Category Archives: Being Woman
There is a sense that the Saree Wearers’ Club is an exclusive one, limited to women who are married or of a certain age, have a certain body shape and even they wear it in certain ways & on occasions only. Any variation from this invites attack.
I’ve been exploring drapes & styling methods for the saree, YouTube, Instagram, my own creativity as guides. I love the saree for how versatile it is. It is after all, just a length of cloth, modified to body type, region & occasion. The saree is my newest palette, my body an eternal canvas.
I’ve received mixed reactions.
The saree blurs social boundaries as security guards & autorickshaw drivers (who don’t usually target women in my class) jeer & whistle. It confuses middle-class men who make way for me on public transport but stare resentfully.
Many feel my English-speaking, short hair flaunting, liberal self doesn’t fit the saree wearer mold. There are those who ask why I ‘need’ to wear a saree when I’m slim, as if the garment is an apology for a body that doesn’t fit western standards. The takedowns build, listing how my look doesn’t adhere-pallu wrong, shape weird, look funny. “I can’t understand this!” I’m told as if my apparel is a request and as if they get to decide if I get entry to the exclusive club. And I don’t.
I was slut-shamed for wearing a saree to a condolence visit (as reaction to my calling out a sleazy man). The shamer, herself a woman, was saree-draped. Her reaction showed she values only one kind of woman (that I’m not). In her eyes I didn’t merit entry into the Saree-Wearers’Club.
People box women into limited roles. How we dress is one of the labels of the boxes we’ve accepted. My experiments break boxes just by existing. If the very act of dressing is political, this single length of cloth has become my flag. It’s versatile, it’s practical, it has a history but it adapts and it stands for something. Me.
In the picture, I’m wearing a colour-blocked kanjeevaram with a corduroy jacket and boots. I call this the fish-tail drape, pallu doubling up as neck scarf. Like it? Join the club. Everyone’s welcome in mine.
In a conversation with new cup users, I went looking for the chronicle I knew I’d written and realised I’d never published it. So here goes for my menstruating peeps, hope it helps!
This is a recap and my learnings on my cup journey. I am very happy, now that I’ve figured out how to use the cup for my needs and I’ve found not one but two that suit my requirements. So here’s me sharing what I’ve learnt.
My journey with menstrual cups
- July 2015: I started with a firm, medium sized, stemmed SilkyCup bought online. It took me awhile to learn insertion and get comfortable with the cup. But leaks were still happening.
- June 2016: I decided to switch to a soft, medium sized, non-stemmed SheCup bought online. I thought the leaks may be happening because the previous cup wasn’t unfurling properly. This cup was easier to put in. But it turned inside me a couple of times and once, fell into the toilet bowl when I was trying to get it out. It also leaked.
- March 2017: I decided to go back to stemmed cups and go up one size to see if a snugger fit would prevent the leaks. I moved to WOW Freedom and ALX Care, both firm, large sized, stemmed cups. I’ve been using these alternately and have had good experiences with both. No more leaks, no difficulty putting in or removing and the cramps have reduced too.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a cup made of silicon, which you insert into your vaginal passage during your period. It captures the period discharge. Typically you can leave it in for at least 8 hours before needing to take it out and empty it. The cup is reusable and is said to last for up to ten years, which makes it very cost-effective (think of the taxation on feminine hygiene products). It can be inserted, removed and cleaned by the user herself, in a bathroom, which takes away the problem of disposing sanitary napkins or pads. It’s made of silicon so does not absorb any of the period discharge, only contains it (unlike tampons which have been known to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome). It has no bleach or other skin-irritating products, unlike sanitary napkins (how else do you think they’re that white?). And finally, if you care about the environment, the menstrual cup protects you from having to add to landfill with disposables.
It’s still a very low visibility product since women’s health is not a big priority for the world. I’ve never seen a chemist stock this. But menstrual cups are very easily available online, on all major ecommerce sites. There are several brands and types and they come in a variety of price ranges.
