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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

The Color Red

I often wonder why the color of blood is red, it could have been any color, green, blue, purple. But it’s red.

Update : 08 Dec 2023, 09:56 AM

The first time I heard about menstruation, was from my seniors, in that yellow-shaped bus, while going to school, that box-shaped cast. The only memory I have of this is the color red and it seemed like the most attractive thing to me, in the planet beneath. I couldn’t wait to bleed, as that is what to me symbolized turning into a lady. 

This new found knowledge in my life was like the first time a little girl puts on lipstick, red in color: Distinct, and not subtle. We would talk about it for ages, amongst friends, waiting, anticipating. As luck would have it, I was the first one who got her period amongst all my peers. I was proud, I felt emancipated, but the actual act of it was a bit anti-climactic.

I got home from school, and my underwear had turned brown. I showed it to my mother, who in-turn screamed to my father, “Shuno, or toh period hoye geche!” with a frown. I felt a bit embarrassed, but also slightly elated, on finally being able to relate to this “holy” word, the one that now described my present state. 

I felt important, and comforted, as I was put to bed. What I had been waiting for, for all eternity had finally happened, and all of a sudden it just seemed to end. I was barely ten years old, and so, no one explained to me what was happening to my body. I slowly saw hair appearing on my legs and hands, and then one day-down there, sticking out oddly.

I wasn’t allowed to wear small skirts anymore. And those around me reacted to me differently, but I couldn’t tell what had changed at the core. The next few months or should I say years of my menstruating journey was anything but happy. I felt exhausted every time I got it, and I had terrible cramps that left me weepy.

I had to go to a gynecologist, who put me on birth control. I did not know what it was, and it was never explained to me at all. I was shamed constantly, for saying it ached too much, or when I couldn’t get out of bed during those seven days, or when it bled so much that all my clothes would turn crimson red

I had to get many packets of pads; and it felt like I was wasting too much away, or using too many of them. The pain did get better slowly, but the bleeding remained extensive to the point that I became anemic, my face white, and limbs fatigued. Surprisingly, no one noticed this, but a distant doctor-uncle, but that’s a story for another day.

*

In school, in biology class, they never properly explained to us the nuances of menstruation, or our reproductive organs for that matter, and its purpose. The pages were usually stapled up, and so the only information one got, was again from our seniors. Not the best source of information, but hey, something is better than nothing, they say!

 

Now, in my thirties, the bleeding has subsided quite a bit, and the duration has come down to four days from one full week. PMS has been as bad as it can get; the days prior to my period I spend crying, for no rhyme or reason, in bed. But I have come to terms with it, I don’t hate it or love it-it’s just a part of me, and my journey of accepting and loving my body as it is.

 

It’s ironic that I decided to work on women’s sexuality, on telling their stories around it-instead of them being labelled as downright dirty. That every woman’s story is unique and at the same time, similar to others around them and far from them. That each story, each body is a tale, and that women’s experiences are as much about their minds as it is about their bodies. 

Our bodies-they bring us so much guilt, that we are told and taught to hide and shy away, but instead they are indeed so special, and unique in multiple ways. It is a source of happiness, and feeling of oneness with others like us, whether pre or post menstruation. It is what makes me me, you you and binds each and every one of us.

I have a friend, who is a trans-woman. Physically, they are anything but “feminine”. They are very tall, broad-shoulders, heavy beard. But within them, they are woman. My friend always says that they dream of what it would be like to bleed, they think that it’s magical. To me it was and sometimes also is till date what irks me, what brings me pain, and overall makes life hard. 

It is painful to work at those times, hard to go about my day, hard to walk, hard to wear white. And sometimes, during those four days is only when I really, REALLY feel like wearing white!

When I travel to the field, I hear stories of women, who pop birth control pills like it’s no one’s business, just so they don’t get their period. The water there is saline, and so there is no way to wash their cloths, and use it during menstruation. I sit and think, what may make their lives easier, what is their solution?

On Facebook, on these women’s help groups, I see many women asking questions on birth control, and period, and what their partners like or don’t like. All of them having issues with their bodies, not being able to accept what they look like, or don’t look like. I sit and ponder what that still must feel like.

And then I think of the obstacles for these rural and urban women; one not even being able to wash themselves or their clothes during menstruation, the other deciding on shedding their tampons for the menstrual cup, and yet being judged for it. Both in juxtaposition with each other, two sides of a coin, distinct and inept.

I think about the pink tax being imposed on all women’s products, the lux soap, the Tresemmé shampoo, and how expensive pads are-even after being one of the most essential products, too. I think about the taboos inflicted on women, how being on one’s period is still referred to as “kharap shorir” in my culture, and I wonder, I really do wonder...

How Muslims, Hindus and Christians are at each other’s throats all over the world, but when it comes to subjugating women, defining their roles and using taboos and stereotypes to dominate them, how dishonoring then becomes a common cultural tool-and one of the most significant shaming manifestations happens through women’s period.

 

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I had a male friend who once started an app to monitor women’s period-dates, moods, etc. A man-who never went through it or experienced it, making an app for something he would never understand or be able to relate. And then I had a boyfriend who downloaded a period tracker app, just so he would know when I was approaching my period, and support me through it.

Once a friend of mine sat on my bed. When she got up, some of us saw that the white bed sheet became red. We asked her if she knew she had her period, she said yes. She came back later to my room to get rid of the stain. I said it was fine, that I would sleep on the other side. She was overjoyed, because she said this had happened for the first time.

I think about past cultures of when a girl was thrown a party by her family and friends, when she turned into an adult, from a little girl, when she first bled. I think about present cultures and traditions, of a girl being watched by hawk-like eyes, whether she bleeds during her first intercourse, determining her virginity. The true marker of womanhood, all tied to the color red.

I often wonder why the color of blood is red, it could have been any color, green, blue, purple. But it’s red. It’s the darkest, purest and the most defining shade of all colors. It unites 50% of the population, or maybe more, and yet we shy away from it. I also wonder why we had to bleed in order to define our womanhood, we could have had a mark on our bodies, or maybe a chip.

And what really is this womanhood that society prescribes to? What does it mean for all genders? Do all women feel the same way when we bleed? When we cry, when we heal? We wrap our pads in layers and layers of paper, just to go to the toilet and change it. The pad, representative of women’s bodies. We cannot utter THE word, in fear of being judged for it. 

Ultimately, it is just blood. But we who bleed have a shared thread that connects us, whether we hate it or love it. It is common for women travelling together or living together to bleed, once one of them starts. Almost as if it’s contagious, like a pack of bleeders. And we should be able to live with it, get respect for it, and live lives of true dignity with or without it.

Syeda Samara Mortada is a feminist activist, and Co-Founder of Bonhishkha, a feminist organization working to un-learn gender, and in creating a platform for youth to share their gender-based experiences.

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