Opinions

Let us talk about Menstruation

Have you wondered about Menstruation? You have, right? In spades. Shall we discuss a few aspects surrounding this hush-hush-whisper thing? All righty then.

Index

The Big Girls’ Secret

Don’t tell the little girls

Don’t tell the guys

The Common Dirty Secret

How much do men know?

A Bodily Function

Not different from the other two

The abdominal pains and Premenstrual Symptoms

Age Specific Problems

Why is it different from other mammals?

The Ritual Uncleanliness and Isolation

The much needed rest

The much needed hygiene

The much needed God’s Love

Cleaner than the Gods

Links and Quotes

The Big Girls’ Secret

Don’t tell the little girls

The most early memory of the topic anyone can have is perhaps the way we all searched in vain to understand what the sanitary napkin is. The Ads say it is very absorbant and after a seeing an Ad about how a girl pours ink to demostrate the “dry-weave” dryness of her pad, my granny said it was a hand-kerchief. But eventually I knew that that can’t be it, people make too much of a fuss for it to be a hand-kerchief.

I was told about it when I was 10. It was the formal “talk” with my mom and it was all about how some girls, particularly the chubby ones, may start getting it at 10 but I need not worry about it for now. She also told that if I ever saw a red stain on a girl’s dress I should discreetly tell her. And that if she does not seem to understand what it is, I should inform a female teacher discreetly. After that, from 10 to about 13 it was amusing when people tried to hide it from me as if it was a big deal. I never went out of my way to explain that “I knew what they were talking about” but feigned innocence. I was never told about it being considered dirty, only about it being a big girls secret. Looking back I now see how mature and sensible “the talk” was when my mother told me. Even now there is not much I think I should change in my own talk with my daughter.

Not everyone is as lucky and many are not given clear information as to what it is. The rest of the information I got from a “Step into Science” book and then health columns in Women’s magazines also gave their information. All in all, it was a long time before I even knew that some people treated women with periods like untouchables. My mother and I never discussed what the Bible says about periods and when I knew some women do not take communion during their periods, my mother just told me that we can not take the old testament too seriously and that was that. I myself don’t hide it behind black polyethene covers but I don’t give my daughter a full explanation either. She just knows it as a mystery thing Amma uses. I will probably do it when my daughter is 10 or 11.

But I know many girls get red faced if a girl who has not had her periods yet seems to know about it. Many know about it only when they themselves get their periods. That is silly. If I get copious blood out of my ears or mouth suddenly, it would scare me out of my wits. How traumatic it must be to suddenly realise you are bleeding and you don’t know why? Why should little girls as young as 10 or 11 face this trauma? Just because the mother doesn’t get around to it? These days teachers do this task But I still believe that we should get above our shyness and have a certain level of comfort with our daughters. We should ensure that young girls get the oppurtunity to get real mature information from sensible adults they trust.

Don’t tell the guys

Some thing that always amused me is the way some women will bend over backwards to avoid letting any male companion know that she is having her periods whereas there are others who would go out of their way to let them know.

I know a lady who faced a particular dilemma. She had to avoid a man who was on his Sabarimala Fasting for reasons we shall discuss later. But the problem is that he should neither know she had her periods nor think of her as suddenly snubbing him. Both the thoughts, that he may realise that she was having chums and the other that he may think her as rude gave her the jitters. But as you see this cannot be solved. It is either this or that. The only option is that the guy does not give a damn either way. Well that thought wouldn’t sit with her well either.

I have seen this happen often. A guy brings a Thripathi Laddo to office and the Lady with chums avoids it with a red blusing face. She gets embarassed if he insists she takes a little prasadham, she get even more embarrased if he seems to be understanding. Well you have to give the poor guy a choice.

At the other end of the spectrum is the lady who believes that she SHOULD let some guy know. She would proudly whisper in some guy’s ear that she has “that thing”, expect that he fuss over her, bring her some snack, probably drop her home, etc. Trust me, this would not be really about getting a snack or getting a drop. It is like she believes this to be an awesome chance to play a damsel in distress. No woman is allowed to help and take her chance away from her. I admit this is a rare case, but just wanted to put this thing out for the record.

The Common Dirty Secret

I have seen women bond over their periods experience. They discuss their experiences and laugh and giggle or lament about it as the case maybe. In fact, some seem pretty excited about discussing it. Yes, there are other women who would be offended about being asked any details at all. But it appears there is a huge cultural difference here. It is discussed in Link5

How much do men know?

I have in my 10+ years of professional life never had to ask a man to buy me a sanitary napkin. I carry spares with me, there is a vending machine in the washroom and there are usually other women around me who I can turn to. All this means that I don’t have to ask for male assistance and I believe that it is a last resort. But if I do ever run out of a spare napkin and have no option of borrowing it from other women, it would not kill me to ask a male friend to please go to a pharmacy and buy one for me. I do believe I know men who are decent enough to understand that it is a timely help and remembers what thiruvalluvar said about small timely helps. Also, I don’t mind it if the pharmacy that I buy it from has only male staff. But how much to men really know? Apparently not much. See Link14 and Link15. It seems important that men are given real information and not the sort of hush hush enigma that is usually given to them. Of course there are some men who always know if their mom or sister or wife is having her periods as it is a practise to follow a ritual called seclusion. More about it later.

A Bodily Function

Not different from the other two

That is how I view my periods. That it is neither higher nor lower than the other two. We don’t roll our eyes nor do we blush when someone excuses themselves to the toilet. If someone has diarrhea we know that they cannot travel for the time being. We don’t make a huge fuss but we don’t tell it to every other person either. A little bit of discretion, a little bit of care and some rest. I believe that there must have been beliefs and rituals and all that for these too. I don’t know what they are. But I am pretty sure it was not associated with witchcraft and all that.

The abdominal pains and Premenstrual Symptoms

Some of the personal anecdotes include passing out with pain and loads of other ailments. Maybe I don’t feel any sympathy for the many rituals as I am personally just as fit as usual. But how common are these ailments? It seems that it has been suggested that women and girls be allowed to postpone the date of their exams depending on their periods. It sounds extreme to me. Will a pain killer not do?

