In her op-ed piece, Sradda Thapa brought to light the Nepali tradition of chhaupadi. Chhaupadi – when a woman is banned from her kitchen, her bed, her house and forced to live in dingy sheds or under a tree for a few days while menstruating because she is considered “impure.”
I remember hearing about this concept when I was a teenager and was shocked. At that point I was too shy to even buy my own feminine products and was happy to have a mother and older sister to spare me the shame. My embarrassment at my womanhood was limited to the dreadful fear that a red stain would appear on my clothes, and god forbid, my male friends and classmates would know I was (to be said in a whisper) on my period!
Let’s be frank (or allow me to be frank), it’s common for a woman to be moody – we laugh about it and men generally hate it. I remember there were girls in high school who used, “What? I’m on my period,” as a golden ticket to be a supreme bitch. I tried my best not to wince as my stupid reproductive junk twisted and turned into a circus of pain lest people find out I was bleeding. I could not (and still cannot) fathom proclaiming to the world that my body was undergoing its natural womanly thing.
Which brings me to my point – it’s natural. Without the monthly flow and the various facets of it (mood swings, cravings, gas, nausea, cramps), you aren’t a woman. The bleeding is necessary and vital to mankind, it’s as important to humanity as breathing and eating, so then how can it be impure. I am baffled.
I’ve heard stories of women subject to chhapadi who have had to endure the previously mentioned list of woes from under a tree. I’ve heard a common way to die is to be bitten by a snake. I’ve heard horror stories of the conditions under which the monthly nature-born punishments are amplified by the “can” and “cannot” of Nepali culture.
I’ve also heard there are campaigns in remote parts of the country to end chhapadi, and even then, I’ve heard how women who have had to follow these old fashioned ideas subject themselves to the rites they’ve been under from the first sight of blood between their legs.
What shocked me the most about Sradda Thapa’s piece was the fact that though people believe chhapadi is something that is prevalent only in remote Nepal, I was informed that that is not the case. Even in “modern” Kathmandu, many middle/upper class (read: educated) girls are forbidden to enter the kitchen during their time of month. I’ve walked around the city and near religious sites I’ve seen signs telling me, as a woman, to stay the crap away if I’m menstruating.
But more than that, I, a young educated woman of the 21st century still try to hide the fact that I too, bleed. My question then, to myself, is why?
I’ll be honest, writing this post is incredibly difficult for me. I’m more than open to talking about almost anything else, but to write about me bleeding, my cramps, my backache, my bloated and uncomfortable belly – it’s so nerve wracking and embarrassing. To my female friends and family I have no problem saying, “I have effing cramps. I’m in effing pain.” But when male friends or boyfriends ask, I am humiliated about how the gods of the underworld are having a war in my fallopian tubes. I’ve been blessed to have men in my life who are more than understanding (a guy who buys you ice cream is quality!*), but it takes a while before I can admit that I’m not being chipper because I’m considering ripping my uterus out.
It’s bad enough that it hurts… a lot, it’s insulting that my few days of bleeding is accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to be rejected, looked down upon and considered impure for the very same reason that leads to pregnancy, which in my opinion is possibly the most beautiful part of creation and life, (children themselves on the other hand, are a whole different story).
I don’t know what the point of this is. I guess I recently read the article and (omg, I’m admitting it) *I have my period*. I have cramps today and am tired of the bathroom runs I have to make. I’m not suggesting that come bleeding time woman should wear a button that says, “EFF YOU! I’m on my period!” with a smiley face on it… I’ll probably still get a little uncomfortable if someone asks why I’m clutching my belly with a death grip, but I guess… in light of chhapadi, I’m writing this post because as I suffer silently and monthly, I feel blessed. I have a family who understands and I have friends who buy me pain killers and chocolate. Whether I’m wearing “female products” or not makes no difference to how I’m looked at or treated… I can’t wrap my mind around what it’s been like for women who aren’t as fortunate.
So now what? I will not have a facebook status every month to tell you that mother nature had laid her crimson finger on me, I will not greet people at work or otherwise with “Hey, I’m on my period,” and I probably won’t blog about this again. But what I will do is be more open about it, if I can’t look at someone straight faced and state, “Yups, it’s that time of month,” then all I do is pave a way for a diluted version of chhapadi to permeate my life and the lives of all women. I have cramps, my back hurts and it effing sucks.
(*A short note to men who aren’t as wonderful: get over it. Yes, we women bleed, and just so you know, we also fart and you bet your bad hairdo we poop.)