Kiran Gandhi Column: 'Our disgust with periods is a human construct'

The New York resident who ran the London Marathon while menstruating, writes on why she’s #HappyToBleed

Taboo around menstruation is one of the most effective forms of oppression. It is an intangible force that prevents us from communicating comfortably about our own bodies and from accessing the proper education that would teach us about how our bodies work. It turns a bodily cycle that is natural and normal into a process of shame and disgust. The monthly shedding of the uterine lining is the very process that enables life on this earth to exist. It is an uncomfortable and difficult monthly process that half the world’s population goes through in order to enable life to continue.

The story with Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple is a strong example of why menstrual taboo is so prohibitive. It is an arbitrary scapegoat to prevent women from practicing their faith alongside men. Constructs of purity have long kept women from advancing in society — in both the western worlds and eastern — and by using women’s bodies against them, many patriarchal societies are able to create rules that allow men to control women at their whim.

This case is truly no different. There is no God that said women cannot practice their faith while menstruating, no goddess who has ever told a man he can’t pray for a reason related to his body. Our disgust with periods is a human construct, it is not of the divine, and it should not poison a sacred place of worship.

I write to urge the leaders of the temple to change their policies. To not only let women enter the temple no matter what day of the month it is, but even consider making it a place of solace and comfort for those women who are ailing, or menstruating or even pregnant. It should be one of the few places all people feel safe, protected and connected to the divine. It should be heaven on earth.

The head of the temple claims that women are not allowed in because the head of the temple is celibate. If the head of the temple is celibate, then there should be no problem coexisting in a space with women. The challenge of celibacy, like all indulgence, is to liberate oneself from desire. True celibacy is being able to exist in any environment and not lust, but instead to be completely content. This is truly divine. To that end, women should be able to co-exist with men in a holy space. Men do not have the right to make a choice about their own celibacy and then punish women for it. If a man chooses to be celibate, that is his own choice, and it has nothing to do with whether or not a woman is menstruating, let alone if she is practicing her spirituality in the same environment.

The notion that bleeding is impure is a mental construct that must be eliminated. Women around the subcontinent are taking to the internet to express their pride in bleeding, their happiness in knowing they accomplish so much each month despite being in an uncomfortable situation and that they give life.

#HappyToBleed is a necessary campaign that enables women to start controlling the narrative of their own bodies.

But women can't be alone in this. Men — fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands — need to step up and be strong enough to support the women in their lives by saying menstrual taboo must end. We need men of faith, religious men, to understand that women’s monthly cycles are a divine process that is necessary. It should no longer serve as a reason for religious discrimination. Men would take pride in bleeding monthly in order to create life, and we need them to stand in solidarity for this cause.

No person’s natural bodily functions should prevent them from practicing the religion of their choice. India’s women are happy to bleed, and I stand by them in their cause.

Kiran Gandhi an Indian-American gender equality activist and musician based in New York City. In April she ran the London Marathon menstruating freely to combat period stigma around the world, and has since published several essays on why menstrual taboo must end. She holds an MBA from Harvard and a Bachelor's degree from Georgetown.

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