Myths/Fears/Taboos about menstrual cups
- A menstrual cup will not get stuck or lost inside you. It cannot enter your uterus. It might go fairly deep into your vaginal passage but it can be removed easily. In the absolute worst case, your gynacologist will be able to get it out of you without any complex surgical procedures. It just requires putting two fingers in and pulling the cup out.
- Menstrual cups are not and should not be painful. Most women are not familiar with their own bodies. We are also given a lot of negative messaging, especially about our vaginas. This means most of us will worry and even panic when asked to go down there. This could cause the muscles to tighten which makes insertion a little harder. The trick is to just take a deep breath, relax, wait a few minutes if need be and try again without worry.
- Menstrual cups are not for certain women only. Any woman who is menstruating should be able to use the cup, regardless of her age or sexual history. To be absolutely sure, check with a good gynaecologist. Mine had not had a lot of experience with cups but she didn’t see any major worries about it. I’ve been keeping her posted about my progress and her subsequent checkups have shown no adverse effects of two years of use.
- Menstrual cups do not need any other support products. If you have the right cup for you, there will be no leakage. By this I mean, literally ZERO leakage. So you will not need a sanitary napkin or panty liner. Your vaginal passage is plugged up with a well-fitting cup that captures all the discharge.
- Menstrual cups don’t fill up and overflow uncontrollably. Until I started using the menstrual cup, I never realised how slowly and how little the period discharge really is. Yes, it is bloody and yes, we have heavy flow days. But even at its peak, a period is not like a tap on full, spraying blood. The average cup and user can go upto at least 8 hours without a problem. I always empty my cup every 3-4 hours during the day anyway and I sleep the 8-9hour night without getting up. I have also gone for upto 12 hours without a change and there were no issues. This has never happened to me, but apparently if the cup gets full, it will only move downwards, presumably weighed down and it might leak a bit because of the shift in position.
Keep these in mind while looking for a cup
- Size is a very important aspect of how the cup works for you. This has nothing to do with your body weight, age or sexual history. Human bodies come in many beautiful forms and yours is unique. Don’t body shame yourself for whatever size cup you need. The cup needs to fit you, not the other way round. A cup that is too loose will allow leaks and you’ll need pads, which defeats the purpose.
- The stem is another important aspect of the cup. Even cups without stems will not get lost inside you. But you will need to insert your fingers a little deeper to get a hold of the cup during removal. Cups with stems will not hurt you because they’re really soft. If the cup fits well, it will get pulled into your vaginal passage completely and the stem won’t even stick out. Either way, the cup works. It’s a matter of personal preference. Figure yours out.
- Cleaning the cup seems to be a big deal for a lot of women (based on what I read online). Maybe this is more in the western world where they’re used to bathrooms being dry and using toilet paper rather than water. As an Indian, wet doesn’t equal dirty to me. And I’ve been cleaning myself during my periods for over 20 years now. All you do is sit on the toilet, pull out the cup gently, empty it into the bowl, rinse it with clean water and put it back in. I also wash it with VWash if I’m at home. Sterilising can be done at the start and at the end of the period before you put your cup away. If you can’t do this in the kitchen, use a face steamer like I do or even a sterilising cup.
- Take your time with finding the right cup and gaining comfort with whatever you buy. This is really important. This product is to help you live easier and better.
All the very best on your journey with menstrual cups! I would love to hear your experiences with the cup too. If you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or tweet to me or drop me a note at ideasmithy [at] gmail [dot] com.
Women. We are fed a steady diet of messages that other women are the enemy, that women can’t be friends, that women’s relationships with each other can only revolve around a man (Hello Anjali-Tina-Anjali of KKHH). The world looks at us as objects to be exploited and maximised for use. And we’re encouraged to suffer in isolation or succumb. The bonds between women are downplayed, disrupted and even villified.
Identity is a tug of war between a world hellbent on erasing me and one fragile body, one delicately built identity, one sensitive set of senses, one limited brain. I work very hard to keep my sense of self alive. It’s hard, bloody hard work. Every nasty barb, every attack by a rejected man, every thoughtless word by a distracted friend, every malicious act by a stranger who doesn’t care reminds me that the world doesn’t see me as a human being – only a charity box to take from, without thought.
