Dear Pakistani men, here's how you talk about periods

Dear Pakistani men, here's how you talk about periods

A list of do's and don'ts to guide you through chat about menstruation
Updated 14 Apr, 2016

It's time to talk about this. Recent events have made it clear that men have no idea how to have a normal conversation about menstruation.

Sure, they're okay with hurling the word PMS at women every time a woman acts in a way that's "unacceptable" to them — that is, demonstrating aggression, emotion, logic or any form of an opinion, really — but they're not okay with an open conversation about a little bleeding that basically guarantees the existence of the human race.

When students from Beaconhouse National University (BNU) taped 25 sanitary pads on their university’s wall in order to kickstart a conversation about period-shaming, many men started squirming. One of these men was Shaan Taseer. His critique of the demonstration quickly turned ugly as he tossed insults at Madiha Tahir.

Also read: How Shaan Taseer's reaction to period-shaming exposes male privilege in Pakistan

We wonder: what is it about periods that makes men so uncomfortable, unable to even have a measured conversation? And can we change this?

With that in mind, here's a handy list of do's and don'ts to follow if you're a man who wants to talk about menstruation. It's a guide that demonstrates how NOT to be offensive, discriminatory and just basically the worst. Guys, take note!

DO: Acknowledge your male privilege

What is male privilege? It's basically an imbalance of power wherein some rights or advantages are conferred to men solely on the basis on their gender. To acknowledge male privilege is to first internalize and accept the fact that it exists and then understand that this discrimination is unfair and needs to be dismantled.

Want to follow someone's lead? Check out American president Barack Obama. He talked about periods in a recent interview and openly questioned the luxury goods tax on tampons and pads in 40 states of the US.

When interviewer Ingrid Nilsen asked Obama why tampons were considered “luxury goods” when few of the women she knows would consider menstruation a luxury, Obama replied: “I think Michelle would agree with you on that.”

“I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” he continued. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

See what he did there? He acknowledged that male-led legislation was unfair to women and in doing so accepted that male privilege is a thing. A bad thing to be countered.

DON'T: Try to deny your male privilege and get defensive

Shaan Taseer, on the other hand, equated access to pads with the illusion of problem-free menstruation. Taseer responded to the BNU protest with the claim that the "English-speaking, university-going women of the Lahore bourgeois" don't experience oppression of any kind, so have no reasons to complain.

Shaan Taseer deleted his Facebook post soon after
Shaan Taseer deleted his Facebook post soon after

There are so many things wrong here, where do we start? In saying this Taseer assumes simply having access to pads eliminates every menstruation-related problem a woman has ever had... a typically male-centric approach. He has no thought for how period-shaming cuts across class, how stains, bloating and cramps are not the sole domain of either the elite or the public at large.

Second, he's being incredibly patronizing and defensive. His response is typical of a man who feels like women owe their scant freedoms (a university education, a good home) to men, and so, should only express gratefulness for what they've got. Reeks of privilege with a dab of neo-colonialism don't you think?

Guys: don't do this.

DO: Allow women to own their body and all its processes

After Anushka Dashgupta's period stains caught too many passersby's attention for comfort, she wrote a Facebook post in which she emphasised why there was no need for that.

Anushka's post went viral
Anushka's post went viral

Addressing "the women who offered to help me hide my womanhood", " the men who ogled at me" and "the children who didn't give a damn", she listed all the reasons why periods aren't a source of shame.

DON'T: Get squeamish.

We're looking at you, Instagram.

Instagram considered this photo a violation of their community guidelines
Instagram considered this photo a violation of their community guidelines

In March last year, Instagram removed Canadian photographer/poet Rupi Kaur's photo of a woman lying in bed with menstrual blood both on her pants and sheets with the rationale that the photo violated "community standards", which forbids depiction of nudity, self-harm, acts of violence or “illegal content”.

Kaur responded with a lengthy Facebook post that detailed the need for ideological and media censorship reform. It garnered massive public response, and forced Instagram to admit that the photograph's removal was "an accident".

DO: Help people understand periods better.

When Time published an op-ed suggesting that Hillary Clinton's post-menopause stage makes her more "resilient" and less emotional and thus a good presidential candidate, the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore invited three women to talk about menstruation.

The show helped put periods in perspective
The show helped put periods in perspective

President George W. Bush's Communications Director Nicole Wallace pointed out during the show, "Yes, I worked in the White House. And yes, every 28 days I bled, but the country went on." So yes, contrary to popular belief, a woman is indeed capable of making sound political decisions while bleeding between her legs.

DON'T: Censor periods in the public space

Period-proof underwear company Thinx was temporarily prevented from advertising on the New York subway for showing “a bit too much skin” and the “inappropriate” use of a grapefruit and an egg for imagery. This, despite the presence of far more risque ads on the trains.

Thinx ads were considered too risque for the train
Thinx ads were considered too risque for the train

It took comparison with genuinely objectionable ads for Thinx to finally get approval from the transport authority.

DO: Treat menstruation like it's everyone's problem

When Arunachalam Muruganantham chanced upon his wife washing rags she used for menstruation, he was shocked to discover they were so filthy that he "wouldn't even clean his scooter" with them. Instead of dismissing it as a woman's problem, he recognised this as a threat to his wife's — and by extension, society's — wellbeing.

He soon discovered that the problem extended village-wide and the lack of affordable sanitary napkins is a threat to his villagefolk's health. So he set about to invent just that.

The inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham
The inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham

Muruganantham fashioned a faux uterus and 'bled' on a variety of materials to test his product, knocked on the doors of various multinationals to obtain the right material and invented a machine to slash costs of production. He succeeded.

DON'T: Use periods as a excuse to mock women or belittle them

Donald Trump dismissed Fox News host Megyn Kelly's tough line of questioning during the Republican debate by saying “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” a clear reference to menstruation.

What's more telling is that Trump himself couldn't bring himself to say the word 'period' or 'womb', opting for the elusive 'wherever'.

While he refused to apolgise for his comments, insisting that he did "nothing wrong whatsoever," he later suggested that he was referring to her "nose and/or ears", not a woman's period. Right.

Anyway, in case yo missed it, here it is again: don't be like Donald Trump.

So there you go. It's easy if you try!