Living in a society in which the respectability of a family revolves around avoiding 'shame', and where the standard of this shame is based primarily around the behaviour of women, places an insurmountable level of pressure on men to control women. When the perception of men depends on the actions of the women in their family, it means that any social change for women cannot occur without their cooperation. This applies to menstruation as well. Such is the stigma of menstruation that the wife and mother of sanitary pad machine inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham once left him because of his work, which earned him allegations of perversion and mental illness.
Their position of power will garner more support and attention to the issue, legitimising it and bringing other men on board... transformation will ensue.
The reactions to Muruganantham's work speak volumes about how girls and women internalise negative attitudes around their bodies - but his story also illustrates why we need men on board. Menstruation is a natural process that is spoken about in hushed tones by girls and women as a "female issue"--after all, they dare not disgust or offend men. Negative attitudes surrounding periods are therefore relational to the opposite sex. With men occupying positions of power in society -- politically, economically and socially -- one of the steps to improving the menstrual experience of women means involving men in the debate. Not only will their position of power garner more support and attention to the issue, legitimising it and bringing other men on board, but through their involvement transformation will ensue and women's inferior position will be one step closer to equalisation.
Men in positions of power have been known to use menstruation to oppress women -- either directly or indirectly, a recent example being the Sabarimala Temple's announcement that it would only allow women to enter once a machine is invented to check whether they are bleeding or not. Thus, men are kept in a position of spiritual and worldly authority from some religious perspectives.
Kiran Gandhi, the feminist musician and Harvard graduate who, in solidarity with women who do not have access to sanitary products, ran the London Marathon 'free bleeding', often talks about the way in which menstruation taboos are not only related to sexuality (women become sexually unappealing when they menstruate) but also how acknowledging that women bleed will ultimately benefit both men and women. Practical steps that men in positions of authority can take include the provision of sanitary products for women that work for them, especially when the cost of these products is so high. They may also offer appropriate break time adjustments for women suffering from menstrual cramps.
Practical steps that men in positions of authority can take include the provision of sanitary products for women that work for them...
When men join women to combat this issue, there is a much greater chance of success. As a male feminist I am constantly learning to identify damaging attitudes around gender and sexuality. This allows me to reach out to men on the issue of menstruation, where they may otherwise not engage.
Men may not bleed, but when period stigma is directly related to men's sensitivities, ambassadors that are male will convince other men to speak openly about this issue and tear down the barrier that menstruation brings to women and girl's lives. Building an alliance of men and women to challenge those who encourage menstrual shame and myths will ultimately lead to their alienation. Eventually, this will greatly improve the health and social outcomes for women -- and the economic outcomes for both men and women.
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