I’m replenished every time @kavanchheda28 sends me a song in voice note, each time @sensorcaine tells me about a great book or building, each time @natashanoel001 says seek the orgasms you deserve, each time @shrinkfemale shines a gentle light in my dark mood.
It’s a toxic (traditionally masculine) idea to see strength as a solo trait. This validation between women doesn’t say anything about how strong we are. When your personhood is under constant attack, even before you have a fully formed body, let alone mind, every bit of reinforcement helps, even if it’s just a phrase we’ve heard before.
You deserve to exist. You are good. You are beautiful. You are love. You are power. You are joy. You are peace. You are all. The universe has a place for you.
We all need reminders. We all need solid golden words to combat the darkness. We all need each other.
I used to think of myself as ‘one of the boys‘, because I didn’t identify with how femininity was practised around me. I wanted to own my intelligence, my independence and strength the way I saw only boys do. I walked, talked and dressed in a close approximation of my male peers – dirty jeans, chunky boots and a loud voice steeling myself to incorporate crude speech. I didn’t get a lot of acceptance because gender roles are too deeply embedded in people’s minds. Other girls still saw me as competition for their boyfriends and the boys treated me like I was a defective female.
Once I started working, I was able to experience my personal power without having to dress it up so much. People took me seriously and held me as accountable. Through my 20s, I was able to embrace my softer side – sitting with my legs crossed, caring for my appearance, smiling over snarling, compliments instead of sarcasm. I had discovered I could be/do these without giving away my power.
Now I meet more women who practise my kind of femininity. Not the coy, simpering, bitchy-to-other-girls, defining oneself by one’s boyfriend/husband kind. But smart, independent women who don’t feel the need to hide it or tear me down. They’re also emotionally aware, not just apeing ‘maleness’. This kind of femininity is more acceptable now.
Occasionally a woman expects me to be her knight in shining armour – this is the old toxic femininity, acting helpless + expecting women to do all the work. It’s not perfect.
But I have more fulfilling conversations with other women now than I did before 30. Careers, health, poetry, architecture, sexuality and yes, men too – we talk like two humans would, not like scripts mouthed by strictly controlled prisoners.
Men, in comparison are rarely this interesting. There are exceptions but they’re a scant few. Conversations wth men often have to be ’emotionally dumbed down’. It’s tiring and not worth it when there are other more evolved humans called women.
I’ve come a long way from ‘one of the boys’. Right now I’m every bit a women’s woman. Or maybe, I’m my own person.
Navigating A Feminist Identity
Last evening was a series of odd events. It started when I was hosting an open mic. One of the performers ranted about being friendzoned, spewing vitriol on the woman and ended up calling the audience boring because nobody would applaud. While this person was still performing, someone tapped on my shoulder and said, “You’ve got to call this out. This is problematic.”
This was heartening to hear. I’ve soldiered on alone for so long, being called all kinds of evil names, it just felt so good to know someone else found this outrageous and demanded action. When he finished, the silence of the audience was deafening. My god, this is what I touched when I did a silent performance. The whole room voiced their discontent with this problematic piece without making a sound. It was more powerful than anything I could have said or done because the community policed itself.
As a vocal feminist in this very space, I’ve endured hostility & harassment for calling out shit like this. It has also become my calling card, with ‘Have You Met My Feminism?’ getting much more recognition than any of the other pieces I worked harder on. SXonomics was my middle ground, learning to temper my fire to be more sustainable. So I wondered how to handle the problematic performer. I was, after all hosting and it’s my responsibility to hold the space as safe and diverse with minimal silencing or hate.
I decided to let him finish rather than disrupt a performance and then call it out. When I went back on stage, I explained why friendzone was a problematic idea, keeping it as personal attack-free as I could. And then I moved on. But I wondered if I had been too mild about it. It’s hard enough deciding which battles to fight and the decision of how hard to fight is even worse. As I explained it to some of the others who were enraged, later, as a host I sought to encourage anyone performing and helping them navigate their problem areas (including gaps in thought). Many of them thought it was pointless but I figured it was always worth engaging until the other person made it absolutely impossible.
