Women’s issues were fascinating, frightening and never meant to be discussed in public in my childhood years. Menstruation was my first foray into it. I remember clearly that I learned about it sketchily from other girls and had my own apprehensions but did not approach anyone with questions due to the taboo factor around it. Luckily, my father had a huge Medical Digest that was left around for us to refer to at home. That book had graphic pictures and explanations related to all things anatomy. I must have read portions from the book repeatedly when in doubt.

 

Having white uniforms and fixed loo times made life bigger hells for school girl students “in those days.” Then, there were the excruciating biology lessons of male and female reproductive systems. Damn, I could not even say the word penis aloud let alone ask questions. Our teacher had already warned us against sniggering or giggling. Being in a co-ed school, those lessons were tense and amusing as well. There was this huge sword of “embarrassment” that hung over our heads. I really had no knowledge about sex till much later. Yeah, those were the days of innocence devoid of in-your-face wobbly boobs in item songs and porn stars in reality TV. Brought up on movies that showed flowers entangling for the coupling act, we used to get all excited seeing full-fledged smooches on foreign serials like “The Bold and the Beautiful.” And, I remember going for the all women’s screening of the censored version of Kamasutra with female friends during my MBA days. It felt so big! There was a huge dirty aura around all such topics, and good girls were not supposed to show their curiosity about these things. So, any excitement over such issues was clearly masked publicly and only indulged to in private.

 

Needless to say, topics like masturbation, pre-marital sex, and contraception were not even breathed about. If you had any problems related to female anatomy, you would browse through the stupid columns in female magazines trying to catch hold of the names of some general fungicidal medicine that you could go and buy surreptitiously from a medical store. Buying sanitary napkins used to be another ordeal. The best time to do so in a kirana store (no supermarkets and malls in those days) was when the shop was the least crowded, and you could point out the product with your finger without mouthing the word. The shopkeeper would give you a knowing look and quickly wrap one packet in a newspaper and hand it over in a black plastic cover; such was the mystery around buying sanitary napkins. Yeah, this happened in Mumbai and not some far-flung village. And, when those damned ads with graphic fluid spills appeared on home television, we wanted to crawl into woodwork, averting our eyes and holding our breath till the obscene commercial went away.

 

In those days of no google and internet, information was scarce and had to be culled from books and magazines. Practical information was sorely missed. I had friends who had got some terribly wrong information from old-fashioned relatives about menstruation being a dirty period, about bleeding to expel toxins and some such crazy things. There were these rather idiotic and unscientific beliefs that have been passed on for generation like pickles, tulsi plants and food spoiling when prepared by a menstruating women. Women to this day avoid sitting in pujas and going to temples on those “impure” days. And guess who keeps these traditions and stereotypes alive — women themselves! All this misinformation often led to serious health and emotional hazards, but izzat and culture kept us tongue tied.

 

In that sense, I am grateful to the widespread nature of internet, blogs and social media. We have information at our fingertips though the veracity of the sources must always be checked. We can reach out to others and read their experiences; we can become members of interactive forums; and the ease and anonymity that the electronic medium offers us actually helps us talk about issues and share experiences that would not be possible publicly and face to face and that were till now consigned to closets. And with changing times and tunes, some of us are slowly shedding the cobwebs from our minds and speaking out. These days I can go and shop for a condom without batting an eyelid ;-).

 

Indeed, we need to discuss all issues – male and female more openly. Openness helps us seek information, medical intervention and develop a healthy mindset towards things that are natural and are meant to be this way. I wonder how much hue and cry would have been around our bodies had we not progressed to clothes unlike other animal species. Somewhere, this urge to cover up and conceal does us much more harm. Having said that, it is also necessary to do the speaking in a decent and sensitive manner. Balance is so crucial here.