I do experience PMS and am a angrier person than otherwise on the day before my period. But I am not a raging lunatic on that day. My boiling point is slightly lower, I may be iritable. It is ok as my average boiling point is usually very high. But it is often made to seem as if all women are completely certifiably mad for about 1/5 of the month. I was once asked in a forum if I was just back from a trip to the gyneac. Unfortunately I did not save the link. It would gone to illustrate how a small disagreement in taste or opinion allows strangers to ask about trips to the gyneac. Is that not just plain old misogyny? Oh well, if I talk one more word about it, people would start wondering which day of the month I wrote this on. Let us move on.

Oh wait, some people do actually have sex during their periods Link19

Age Specific Problems

I have heard the saying “The best part of your periods is that you are not pregnant and the best part of being pregnant is not having your periods”. But the scariest part is surely when the system starts its shut down process. I have heard stories of pain and key hole operations and so many things I am not even going to google about now. I will cross that bridge when I get there. But I have heard some older women mention that it is now a relief and they are happy it is all over. Let us see.

Why is it different from other mammals?

It is often stated by people who are against all this isolation and practices that it is a beautiful thing that allows human beings to exist. This has often made me wonder when did it all start. Apparently, not all mammals get periods. Only a handful of species do. The following links discuss it. Link16 and Link17 and Link18

The Ritual Uncleanliness and Isolation

Here is the main section. The traditions that so many people so strongly believe in. Women in Indian Society are asked to not touch holy things like holy books and asked not to visit temples. There are many theories about this. I will start out by saying that I do not believe most of these platitudes. But let me just list the points out here.

The much needed rest

It is said that women in older societies had to do so much manual work that our ancestors in their infinite wisdom asked them to not to enter the kitchen and stuff. I am often reminded of the speech (Link20) by a emancipated slave woman who talked against the belief that women are too dainty to be equal to men. In this case, we all know that plenty of women work in fields without bothering about whether or not they have their periods. When who do manual labour in constructions are not given any periods break either. Not that many people ask their domestic staff to not do manual work just because they are on their periods. If at all it is done, it is all going to be “Don’t touch the Kitchen stuff” and “Don’t touch the Prayer stuff”. Never, “Please take a rest, you deserve it.” At any rate, women should be allowed to decide if they feel too weak and are in need of a break. They should not be forced out of kitchens. They should not be given a special plate and tumbler that no man will ever touch. You really can’t claim to do all that because of the much needed rest and because to love and respect women.

I have read a blog post (I will neither link it here myself nor accept comments that link it here) where a very religious woman claimed that she wiped the furniture that women in their periods used and that she will offer them a cushion if they are not comfortable on wooden chairs. She said some religious sounding reasons and also said that she herself “practised isolation”. A name of a diety was involved. Many asked if she expressly asked women who visited her house about their periods and she denied it. She claimed that she would never do that and said that women close to her knew her beliefs and would themselves accept it. She also claimed that she was not allowed to pratice isolation in her mother in law’s place and could not do it when she lived abroad. But nothing other than practising this during her periods gave her peace and restarted this practise as soon as she could manage. This also involves men in the family who cook on those days and also I believe that she mentioned that she used to wait for her mom’s periods as they were allowed to buy cake from the local bakery.

Though I much appreciate that the family cooks for her on those days and pampers her and all that, I cannot believe that there is anything great in wiping off furniture that random women in their periods use. Imagine if I am not allowed to sit in the office chairs or office bus on my periods as washing the cushions is not an option. If someone washes the items I use because I am who I am and have periods, I will feel offended and the thought that she treats her mom and sis in the same way is not going to change my feelings. Also, I am quite OK with such quarantining being done if I have a communicable disease. If at the end of today, I notice boils on my body and it turns out that I have chicken pox or measles, I will inform all my friends and ask those I visited to be extra careful. God knows how much pathogens rubbed off me and on to the furniture. If someone wants to wash the furniture or do any precautions, let them. Better safe than sorry. But not if the fuss is about my periods. That is just plain different. That is silly. There is no scientific reason as to why this should be done.

The much needed hygiene

“There was no sanitary napkins in those times, so our elders in their infinite wisdom, blah, blah and more blah.”

This is a more acceptable reason. After all, we do feel uncomfortable if the cook had a common cold. We see the roadside kaieandi bavan dude sneeze and wonder about who is going to get sick next. Fair enough. If periods is really similar, then it is acceptable. But, this is not the case. We now know that periods is not going to contaminate anything. We know that entering the pooja area will not taint the area. Then why? What is stopping us? The hygiene reason can be accepted only if it can be proved that it taints the area and no valid proof was ever put forward. If leaking was a problem then why was the practice not abandoned about 50 years back? Oh Please.

The much needed God’s Love

Here comes the sensitive part. So many of these beliefs are actually there in the religious texts and thereby has a grip on religious people. People genuinely believe that they have “negative vibes” and should keep themselves away from holy stuff. This is extremely common and does give rise to a lot of misogyny. Many believe that as women have this negative vibes going on on certain days and men do not, it is believed that there is something negative in being a woman itself. Accepting periods is important in believing that we are not in any way dirty and in anyway negative.

A belief is that the energy during menstruation goes downwards into the earth, the energy of pooja is going upwards. This can bring discomfort in the body. Link1 Is there any proof? Was this tested? Was it documented? Why is this believed? I believe that in olden days women were naturally afraid of all this bloody phenomenon and made rituals and myths to make sense of it all. This is common for all enigmas. Why does the sun rise in the east? Where does it go at night? What is the rainbow? Why does the moon experience cycles? Everything had a myth. Did we not dispense most of them and set foot on the moon and explain the rainbows with prism? But even after the world became aware of what the period really is we persist with all this keeping away from holy stuff? Then why all this high sounding “energy” business?

A huge shift in religious belief is that people used to be afraid of God. God is Love and God is kindness and all things positive, but people were scared of him and that was that. People did not question why God wanted to treat women any different during periods. Now the “God is love” explanation is very strong in all religions. Now girls do ask if God does not love them during those days. If they are not God’s Children on those days. This is because now religious leaders encourage teenagers to ask questions about their religion as not allowing teenagers to ask questions may make them rebelious and convert to other religions. This is something all religions try to reduce.

