nature, which roughly one in ten women have to put up with. Luckily enough, I don’t suffer from it. So, thanks, but no thanks.
Regarding the struggles faced during periods, I just want to say one thing to every man in my life, who is willing to be sensitized to this issue….
“I don’t want the leaves, I don’t want you to place me on a feather bed and fetch me warm chicken soup (although that would be super comforting, please do it if you want to!), I don’t want the conversation to die down into an awkward silence when I mention the P-word, I don’t want to behave like a Russian spy every month whose sole mission for that week is to attract minimum attention to the fact that she is on her period, I don’t want you to account every foul mood I have to the possibility that I must be having my monthly cycle and I don’t want to get into debates about how men should be thankful to women making an integral contribution in the process of child birth; but I do want to start talking about it to you. That is the first step. I have bought hundreds of sanitary pads until now and clearly that isn’t going to stop for the next 20-30 years; so it would be a welcome change to go to a medical store and not needing to WHISPER anymore, where it is not required for the shopkeeper to triple cover the packet with newspaper before placing it in a black polythene bag and handing it over to me.”
The idea is to make it a non-issue.