 

And, promoting concepts like virginity and whitening creams for private parts is not creating awareness but enhancing and inculcating stereotypes. I think there is a fine line between doing something that can influence mindsets and addressing a need. We have been doing this for years with fairness creams whose ads link skin color to successes ranging from jobs to marriages. Whole generations of dark skinned girls and boys had to suffer due to these terribly negative images and low self-esteem issues! Then came in the super-sexy models, heroines and yummy mummies. They sent a whole generation of women into depression with the expectations of a slim body over everything else. There is an insane urge to get thin sometimes at the cost of both emotional and physical health. And these days we have the mother of all expectations – those of having tighter vaginas and whiter privates! Is this the beginning of another depressing trend for women?

 

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance. – George Bernard Shaw

Let there be light of sensibility, of dignity, of healthy discussions and information away from stereotypes and miscommunication!

 

 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

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72 Thoughts on “Let There be Light!

  1. Right on the spot Rachna, a very Rachna-ish post. 😀 When I was in Mysore for my B.Com and when I finished my stock of pads, I searched high and low for a medical store manned by a female. I was that shy. Today its much better even kids know what kotex or stayfree or whisper is used for 😀

  2. I my opinion,children must be told of certain facts by the parents at the right age.

  3. Information at the right time is the key! Rachna, very mature handling of this subject:)

  4. What a wonderfully refreshing post – I would expect that from you Rachna – well said.
    When I was at school periods were the big excuse for not being able to take part in the PE lessons! As if somehow you were an invalid because you were menstruating, our wombs weeping for the child they yearned to hold (!)
    I believe the vagina tightening became fashionable in Japan, were the men prized a virgin bride (don’t they all?) and has spread like wildfire. As for ‘whitening’ areas … what is that all about?
    Whilst I applaud the change in attitude and openness I am saddened that we all still have an image of perfection that is impossible for the majority of us to obtain – rather we should be celebrating our different shapes, sizes and colours. Wearing our womanhood with pride and not forever seeking to look like a pubescent teenager.

    • Thank you Jane! So happy that you liked the post. It is definitely very bold. About PE classes, our teacher was so strict that no one dared asked him to be excused. You used the apt word invalid. We had some decaying traditions that made women feel unclean in those days. And, I am totally for breaking the stereotypes of perfection that is applicable to physical beauty and forces so many women to lose their minds. Wear your womanhood with pride. I could not have put it better.

    • about whitening, we began with whitening creams for face, then progressed to body, moved on to armpits and now we have a whitening cream for privates! It is horrifying, this obsession with fair skin.

    • When I was in my teens and twenties we worshipped the sun – in our skimpiest bikinis, lying in it until our skin became golden honey-coloured.

      Our teacher kept a register and marked if a girl made an excuae up – suggesting a visit to the doctor if the same excuse was used repeatedly.

      My great grandmother held some superstition that you shouldn’t wash during that time of the month – so not your hair or your body!

    • I love the tanned look and frankly I love my skin color. But, there are many who constantly obsess over their fair complexions, and the products and their ads just continue the disgusting trend. I know these superstitions, some of them are so bizarre. Thanks for sharing the experiences.

  5. Today you must have seen a full page advertisement for a cream that is supposed to not only to tighten the vagina, but do a lot of other things like accidental spilling of urine etc. First whitening cream for the face, then comes whitening lotion for the body, the whitening cream for the private parts like the armpits and so on, and in between we have fair people like SRK advertising for men’s whitening cream, so that men should not feel left out of all the fun.
    Simple logic how can you be fair just on your face and everywhere else you are a different color (ok for that they took so long to come with fairness body lotion).
    Anyway, that was not enough, you had so many dubious products from the master of the game UniLever,one fairness cream coming in different bottles and tubes, spinning a different tale for different segment of people, with obviously different prices.
    Our good old Haldi and malai would be enough to give us the ever elusive radiant skin, and be our age defying cream if only we used them regularly.
    And we all love watching and admiring the ever dark and dusky, Rekha and Bipasa, however do we ever learn anything from them?
    How many times we have heard:” ladki acchi hai, par thodhi sawanlli hai”.
    I wonder whether there will ever be any light, for till we have companies dishing out such fairness creams, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
    Maybe we should have more people writing like you to bring about awareness among women.
    And I agree with you, that answers for anything can be googled today.