“Additionally, a menstruating woman is not dirty, but rather from a legal perspective, she is ritually impure for the duration that she is menstruating.” Link7

This is the sort of contradictory explanations given to women who question the practise. God loves you, but you are ritually impure. What is this ritual? If it is not for God and God is accepting you unconditionally then who is this ritual for? Please note that I have picked a Muslim example but similar platitudes exist in all religions. Repeated explantations that God loves us and God accepts us is given, but we should not cook for men who are going to embark on pilgrimage. Why?

It is not enough to say God does not want us to touch holy books. Why does God not want us to do it? An explanation I could accept is that it is similar to being sweaty. It is disrespectful to visit a place of worship after an hour at the gym and not bathing afterwards and having periods is similar. This is the best explanation that I ever came across. But this is still a platitude. If the sweat came because the fan in the place of worship stopped working, should you run home to bathe or continue your worship? Having periods is similar. That is all.

Cleaner than the Gods

The above point that people want to make their own religion super-sweet and accepting has given rise to another belief. This is a rare explanation. It is the belief that women are purer than the Gods. So we should not go to temples and steal God’s thunder. Seriously?

A menstruating woman was so pure, that she was worshipped as a Goddess. The reason for not having a woman go into a temple is precisely this. She is a living Goddess at that time.

So why not make offerings and sing songs in praise of women during their periods. Why do women not wear even flowers? Ok, why not eat prasadam?

Here, when a girl first bleeds, the cloth into which she bleeds is safely kept aside by her mother and gifted back to her when she gets married. This cloth is believed to be so powerful that it will protect the girl and her family from poor health and other ills.

DANGEROUS stuff. Think of the extent of pathogens a menstrual cloth will contain by the time she gets married. This explantation does not make me feel “WOW, I am a goddess”. It makes me sick. But the person who wrote this article admits that she kept away from scientific facts and went by the spirit of the practice. What is the spirit of this practice anyway? There is no point in trying to find ever interesting ways to validate something rather find the facts. (The author herself made painstaking research, I am talking about the person who originally spinned this yarn) The human mind is creative. It can find innovative explanations to answer intrusive questions. An answer should not be evaluated based on how clever it sounds but based on actual verifiable facts.

I do believe that these menstrual huts that she talks about may have had its benefits and advantages and that they are not willing to let go of the practise. They may be very poor and they may have joint families and this may give privacy. I don’t know. But proper education and better living condtions can be a greater thing for them. But when highly educated women are willing to buy that they are emitting negative vibes. How will these women be any different.

Here is a set of links and the lines I find quoteable. Please note that clicking on the title will open the real link in another window or tab.

 

1) Unearthing menstrual wisdom – Why we don’t go to the temple, and other practices

What is pure, we don’t touch. And what we don’t touch, we call it a Taboo. She (a menstruating woman) was so pure, that she was worshipped as a Goddess. The reason for not having a woman go into a temple is precisely this. She is a living Goddess at that time. The energy of the God or Goddess which is there in the murthi (idol) will move over to her, and that (the idol) becomes lifeless, while this (the menstruating woman) is life. So that’s why they were prevented from entering the temple. So it is exactly the opposite of what we think.

The energy during menstruation goes downwards into the earth, (at the puja table, offerings, altar), the energy is going upwards. This can bring discomfort in the body.

But if a menstrating woman who is sensitive to absorb all types of energies around her is in the middle of a group that is eating…. This is probably the reason why menstrating women were told to stay away from others and eat seperately

In most cultures in India where menstruation is celebrated, it accompanies food restrictions and preference for specific types of food during menstruation.

In Manipur, we interacted with a doctor who narrated to us the story of the rituals practiced during a woman’s first period. Here, when a girl first bleeds, the cloth into which she bleeds is safely kept aside by her mother and gifted back to her when she gets married. This cloth is believed to be so powerful that it will protect the girl and her family from poor health and other ills.

On the other hand, the same potent power of menstruation was interpreted negatively in Jharkhand, where people were afraid of finding a menstrual cloth strewn around. It is believed in Jharkhand that menstrual blood is very powerful and can be used for black magic and therefore, women should be very careful about destroying this cloth after use.

While interacting with a village elder, he revealed some interesting aspects of why the menstrual seclusion practice began among the early He said that the Gollas, being shepherds, were primarily nomadic in nature. The men travelled with the sheep, sometimes for months together, in search of work, and food for the sheep. When they returned, they were naturally eager to have sex with the women, without a thought about the woman’s current condition (whether she was menstruating or pregnant).

Since the women were not willing to let go of this practice and since the government was discouraging the use of menstrual huts, menstruating women were forced to be out on the streets. They had to bathe, change their menstrual cloth and do all ablutions out in the open. The women clearly said that even if the men in the community tell them to discontinue the practice, they will not let it go – such was their strongbelief. They pleaded us to help them build menstrual huts.

2) Does Religion Punish Women for Menstruating?

Muslim women are prohibited from fasting while menstruating.

Fasting isn’t the only one of Islam’s main tenets that’s off limits to women during that time of the month; the five daily prayers are similarly banned, as well as reading from a copy of the Quran and stepping into a mosque, depending on who you ask.

“I see it as a sort of holiday”, one of my friends told me. “God understands what we’re going through, so he gave us a break during that time of the month.” While I see her point, the “holiday” argument doesn’t add up for me.

Muslims are offered the option of not fasting during the holy month if they’re traveling or ill. Menstruating women are not given the option for a free pass; they’re ordered to take leave.

3) Scripture in Context – Menstruation And Intercourse During Menstruation Explained

This highlights an important factor when dealing with people, i.e. it is not good to shake every-bodies hand when you meet them. Today, it is hard to know if a person is on a period because they are unlikely to tell you, but it is something to be aware of.

If you are a woman reading this you can see how important it is to remain holy at all times, and not to hug and touch people when you know that you are having a period. You should also not panic if your period lasts more than 7 days, just remain faithful and pray and you will be okay.

4) Does menstruation make a woman unclean?

In the face of so many lasting misunderstandings let it be clearly stated that, according to our Catholic belief, menstruation is a meaningful bodily function that does not in any way involve sin. A woman who is in her monthly period is, in God’s sight as holy and sacred as always, and the menstrual cycle should in no way prevent her from visiting a Church, attending Mass, receiving communion or any other sacrament.

After a long discussion with the Rabbis of his time on questions of ritual cleanliness (see Mark 7,1-13), Jesus clearly taught his disciples that the only things that make us unclean are sins which proceed from the evil intentions of the heart. No external, physical realities can make us ‘unclean’ in God’s eyes.

