I had my first period before I even had my first health class. I didn’t tell anyone because I did not even know what a period was. I never understood why some women stood at the back of the recreation center where Muslims in my small town gathered while everyone else prayed. I never understood why my mother seemed to buy little boxes of white things every month. It didn’t occur to me that this was something that happened to almost every woman in her life.
We all knew why the women of the house “sat outside” every month. In the map of their very orthodox household, the women bled rivers and travelled in the confines of their landlocked house.
Every period story I’ve heard involves either great trauma or grave embarrassment. Girls claim they mistakenly believed they were dying when they first spotted the blood or that someone else noticed and pointedit out to them, scarring them permanently from the humiliation. I had heard it all by the time I was 12.
When you grow up as a Korean-American millennial in a traditional immigrant household, you quickly realize that little instances of cultural clashes make for the best stories.
Take, for example, the time that I convinced my Korean mother that Lunchables were standard, healthy, American school lunch fare, and all my other third-grader friends dined on the delectably fine products of Oscar Meyer. Or take the time that my mother asked if we were supposed to eat the Jack-o-Lantern that I had carved earlier that day in school.
“Shh! Shush!” Are these the first expressions that come to mind, when you think of periods? You are not alone.
I was shushed so often that I thought boys or even grown men would never have heard of menstruation. “How would they know, if no one is going to tell them. Right?” I thought. It sounds childish now, but it made perfect sense to my tween mind.
When I was working with kids at a school in a Noida-based slum, I noticed that girls would miss school more often than boys. I wanted to know why, and casually I asked a group of girls. They just giggled and walked away. “What’s so funny?” I asked, but got no response. I tried checking with another group of girls, but got nothing more than giggles and embarrassed looks.
When I was in Chattishgarh last year, I conducted a session with 40 young women, mostly married and asked them why we get periods. After a few minutes of silence and blank stares, one of them raised her hand and said “Well, that’s how it is, ma’am. This is something that happens every month to us. It’s natural”.