This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Curse

They call it “the curse.”

Women will know why. Four days of bloating, cramps, and more often than not pain, every month, not to speak of wondering whether they’re leaking.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get rid of it?

Recently I was reading of research being conducted to find a way of stopping menstruation. It should not – theoretically speaking – be too difficult. It’s just a way of balancing hormones. After all, contraceptive pills work by making the body think it is pregnant – and if you took the pills continuously, there wouldn’tbe any period. Assuming that the medical researchers don’t get too greedy like this guy here with his invasive procedure,
it doesn’t have to be either expensive or (assuming the checks are carefully done to iron out side effects) shouldn’t even be dangerous.


Assuming that they do invent a safe drug to control periods for those women who want it done (about two-thirds of the women asked in one study) – let me make a couple of predictions.

First, the drug companies will price it so high most women who need it won’t be able to afford it. The working woman who can’t juggle home and work and motherhood and menstrual cramps at the same time, and who would be desperate for relief, won’t be able to afford it. The bored socialite who can afford it is probably going to prefer to have periods in order to assure herself that her sexual powers are undiminished, and may even fake periods to score off her rivals.

Second, three separate groups will in all likelihood gather to thwart any such drug. The first of these will be the patriarchy, which will oppose this tooth and nail (I’ll come to the real reason in a minute, but the official reason will be something like “health concerns”). Then it will be the turn of their close allies the religious establishments (the same morons who opposed the use of anaesthetics during childbirth because of the Biblical injunction “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children”) – and for the same reason. There is another (very different) group which will also oppose it tooth and nail, and I’ll talk about that group after discussing the real reason the first two will oppose it.

That reason is control of women.

Back when I was a boy, I used to see that my mother would (of course I had no idea why, since my parents never told me about sex and menstruation  would be part of sex) – for a few days every month – sleep in the guest room, and not with my father. I was in my early teens before I figured out the reason why. It still seems silly to me. She was, you see, to herself (since my dad never had given a damn for these things) ritually unclean. It wasn’t as if she felt having sex with him would be unhealthy or something, since I’m absolutely convinced that like the average Bengali couple of their generation and class they had ceased sexual relations after the desired number of children were born. But she had been brainwashed in her teens into thinking that she was unclean during that time and she would have to sleep apart in order not to contaminate him.

And that was very, very mild. People in this part of the country (the east) are – relatively speaking – liberal.

To this day, in the villages of South India, menstruating women are not allowed to enter kitchens. In some cases they can’t even enter houses. They may be forced to stay in cowsheds. No – no exaggeration here. During these days they have to stay in cowsheds, have no physical contact with any other person, eat plain rice with pickle, no other food allowed to them, and even anything that they touched would have to be “purified” before someone else could touch it. Those South Indians who have moved into the cities have reluctantly abandoned the practice, but not all of it. Traces remain – for example, since they don’t have cowsheds, they may confine menstruating female members of the family to one room of the house. And in some South Indian temples women of menstruating age are not even allowed to enter.

I’m sure North Indians would love to have their own version of this, given their attitudes to women, but the crucial problem is the North Indian woman. You tell a Punjabi woman she has to sleep in a cowshed because she is menstruating, and she will whack you up the side of the head before the words have quite finished leaving your mouth. Good for her, too.

So, it’s a good way of keeping women in their right place, because a gender that is ritually unclean at least part of the time (one favourite way of telling the child about menstruation is that it’s the body getting rid of “unclean” blood) can’t consider itself a gender that is empowered or on par with males. The attitude is far from restricted to India or even the “Orient”. Even the west has its own hang-ups with menstruation – snide remarks about being snappy due to PMT are something most women have heard at least once in a while. Never mind if you have legitimate grievances and are just saying what you think.

And now – the third group that would oppose the medication.    

I’m always amazed at the antics of the group of women calling themselves “radical feminists”. They will cheerfully turn a blind eye at women being deprived of food or education or remunerative employment, but will cheerfully scream themselves hoarse in favour of changing nomenclature or banning articles of clothing, or just to run down men in general. Their agendas are about as far removed from those of real feminists as you can get.

Well – these “radical feminists” are going to shriek their throats out in defence of menstruation as a sign of womanhood under attack from the patriarchy. They will go on about how menstruation is a "divine feminine experience".

Between all of them and the greed of the pharmaceutical companies, you can more or less forget the idea of stopping menstruation for those women who would want to.

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