5) Why the hell can’t we talk about them?

A woman talks about the western obession of NOT talking about periods.

As a childless 42-year-old who started her periods young, I have been bleeding for a quarter of my life for 30-plus years, with a variety of ever-evolving symptoms from passing out via great tranches of pain to glassy, lobotomised exhaustion.

Karen Houppert, author of The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation (1999), notes the dearth of research on periods in general: “When the experts do focus their attention on menstruation, it’s to emphasise its pathology: premenstrual syndrome. While studies on healthy women are hard to come by, studies on angry, depressed and unreasonable women fill the pages of professional journals.”

Christianity associates the menstruating woman with the curse brought down by original sin. Across other religions, she may be considered sacred, powerful, magically imbued, with the ability to cure, and/or subject to strict prohibitions regarding sex, food, worship, diet, dress, bathing and social interaction, even singing.

These superstitions are by no means confined to non-Western societies. My great-grandmother was not immune to the notion that a bleeding woman could turn milk. And as late as 1878 the British Medical Journal printed the opinions of physicians who believed that menstruating women could cause bacon to become rancid.

One cannot help feeling that, if men had periods, they would be associated not with avoidance but with bravado, bragging and so much macho competition over the gore.

Girls across cultures view menarche as a negative experience and report being horrified, frightened, confused and embarrassed by it.

Suggesting that menstruating women are unclean is a way of saying that women are unclean, period, if you’ll forgive the pun.

6) Period Police

A hostel in Madurai has been forcing students to maintain a public register of their menstrual cycle. This is to prevent premarital sex and to ensure that teenage girls do not go astray. Link

7) Islam’s Perspective on Menstruation:

Additionally, a menstruating woman is not dirty, but rather from a legal perspective, she is ritually impure for the duration that she is menstruating. This has legal consequences and not spiritual consequences. As such, she is instructed by Allah to stop certain forms of worship, and every second that she obeys these commands, it is worship if done for Allah’s sake.

8) Actual Direct Quotes from the Bible

A look at menstruation through the ages in 15 fascinating facts

But, before the 19th Century, doctors didn’t realise periods were even linked to ovulation. They thought women needed to bleed to cool their emotional, hysterical natures.

9) Speaking of Traditions: The author gives clear explanation about not only Theetu but also Madi and other exclusive terminology

I refused to be isolated even as a 15 year old and if that made their gods angry, I was willing to face the consequences. But my sister in law told me how she had to sleep in the bathroom on ‘those’ days because they lived in a small house and there was no extra room where she could be kept isolated. As a teenager she spent those days in fear of cockroaches and rats that had a free run of the bathroom. That made my blood boil. I am not sure if God was happy with her family for treating her like that on her most vulnerable days. Enough said about my thoughts on the practice of isloating mensturating women.

There is something seriously lacking in your tradition if it needs fear and authority to keep it alive and if it falls flat on its face when faced with rational examination. Such traditions should be questioned and it is ok to discard them if they make no sense in the world we are actually living in.

10) On Logic, Faith and Women’s Bodies

11) So Called Brahmin Aacharam

12) Have a Happy Period

13) What is Theetu?

14) There will be blood

One of them knows a guy who thought women could choose to begin bleeding the way people choose when to go to the bathroom. One time, when she mentioned something about needing to find a tampon, he asked her why she couldn’t just hold it in.

The men had largely picked up snippets of knowledge from female family members and, later on, girlfriends, but by and large were still fuzzy on the basic mechanics of the female reproductive system.

15) What men think about menstruation

When I was a little kid, my teenage sister explained to me that she had become a woman. This meant that for one week out of the month, I had better do exactly what she tells me. I would never know exactly when that week would be, so for my sake, she lovingly suggested I play it safe and stay out of her way. Because during that week, she would be going through a natural change that happens to all grown adult women and she wouldn’t be able to control her rage. So, largely, I did what my older sister told me, because it was obvious that she was a werewolf.

Are there really men who wrinkle their noses in disgust about the most natural thing in the world? Who are these men? Salem witch trial judges? I just can’t believe they exist. Men who are physically repulsed by a woman’s monthly cycle are not having sex. It’s part of the deal. If the man you’re dating is insensitive about your period I’m willing to bet he’s insensitive about a lot of things. Don’t judge him because he acts like a spoiled brat when your body does that thing that allows the human race to survive. Judge him because, and I think I’m guessing correctly here, he’s a fully rounded jerk.

Most of the time, I’m unaware that a girlfriend is experiencing “PMS” unless she tells me. That is your hang up, not ours. I’ll be honest, too. It’s not like men aren’t moody. I’m pretty sure I man-struate four weeks out of the month. I am one emotionally bouncy bloke. The idea that men are uniformly stoic and women are basket cases is hilariously wrong. Being nutters isn’t a man/woman thing.

16) What is the evolutionary benefit or purpose of having periods

Females of other species of placental mammal undergo estrous cycles, in which the endometrium is completely reabsorbed by the animal (covert menstruation) at the end of its reproductive cycle. Many zoologists regard this as different from a “true” menstrual cycle. Female domestic animals used for breeding – for example dogs, pigs, cattle, or horses – are monitored for physical signs of an estrous cycle period, which indicates that the animal is ready for insemination.

One assumption some people might make is that that is just the way mammalian reproduction works. This isn’t true! Most mammals do not menstruate — they do not cycle their uterine linings, but instead only build up a thickened endometrium if fertilization occurs, which looks much more efficient. Of the mammals, only most primates, a few bats, and elephant shrews are among the lucky animals that menstruate, and as you can see from the phylogeny, the scattered diversity of menstruating mammals implies that the trait was not present ancestrally — we primates acquired it relatively late.

17) How do other primates deal with menstruation and in what ways is it different from human menstruation?