After the event was over, a girlfriend commented on the incident. And then she said another performer had told her she liked performing when I was hosting because I was especially supportive of women performers. But, my friend said, I managed to do it without belittling or neglecting the men. So up my spirits lifted again.
I closed the evening catching up with a male acquaintance. I started to tell him about the incident. “You get why friendzone is problematic, right? No? Okay, let me put it this way. Men are the ones who complain about being friendzoned.”
He interrupted to tell me women got friendzoned too. I said, but the complaining is by men. He agreed and fell quiet….for about 3 sentences before interrupting to mansplain what these guys are like. I asked if he knew who incels were. He didn’t but it didn’t stop him from interrupting me and mansplaining about what men like these were like. I managed to get a word in about the shooters in the US. But not before he started talking about his roommate, yelling about how lots of Delhi guys were nice people. The next 4 minutes (the time it took to walk the road) he kept shutting me down, interrupting, his voice getting louder and his stance getting more aggressive by the minute.
When it got to him shouting (yes shouting) about how everything about me was gender, I just went very quiet and then told him to drop it. You see, this person is not a close friend. He’s someone who contacted me based on my writing (which has all been very strongly feminist and about gender politics). I didn’t even want to bother dealing with this kind of disreputable behaviour anymore.
He didn’t seem to realise I was ending the conversation. I reiterated, “This is over. Go home. It’s late.” He sputtered and said, “You say I’m mansplaining? You…you are woman-shunning!” I walked away before he could say anything more. Angry men are dangerous men. Half an hour later, my phone was beseiged with foaming-at-the-mouth messages from him. I told him if he ever contacted me again, I would report him. And I blocked him.
I’m aware that there will be a lot of people who think I should have patiently heard him out and explained to him. Because after all, I did take that stance with the first problematic man. I even told the others who were angry with that guy, that the only hope we have is in engaging and keeping conversations going. But I also have to draw my boundaries and definitions.
Tolerating men’s bad behaviour till they decide to be better human beings is NOT my job (or any other woman’s). From experience I know such men never will make that decision. Engaging with someone who wants to learn – there’s some merit in that but it is still my prerogative to decide I don’t want to. And I have decided not to engage with anyone who throws tantrums or silences me – I don’t do that and I deserve better than to be treated that way.
And finally, I don’t have to do all of this alone. Maybe the world is changing or maybe I’m moving to parts of it that hold more solidarity with my values. The respect and camaraderie of several women (and some men) who feel the same way versus surviving lots of toxic men – it’s an easy choice when I look at it like that.
Patriarchy is a shutdown, silencing, a one-way order. Feminism is a conversation. And a conversation can only be two-way (or multi-way). It can only be between people willing to listen to the other. Anything else is not my business.
Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled to comment on my dark skin and suggest ‘cures’. Romantic partners have been able to establish authority over me by calling me ugly, desperate and in need of their validation.
These were possible because my body has been seeded with fields of shame, ripe for whoever wants control over me. My nose shape, my bony frame, my foot size, my rounded tummy, my skin colour – these have been snatched from being my body organs/traits and turned into free access areas for other people to rule me. I say NO. My body, my rules.
My body image & self-esteem are not based on other people’s opinions. My body is mine, the only thing that truly is. It is my home, my vehicle, my canvas. It works in a way that enables me. It is beautiful because I say so. I refuse to let shame be a guest in this body. This is how I get to walk out of my home wearing bold lipsticks, sarees & hoodies, colours deemed too bright, hair considered too stylish, dresses called too slutty or young. My femininity, my beauty, my sexuality, my identity – these are not for anyone else to judge. They are what I say they are. Body Pride because it is my right.
When you feel shame over something that you can’t control (like your body), remember it is external. It’s a festering wound someone else inflicted on you. Wash that wound of foreign bodies like other people’s words. Clean it by distancing yourself from people who would wound you (deliberately or not). Tend it to it by remembering the ways your body serves you well. Heal by honoring all that you are and have, just as they are. Cauterize your vulnerability to other people’s opinions because yours is the only one that matters.
