Many are of the opinion that these strange university protests that entail the putting up of sanitary products in public spaces, starting in Jamia and spreading to Jadavpur, are not in good taste. But why should they be?
If menfolk happened to have menstrual cycles instead of women, this would hardly have occasioned social shame for them. Instead, they would have celebrated their stains, declared the blood sacred and exhibited with considerable pride the sanitary pads that bore the signs of their power. Women’s menstrual cycles, on the other hand, have been deemed so hateful and their blood so impure for so long, that it is finally time for women to rediscover the sacrality of their own blood.
When men open their shirts in public, scribble slogans all over their bodies and walk with pride, they are heralded as harbingers of true revolution — people have felt awed and inspired by such sights, poets have written paeans in their praise, artists have immortalised such scenes on canvas and filmmakers have made memorable cinema of such landmark protests. When FEMEN activists do the very same thing, and display their nudity adorned with political slogans, policemen arrive in leaps and bounds and forthwith drag them all to the prison.
Male bodies inscribed with political will are things of beauty, and female bodies of the same order are objects of social stigma, shame and infringement. It’s because a women’s nudity disarms the conservatives, it makes them uncomfortable. Rupi Kaur’s photograph documenting menstrual blood opened a can of worms. Instagram removed the photograph and instantly, social media were alight with debates. I think the photograph was a stroke of genius. So was Deepika Padukone’s video, My Choice. Women are undergoing a sudden awakening everywhere. This awakening is becoming more and more necessary for the survival of mankind as a whole.
The thought of one half of the species brutally repressing the other half by virtue of sexual discrimination, through various tools of torture ranging from sheer brute force to social conditioning and superstition, for thousands of years, is perhaps more frightening as any other human rights violation. This awakening has been long due. The society mustn’t run by muscles, it must be run by liberated minds. It is ludicrous to think that the primary law lurking underneath sexual and gender discrimination is nothing but the discrepancy of physical force between the male and female of this species.
When I described in detail, in the first part of my autobiography, My Girlhood, the events leading to my first menstrual period, or later, how I was sexually abused, many disapproved of this with the sneering civility characteristically belonging to the bourgeoisie. I pity them, and I have never brought myself to pander to their socially curated tastefulness.
My Girlhood was banned by the Haseena government in 1999. It’s still banned in Bangladesh. The middle classes are of the opinion that no decent woman belonging from a good family could have described, in gory details and with utter “shamelessness”, the indignity of the sexual abuse she had suffered. Some famous male authors have personally told me, “You know, the book was very well written, but you shouldn’t have described the sexual encounters. That was vulgar”.
Oh yes. When women write about the sexual crimes perpetrated against them, they become offensive; when they tell stories belonging to their own bodies, they are deemed notorious. But when men offer up depictions of female nudity and sexual intercourse, they become the grand documenters of high art.
It seems that women’s bodies are the copyrighted properties of male authors and artists, for if women were to explore such areas, they would surely be no more than sluts. When women refuse to abide by these rules instituted by men, when they sidestep the rules laid down about what to say and when, and how far to go with it, this society’s men feel some amount of righteous indignation.
If this society hasn’t defamed you as a slut and whore, if you haven’t yet been able to confound at least a few of the society’s self-appointed moral guardians, then there isn’t much hope for you as a feminist. The named, on the other hand, are those who shall change and alter the fabric of this rotting state, and bring on a new evolution that shall signal a new kind of egalitarian atmosphere.
I therefore salute the students who have stepped forward to protest on behalf of all women who are stigmatised during their menstrual cycles. It is the duty of educational institutions to spearhead the revolution against superstitions, stigmas, social and sexual discrimination and spread social awareness and illumination amongst the common people. It is their moral obligation to take up the fight for womens’ rights, and they have done a good job of it.