But the thing to remember is that in the past, and even in some other ‘natural fertility’ groups today, women would typically get married at a much earlier age and spend most of their adult lives either pregnant or breastfeeding, both of which cause what’s known as “secondary amenorrhea” (no periods), so they would actually have way fewer periods over the course of their lifetime than we experience. When a female primate ovulates, odds are she’ll also mate with one or more males and become pregnant. Think about it – it’s not like non-human primates (in the wild) have access to birth control. And, like I mentioned above, the entire time a primate is pregnant and lactating she also is not menstruating since both are metabolically draining on the mother. Infant primates aren’t fed jars of mushy baby food or given bottle formula, either, so they pretty much have to rely on mom’s milk until they can possibly begin to find food on their own — especially since food sharing is pretty darn rare in other animals. All of this means that primate babies end up nursing for what would seem to us like a really long period of time. By the time a baby primate is weaning and its mum can ovulate and mate again, odds are she’ll also have a line of eager males waiting in the wings to start the whole cycle over again, thus preventing menstruation.

So, as you can see menstruation is not something that would pose a huge problem for most non-human primates because it would be a relatively rare event.

18) Why do women have periods?

In 1993, a very different hypothesis about the function of menstruation captured popular media attention. Margie Profet, then at the University of California Berkeley, suggested that menstruation’s function is to “defend against pathogens transported to the uterus [womb] by sperm”.

Instead of saying that it is women that are dirty, she said that it is men who are dirty. We need to flush out the dirtiness of men in order to reduce our chances of venereal disease. Profet’s idea quickly fell down for lack of evidence. For instance, it predicts that there should be more disease-causing organisms in the womb before menstruation than after. But this wasn’t borne out.

Great apes do it too. Menstrual bleeding is easily detectable in chimpanzees and gibbons. However, gorillas and orang-utans bleed less copiously, so menstruation is only visible on closer inspection. Other primates, such as tarsiers, may also menstruate, but there is little hard evidence.

Other than our close relatives, menstruation also evolved independently in two other groups: some bats and elephant shrews.

Menstruation is also rare in human societies that don’t use any form of contraception. There are a few such “natural fertility” populations even today, and women in these societies spend most of their reproductive life either pregnant or breastfeeding. Among the Dogon, a natural fertility population in Mali, Strassmann has found that women have about 100 periods over their lifetime. This was probably fairly typical for much of our species’ history. By contrast, most modern women have 300-500 periods. “What we are experiencing, as part of our evolution, is very unusual,” says Strassmann.

19) Sex during period

Having sex on your period is absolutely safe. The myth that it’s dangerous originates largely from religious texts. Many people wrongly believed that women were “dirty” or “unclean” while menstruating, and for this reason, contact with menstruating women was limited or forbidden entirely. In fact, some religions still adhere to these practices; however, medically and secularly speaking, there is no reason not to have sex on your period.

20) Ain’t I a woman? by Sojourner Truth

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman?

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41 thoughts on “Let us talk about Menstruation”

  1. Thank you for tbis awesome post. I am a non-brahmin, married to a Tamil Brahmin. The rituals they follow with regards to Periods is crazy. I was mentioning a few days ago why didnt Bharathiyar write something how this crap needs to be abolished like he wrote abojt caste discrimnation.

    For a while now, I have been thinking about this crap talk about negative energy associated during mensturation which is cited as the reason why women should not go to the temples. I wonder what was the reason for discrinating against people from lower caste and not allowing them to temples? Did they also emanate negative energy just because they were categorized to a certain sect based on their occupation?

    Also which religion asks women to take pills to postpone their periods? It is women who are their own enemies passing on these crazy beliefs from generation to generation.

    I was asking my SIL if a bride will cancel the wedding if God forbid she gets her period on her wedding day. She said something like…oh they have to take pills ahead of time and I dont think any Girl in Tamilnadu is brave enough to come near a Homa Peedam.
    Anyways i dont believe in any of tbis crap and act normal and dont mention my periods to anyone at my IL’s place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi.. Yet to read through the whole post. Will get back.

    But before I can proceed any further… Is the spelling “Mensuration” in the first line intentional or a typo?

    (Cursing my compulsive editors’ complex!)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, Iswarya did you really think I am clever enough to make a super sublime point using a wrong spelling? Of course it is a typo.

    Admit it, you rarely read my posts. 🙂

    My posts are always full of horrible typos. I don’t aim for professional quality. One of these days I will read them all and correct them. But until then let it be.

    But if a spelling or grammatical mistake makes even basic understanding of the points difficult do let me know.

    Please do read the posts inspite of the mistakes.

    Like

  4. Such an amazingly well-researched and thought out post! I think I will need to read it again.
    You know, I found out what PMS was by watching TV shows and the like. Of course, I notice that I am slightly irritable, but I know it’s because of the discomfort and pain I’m feeling (I’ve never had a painless experience); I don’t however feel like the monster sitcoms make out women to be. Haha.
    We don’t practice seclusion in my house, but I grew up being asked not to step into the puja room while menstruating. And try as I might, I am not able to break that. I mean to say, I wouldn’t go to the temple (I don’t usually go by myself, except from a tourist perspective), and I have tried reasoning it out to myself but I haven’t been very successful. I feel “Why the hell not” in my head, but when it comes to actually acting on that thought, I decide not to. This is something I need to analyze.
    The part about the attention seekers made me laugh! I have come across a few girls like that, who are very interested in (loudly) discussing their periods all the time. I haven’t participated in such discussions. Again, when someone offers Tirupathi laddoos or whatever, I don’t make it a point to tell them I’m on my period so I can’t partake. I just take a small helping and don’t think more.
    Having said that, once I was in a temple with my family when my periods started unexpectedly. I didn’t rush out or make it a big deal, but I wasn’t able to get rid of a small un-explainable nagging feeling at the back of my head.
    Someone once told me, maybe if I grew up not hearing about any of these Rules, I wouldn’t have to deal with that weird feeling. Sometimes I wonder if this is similar to what I feel about eating meat or seafood. I’ve cooked chicken but I’ve somehow never been able to get myself to eat it. Is it because I grew up vegetarian? Something else I need to analyze I guess.

    Like

  5. Er.. I land here mostly when you post a link on BR’s blog, but of late, I have started dropping in about once a month or so to see if anything is up.

    I enormously enjoyed your take on NEPV and was able to convince the better-half to reconsider his rather uncharitable opinion of the movie (“Why does the so-called sensitive GVM make this couple such selfish creeps who gratuitously ruin another woman’s happiness in the end?” type of annoyance that usually ends in head-shaking about “your terribly self-absorbed generation,” no less!)