    • Yes Rama,I did see that ad. And you have traced the disgusting history of such products brilliantly. I have personally heard and experienced similar comments many times over. Even children are not left alone. My son has heard the kaala and saanwla comments umpteen times over! The whole culture that we gloat about has warts galore. It is time for us to speak up against the discrimination and stereotypes that is being subjected upon us.

  6. Congratulations, Rachna. You have truly turned poison into medicine. I saw the announcement for this contest and was, for want of a better word in a discussion thread, disturbed. You have really made optimum use of this opportunity. While superficially, these developments might look like an objectification of women and promoting gender stereotypes, at a deeper level, it is discounting of our essential nature as human beings. It is a way of saying you are what your physical appearance is like. As entities of the universal will to know and express itself, this is the greatest insult to our evolution as intelligent and sensitive beings. Great post.

    • Thank you Subhorup! I can’t tell you what a motivation your comment has been for me. I was also seriously repulsed when I read about the contest. And, I absolutely agree with your prognosis. This is a great insult to our evolution as intelligent and sensitive human beings, as you have brilliantly pointed out.

  7. Wonderfully said. All these products only serve in enhancing the insecurities of women more than anything else.

  8. What a post! Nothing short of ‘Let there be Light!’ The television followed by the Internet and mobile telephony have transformed the world indeed. It is as if to think of the times before Internet and mobiles is to think of the dark ages. However, with the advent of creams that claim to whiten the private body parts and processes that restore the virginity we seem to be lapsing back into the dark ages.

  9. Have you seen how the West is reacting to all such things? Anyways, I am rather open when it comes to any topic which effects our health and the fancy products you mentioned is a personal choice.

    • I am okay about talking about these topics as well. And, products must be sold for what they are and not create new stereotypes in the bargain. Who are they fooling anyway?

  10. Rachna,

    The quote of GB Shaw sums up very well. We surely need openness and it must begin at home. Parents should be guides instead of being dreaded. There has to be some limit to advertisements too for promotion of some products.

    Take care

  11. Thoughtful post Rachna but in those days the women got relief from their enormous load of household work during their periods under the pretext of ‘impure’ . May be otherwise it was imosdible to get them to give themselves some rest during that time ! That’s how I have always thought . As for things like tulsi plant etc some believe that the body emanates negative vibrations which is harmful for plants . That’s y these women did not do the cooking at home either . I am not supporting it here but there are some things for which there is no scientific explanations but people still believe . Having said that in today’s life style most of these customs are impossible to follow and I agree – openness is needed . Do u know there r parts in india where love(romance) is taught as a bad word to the kids ha ha

    • I know Jaish! There were things done in the good old days with hidden motives. But, somewhere the logic of impurity and dirty percolates young minds and carries forward irrespective of logic or scientific reason. At least our generation should make an effort to move forward. And, I can quite imagine love being an anathema because God forbid if the girl elopes with the boy then naak kat jaayegi!

  12. This post is the fitting answer to the sponsors of the contest — who in the name of empowerment are perpetuating stereotypes and pushing women a step backwards. While we are busy being open about sexuality and sensuality, we forget the more important aspects of hygiene and health. Even today, girls from the poorer sections have to go through untold privation because of lack of sanitation and hygiene in their slums. Hugs to you for the wham-bangs delivered to all the perpetrators of retrograde stereotypes in this no-holds barred post!

    • Absolutely true, Zephyr! We lack the basic health and sanitation facilities for most of the population read women. It is holding girl children from attending school and going and working. Thank you for connecting with the post and for your appreciation. As always, they mean a lot to me. The post is my boldest till date!