Twenty-six years ago on this date, I had my first period.
It must have been a Sunday or a Thursday (my school weekly holiday) and I had gone swimming with my father in the morning. I came home and changed into my favorite white cotton frock with a gigantic sash at the back that made me look like I actually had some curves, which I totally didn’t. And then my mother called me to the bathroom and held up my panties with streaks of red on them.
Of course, I knew what a period was by that time. My mother had given me the facts because as she put it, she had been terrified she was going to die when she had her first period and didn’t want me to go through that. My education had comprised this diagram and an instruction to keep one eye on the calendar every month for ‘those days’.
At the start of the year, my school had devoted a whole week to Sex Education. Unfortunately, I missed it because I was in Chennai attending my grandmother’s death anniversary function. I returned to one of my close friends yelling at me from across the class that I’d missed Sex. I sniffed and pretended that such things were beneath me.
My mother was extra worried about my not getting my periods. I was already in tenth standard. I think she forgot that I was a year younger than everyone else in class and that girls getting their periods as young as 9, were still considered aberrations and not the norm. I’d already seen a number of specialists, my picky eating habits, my early onset of allergies and my skinny frame discussed at length by the adults.
One of my mother’s friends believed that wearing black when I got my first period would be inauspicious (a belief system that would also later keep me out of temples, the kitchen and touching new clothes during my periods). So I didn’t own a single garment in black for three years. My paternal grandmother had advised that the clothes I was wearing when I got my first period would have to be discarded and never worn again by another person.
All these conversations stacked up in my head as I stood in the bathroom with my mother, looking at my period-streaked panties. They were not black, so the red showed up clearly. My swimming costume was a fiery orange, a colour I really liked. There were no streaks on the it but that went into the never-to-be-worn-again list. And just to be safe, the cotton dress I was wearing, my favorite one was listed in that too. I really wish I hadn’t had to give up that pretty dress.
I was made to sit in the bathroom and have oil dripped on my head with some kind of a religious ritual, presided over by my maternal grandmother who happened to be visiting. My father booked a trunk call to my extended family and after exchanging a few pleasantries said,
“One good news. Ramya became a big girl today.”
In the evening, we went out shopping. I was bought not one but two new dresses, one by my parents and one by my grandmother. Later in the night, my father told me I didn’t have to go to school the next day. I didn’t want to miss school. I couldn’t wait to tell my girlfriends that I had finally joined their ranks after the years of talking about what a period felt like. I said no, I’ll be okay tomorrow. I know a period is not sickness. But dad said, you’ll still feel tired. Take tomorrow off. And so I did.
I heard about how ‘in smaller villages’, girls were stopped from going to school after they got their periods. I was told about distant aunts and even cousins who had had elaborate functions on their first period. My father scoffed and called it ‘parading the fresh baby-making machine that’s just become available so put in your bids’ ritual. I felt relieved I hadn’t been subjected to that public spectacle. And in hindsight, I guess I’m glad I didn’t have to go to school the next day. Schoolgirls have their own hierarchy of cruelty and it hadn’t gone unnoticed that I was the last girl in class to not shuffle awkwardly or be found in the toilets crying over a stained uniform.
So many things have happened since that day, on my menstrual journey. I went from belted sanitary napkins (the latest menstrual technology at that time) to stick-ons and period panties to the slim Whisper generation. I briefly dallied with tampons but I just didn’t like the idea of shoving a dry cotton wad into my insides. And finally, the menstrual cup a few years ago and my creative work on menstrual health awareness.
I’ve now been a menstruating human longer than a non-menstruating one. I’m also closer to menopause than the start of my periods. I know getting your period is only one point in the journey of being a woman. But so many thoughts, cultural, religious and social are associated with this milestone. This day wasn’t the first time I felt the weight of my gender label nor the distance from my male peers. But it became a reference point.
I guess it would be fair to say my journey as a woman started on this day, twenty-six years ago. So, today is the one day it’s alright to wish me a Happy Period Day.