    But honestly, my editorial alarms keep ringing in my head compulsively and that’s why I left that comment. (I do this frequently in BR’s blog too, but those get cleaned up after the typos are fixed.)

    As for this post, I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of research you had done and felt I had nothing to add! That’s why I didn’t comment after I finished reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anu Srini: Thank you for your comment and sorry for the late reply. I should admit that I have no clue about how I would have felt if I was brought up with these beliefs. I knew that women Hindu women did not visit temples. Whether or not christian and muslim women had these beliefs too is not something I questioned. I gradually knew that some would not go to temples even if they touched some other girl who had her periods. I mean I have heard a girl say “Oh, I don’t have my periods but my sister does and I touched her before I started to school”. I thought that SHE was the anomaly. 🙂

    But the first time I was offended was when a girl asked me to pass a bit prasadham and I did. And the next second, I am accused of tainting the prasadham. I should have remembered that I had chums. I did not say a word. In fact, I may have apologised. But I absolutely hated it.

    Iswarya: Actually I very much agree with your better half on that point. The last few scenes in NEPV seem self centered and has not been thought through by GVM. But who says that the Hero and Heroine should necessarily do the right things in a movie?

    Acually, I rate Varun as a self centered person. And Nithya as a crazy girl. And the nameless girl who is dumped, she surely deserves better than Varun. But more on that later. I may make it a comment on Part2 or write a Part3 very soon.

    Regarding the spellos and typos, I hear you regarding them. After all, we expect better stuff out of posts and are always more forgiving regarding the comment sections. But I have to use a primitive browser for professional reasons and have no option to move to something cooler. Editing invariably screws things badly.

    The other option is to get it right the first time over. But who are we kidding. 🙂

    Thank you about the comment on the research. However, it would be great if you could share a few things that you have faced regarding mensturation and the myths and the practices. I mostly collected this based on blog posts and blog comments. Most women tense up when they realise that I may possibly question their practices and I have learnt to let it go.

    Like

  7. I am commenting again on this topic, since this is something that enrages me.

    I grew up in a household where the only thing that was practised was not entering the pooja room. I moved out of home when I was 18, so slowly I guess not following all these practices and going to temple during my period is not a big deal for me.

    I am able to live as I please inspite of my orthodox In-laws, only because we live abroad.

    The three or four weeks we are in India, thankfully no one has asked me about my periods. I feel like I am able to maintain a good relationship with my in sister in laws only because I dont voice my opinions….which I think is kind of sad.

    I am enraged by the hypocrisy that women can go to school or work but cannot enter their kitchen or place of worship. To me, education and work is God as well.

    My younger sil’s family is super orthodox and once I saw my SIL took an auto back to her place while her husband went back in their car. Seems like she cannot sit in their car duing her periods. Can you believe that this SHIT happens in 2016. Her husband also takes a shower again or makes his son take a shower again if they touch my SIL during her periods.

    What was funny was my SIL was saying that she is going to get a microwave so that she can use it during her periods. Apparently, cooking in microwave does not come under the menstrual laws and is not prohibited.

    What I find odd during my India trip is that a good percentage of the conversatiob is spent on who is having their periods when.

    My elder SIL who lives in an apartment complex in Chennai makes sure the entire apt complex knows abt her periods, since she needs help with getting water from kitchen and what not. I saw that in the first week of her son getting married, thr dil’s periods were discussed in front of random ppl since plans had to be made to visit a temple. I wondered how a self respecting woman in this day and age will let her family do this to her.

    Since ours was a love marriage, my MIL and younger SIL did not come for the wedding. The day of the wedding, my elder SIl said she has periods and did not come very close to the mandap. My elder SIL is the nicest person on earth but it was hurting that she chose to act that way.

    What I find strange is even girls in their twenties follow all this crap without any questions.

    Atleast I am glad somebody decided to question not allowing women at Sabarimala. I am hoping, it will make some young girls question all these practices.

    Like

  8. Uma: Loved all you wrote. 🙂

    I am enraged by the hypocrisy that women can go to school or work but cannot enter their kitchen or place of worship. So true. But then again how many women would have been denied education because education is too holy for women in the previous generations. I am glad that the deity of literacy/education is a goddess. That saving grace probably helped people get over the squick-factor of women handling books.

    and once I saw my SIL took an auto back to her place while her husband went back in their car Oh. My. God.

    Apparently, cooking in microwave does not come under the menstrual laws and is not prohibited. Loopholes. I love them. 😀

    Like

  9. I heard a new one last week.
    Apparently women who have their period cannot lift and console crying babies…these babies are in danger of contracting fever.
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  10. Ah, this is certainly new. But then again I don’t know how I didn’t guess this. Babies are vulnerable and myths regarding who can and cannot touch them is always there.

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  11. Ah, menstruation!
    Well, since you ‘insist,’ I come from a household where this theetu-madi-“vizhuppu” (addition to your vocabulary?) stuff are taken more than seriously – though I threw all of this to the winds when I renounced my religion at 17.

    I don’t want to go too much into anecdotes because they are mostly predictable and (to me) repetitive in nature. Suffice it to say that there is an advanced form of untouchability (of a lesser degree of pollution than menses, of course) that is called ‘vizhuppu,’ which in our childhood was translated to us as impurity that comes from sleeping on a bed. It was long afterwards that I discovered why the bed was ‘impure.’

    Apparently marital bed, since there is no way of washing it ever, remains permanently (notionally) unclean due to its association with bodily fluids. Since this can never be explained to children, they are told that it is something to do with sleep and laziness! So, going by that rule, anyone who has lain on a bed, cannot touch idols/fire-sources such as stove or matchbox, the ‘pure’ water meant for cooking, etc. until they have a bath.

    It was only recently when I visited my mom that I discovered to what ridiculous extents this can go. From what I guess, the bed at my mother’s household must have been free of contact with bodily fluids for the better part of two decades now. Despite that, the “vizhuppu” concept lingers and she carries this to the extent of never touching the CELLPHONE and her even READING GLASSES before a bath.. I mean, if that induced a WTF reaction, read on!

    On the (rare) occasions when I have called her on the phone before the time I know she would have had a bath, it seems she has felt compelled to “rinse” that freaking basic model phone in water to get rid of her ‘impure’ touch! Of course, she is, no doubt, embarrassed to admit this – not because it is superstitious but since she herself sees the ridiculous manner of execution. All this, despite the caveat that plastic, rubber, glass and other inorganic materials are exempt from (notional) impurity!

