By Amrithavarshini Venkatesh
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Recently in Spain, the performance collective ‘Sangre Menstrual’ took to the streets to protest the taboo surrounding menstruation, a seat of women’s oppression. The group wore white pants with menstrual blood stains to make visible their period and reclaim their bodies and normal bodily functions that they are forced by society to hide in status quo. A part of their ‘Manifesto for the Visibility of Blood’ reads, “I stain (my pants) and it doesn’t make me sick. I stain (my pants) and I don’t find it disgusting.” This performance aimed to engage directly with patriarchal systems that oppress and confine women during their menstrual cycles.
For ages together, religions have set guidelines on how to treat women during her period. A woman’s menstrual cycle is treated as her curse and blessing. It is the symbol of her coming of age, while also becoming a symbol of her oppression. Women are isolated in their own homes, their biological identities are pitted at odds with their religious identities – they cannot approach places of worship, cannot touch the holy books, and can have no hand in any ceremonial preparations. In India, a woman cannot visit the ‘Sabari Malai’ temple unless she is pre pubescent or has reached menopause. Women are considered impure during their monthly cycles, and are not approached under the pretext that they are dirty. They are imprisoned by their own bodily function; one that they cannot change and have no control over.
Patriarchal in its very conception, this taboo has soaked into the fabric of the society that we live in. In societies all over the world, with India certainly not being an exception, ‘a woman’s period’ is as good as disallowed from mainstream conversation. Girls are ridiculed when they unwittingly stain their uniforms in schools, parents uncomfortably switch TV channels when sanitary napkins are advertised, teens hide their tampons in secret compartments in their handbags, boys feel icky buying period related products and a leak in public is cause for a public shaming-despite the fact that menstrual blood isn’t any better or worse than the blood you lose during an accident. Menstruation is never mentioned or discussed. Hidden away from the watchful eye of society, a lack of discussion about the subject has further pushed menstruation into being a topic unsuitable for conversation.
In this backdrop, the performance in Madrid comes as a welcome and thought provoking move that forces society to confront its notions about menstruation. It allows us see how our sexist institutions are furthered through the menstrual taboo, which confines a woman purely for being a woman. The protests improve the visibility of a woman’s body that we are forced to hide and keep invisible, and treats the body as a political space and tool for fighting oppression of women. If we find that a repulsive demonstration, we need to ask ourselves whether the blood being menstrual is a good enough reason to find it more repulsive than we would usually find blood.
Note: This article isn’t to say that everyone must enjoy or appreciate the protest, it only aims at understanding and appreciating the spirit of the protest in Spain.
Amrithavarshini is a 19 year old with a passion for debate and theatre and immense hatred for bugs of all shapes and colours. Sharp in her thoughts and loud in both words and actions, when she is not lambasting anti feminist rhetoric, calling out hypocrisy or eating Malai Kofta, she can be found on the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras where she is pursuing an Integrated Masters in Developmental Economics in the Humanities Department.