    Huh, don’t ask! 😦

    Reg. Loophole for microwave or induction stove, it’s pretty simply explained. Fire is Agni bhagawan and so, out of bounds for menstruating women. Since the Hindu canon has no Bijli bhagawan, there is no need to keep women away from these devices! 😉

    Like

  12. Hi, such an interesting post, I feel bad about being copyeditorish-nitpicky – but from your writing, I think you’d rather have typos pointed out, so here goes:
    Mensuration – first para – is a maths exercise
    Mensturation – title – not sure it is a word

    Like

  13. Ha ha. I know that for some people it is a huge thing. But I am not letting it remain just for thimiru reasons. I tried editing a few old posts and lost them completely because of browser issues. I want to ensure that it doesn’t happen to my precious periods post. I swear I will clean the spelling and grammar errors when that is sorted out.

    Keep visiting and any input on weird customs will be greatly welcome too. 🙂

    Like

  14. I would love to write an essay on the weird customs that are followed. But after I type my comment and look at all the typos, I am so embarassed:)

    What BS about mensturating women shouldnt touch kids. I am sure again there will be loopholes and if it is own mom then ok. I cant imagine dads or family members looking after the kid for 3 days.

    Thank you Iswarya for enlightening us regarding the logic behind Vizhuppu. Now it makes sense why one couldnt cook without taking a shower. Though of course there are loopholes:) In my inlaws’s place, atleast rice and dal can be cooked only after taking a shower while I can do rest of the cooking before shower.

    What is a comedy for me is that my MIL who is an orthodox person complains about how her daughter is made to suffer by her inlaws who are even more orthodox. Eg: They make my SIL wash woolen stuff and woolen blankets after her periods whereas per my MIL, woolen stuff dont come under menstrual laws. I am guessing again loopholes since woolen stuff are difficult to wash and dry, so theg might be exempt:)

    I have wondered if the reason for many brahmin families to not let any non-brahmins into their kitchen may be could be due to the fact that they have their pooja shelf in their kitchen? Somebody please enlighten me.

    But what is worse is that my grandmom discriminates against those who are from a lower caste than her like not letting them into kitchen, using different utensils etc. Sigh, I guess we humans will invent ways to discrimate each other.

    My MIL got extremely upset that her pooja shelf is in the hall now and anyone ( meaning women who could be menstruating) can be viewing the God now. Abacharam…Abacharam.

    I also completely detest the practice of sumangali pooja and all the other practices like karadayan nombu, karva chaith etc? Is there one story in Indian Mythology where the husband prays for his wife’s long life or brothers pay for their sisters lives? Why do we selectively need the blessings of only women who passed away before their husband.

    I feel like by practising all these silly things, we are somehow unconsiously telling our children that men are more important than women.

    Like

  15. Iswarya said : *But before I can proceed any further… Is the spelling “Mensuration” in the first line intentional or a typo?*
    I remember a Maths class in school when the teacher wrote Mensuration (its some kinda Geometry) on the black board and all of us middle school girls started giggling and the boys were either blank and puzzled or a little embarrassed 😀

    Like

  16. Didn’t comment on this, though I read it when it was posted, because as Iswarya said, it seemed redundant after you’d covered all the bases. 🙂 In any case, I didn’t feel like commenting just to correct your spelling even if (like Iswarya, again) I’m slightly OCD about spelling and grammar. 🙂

    But since I am commenting now, I’ll confess to being like Anusrini – there’s something inside that stops me from going to the temple when I have my periods. Doesn’t really bother me much because I don’t usually go to temples, being pretty agnostic-veering-on-atheistic in my faith, but I record that little niggle and wonder why I feel that way. I didn’t even grow up in a very religious household. I mean, my mom went to temples occasionally, and she definitely lit the lamp both morning and evening at home, but all my sister and I were asked to do was to not touch the lamps when we had our periods.Since neither of us cared if we touched it or not, it was not seen by us as a punishment. On the contrary.

    We didn’t have separate rooms or separate beds or ‘don’t enter the kitchen’, etc. But then, we were a pretty unusual family in that my brothers were also taught to cook while we girls were also taught to change fuses and take care of our bikes and go to the bank and all the so-called ‘male’ things.

    When I got married, my MIL was a lot more orthodox and she would insist I not go anywhere near her puja shelf, or cook before I had a bath – neither of which were intolerable. We’d been trained since childhood to have a bath immediately after we got up, and I didn’t want to go anywhere near the puja shelf anyway. But she did, at the onset of our marriage, try to tell me – in a roundabout way – about ‘staying away’ from my husband when I had my periods. I was completely taken aback, but managed to tell her – quite politely (I’m proud of myself) that what happened in my bedroom was completely my business, and her son’s. So she went to her son, masking this under concern for my ‘health’, and my husband laughed. To give her credit, she gave up after that. 🙂

    Like

  17. Now that the typo problem seems to bother more than just a couple of people, can I request some help with editing?

    I mean I don’t write too often. And I don’t think all my blog posts deserve professional quality. But once in a while I may write something as extensive as this. Can someone offer to correct the mistakes before I post them.

    😃

    Like

  18. Rahini, I would suggest you write out your post in Word. That allows you to edit (will catch out the more egregious typos, but will also auto-correct sometimes – don’t ask my how I know this!) before you post to the blog. Since you don’t do posts with pictures (pictures don’t transfer from Word to a blog if you cut-and-paste), that might be the best way to go.

    (I’m, right now, bogged down with work, my own blog, and editing a book for a friend, not to mention kid, dog and house. Or I would have offered. But if push comes to shove and you need an editor, just holler.)

    Like

  19. *don’t ask my how I know this!*
    Was that a deliberate pun, Anu 😛 ?

    PS : my thoughts, feelings and experiences with this topic could fill a book, having been married into a traditional family, but I’m not ready to bare my heart just yet. So I’m just keeping things light 🙂

    Like

  20. This has been a most fascinating post (and set of comments) to read through. Even though I’ve heard of the taboos/superstitions/crazy rules associated with periods from other Indian women, I’ve never experienced them myself. And this despite coming from a fairly devout family on my Mom’s side (although I myself am an irreligious “deist”). I’ve never been told by anyone I couldn’t enter a temple/puja room or touch someone or really do anything during my period. It’s not even a matter of generational progressiveness – even my grandmothers carried on with their regular activities. Kashmiri Hindus are generally a very orthodox bunch, but it appears that on matters of menstruation (and widowhood) we’re pretty enlightened. 🙂

    Like

  21. @tonks: That was an unforgivable typo from an editor. 🙂

    I was wondering about your experiences, actually. Have a friend who’s married into a very conservative TamBrahm family, and she has reams of tales about it. I think she saved her sanity when they moved to the UK.

    Like

  22. One of the links has a comment where a person talks of a woman who had to sleep in the bathroom as no other room was available for her. Dear Lord, I didn’t think it was a very old story and I could not feel that it was about a particularly uneducated family either. The horror and indignity in the name of “Some Rest for the Tired woman”. 😦

    Like

  23. Ive learnt to adjust, Anu. Everythings easier and simpler and more tolerable when you look at things from the others’ POV. I’m an atheist. But I realise that traditions are hard for religious people to unfollow especially when there is a deity inside the nadumittam as we have. So I do whatever needs to be done though I know its all just BS. Because I love and respect the people I live with. And these rituals are written in stone for them. Its easier that I work, its easier that computers and mobiles and books are “non conductors”. The older and less hot headed I get, the less bothered I am by the hassle. But I’m very certain I’ll make sure my future daughters in law will not be put through this. Thats a blood oath 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I would love it. 😀

    It would not take much of your time.

    I was a bit torn between deciding whether I want to write frequent short posts or long well researched ones and decided that longer posts are more my style. So the loosu ponnu post may have to be the next and I am sure you will enjoy editing it. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  25. tonks, I appreciate you answering. I love and respect my folks as well, and I can understand how it must be with the deity at home. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I would be able to do all the religious stuff though. The only thing I did at home, when my in-laws were living with me, was ensuring I didn’t go anywhere near the deity or touch the vilakku. I respected her faith and belief, but I wasn’t going to go along with it. Luckily, she accepted the ‘I feel hypocritical if I have to go to a temple and bow my head’ argument. As well as the ‘Since I don’t believe in the existence of a god, he’s not going to listen to me if I pray anyway.’ argument. 🙂

    But as long as she lived, she prayed doubly hard for me. 🙂

    @Rahini, looking forward to the loosu ponnu post. Thanks for the link to the offended atheist. I enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Oh my god. This is a smorgasbord of awesomeness. Hello ladeeeeeeeej!
    Tonks! Ishwarya! Anu! Anusrini! Radhika!

    RD, I’m going to read and comment cogently soon. But thanks for gently directing me here!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Olemisstarana: Welcome. I’m glad you wrote up (in BR’s blog) what I could have myself never strung together cogently. I was too angry for that and right enough, ended up posting in Tamil and so the point was lost on many.

    Rahini: I drifted to your blog after a long time again and here I see an editor in demand. As Anu suggested, please do try MS Word and then mail it to me. I’ll look at it within say 3 days and mail you back.

    And then, I was once again struck by your awesome display of class in accepting that scumbag’s anything-but-apology. I felt an apology was due from me too since I’d failed to speak up earlier. I felt particularly guilty when you told MANK about the Clash of Clans analogy of losing due to lack of ammo to back you up. Sorry.

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  28. Iswarya: This time the archer queen won. She had healers. I am glad you saw the Clash of Clans analogy. I came across it by accident and was mighty pleased that it fit the point that I wanted to make.

    Thank you all. 😀

    Like

  29. This was a good read. SO much I didn’t really know about — particularly the women being equated to living goddesses, and yet you dispense with that in typical Rahini-esque economy. I was thrilled when Parineeti took on that gauche man-boy journalist who was going through conniptions of awkwardness, trying not to say the word itself. And all those dumbass ads with the discreet blue fluid instead of red, because all women are the Diva Plavalaguna.

    This is completely anecdotal, but oh-so-believable. I remember reading a 2xchromosomes thread on reddit where a young woman worked for an elderly male white republican senator (really, are there any other kinds?) who was furious when he was informed that women could not turn their periods on and off. Apparently in his many decades on god’s green earth he genuinely thought women could turn it on and off like a tap and therefore were to be blamed for menstruating when it is inconvenient.

    Like

  30. Olemisstarana: That men do not know that it is no tap to turn on and off is basic ignorance that is, in my opinion, completely inevitable. Ironically, men in extremely traditional households tend to know this better as they know that their sister is not sitting on the sofa, couch etc. and is always in the corner room on a few days. As she misses the favorite TV program or holi or something she is looking forward to, the boy grows up knowing that the damn thing is not being timed according to the sister’s convenience. The man who never sees his mom/sister act any different at all tends to not know anything about it at all.

    Yet another anecdote is when a girl wanted a Rs.5 coin to use on the vending machine that is in the corner of the women’s room. She was working on a weekend and there were only men around and though she had some short change on her, it did not contain a Rs.5 coin. She told them that she wanted to buy herself a cup of coffee. All the men (bless their kind, generous souls) offered a Rs.50 or 100 as it just is not chivalrous/generous/decent to offer a mere Rs.5 to a lady teammate who appears to want some nice refreshment at the canteen. When she told me this, I could only laugh.

    How will the men know about the significance of Re.5 coins? You act mysterious, you tend to be misunderstood. That is how the thing works, right?

    😀

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  31. That is so true. Boys growing up in discriminating households actually tend to know a ‘lot.’ I’ve had my male cousins mostly offering to go out and buy a packet of napkins whenever we had no backups because they were all acting chivalrous, and with all pharma stores around the house having male shop assistants, they treated it as their bounden duty and all. In fact, during my own menarche, there were no women around on call and I received my first instructions on what to do only from my dad, who then called up my mom to reassure her that I was not panicking and that she could come back from the office at her usual time! Agree also with some others above who pointed out that the sole redeeming feature in households that practice isolation is that they compulsorily teach the boys/menfolk to cook from age 14 upwards! 🙂

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  32. The hullaboo we have around menstruation is so annoying, I am glad we are trying to break the taboo. Good going. Will watch this space!
    BTW the typos made me feel at home. They just creep in when i think faster than i can type. I still love my Crab leg Fingers!

    Liked by 1 person

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