Picture credit: Cosmopolitan

Words by Ekene May Eliye

What worries me a lot is how we train girls and prepare them to be women, wives and mothers, but we never train the boys the same way. We teach girls to be discreet about themselves, about their bodies, about their feelings, to hide it all, to never let the man know, then we tell her to, on a later date, give him total access to everything he does not even understand! The boy is not taught to love or care or show empathy, we teach him to buckle up and be a man. To make money and provide for his family. 

What worries me a lot is how we train girls and prepare them to be women, wives and mothers, but we never train the boys the same way. We teach girls to be discreet about themselves, about their bodies, about their feelings, to hide it all, to never let the man know, then we tell her to, on a later date, give him total access to everything he does not even understand! The boy is not taught to love or care or show empathy, we teach him to buckle up and be a man. To make money and provide for his family. 

We tell him that loving when he has empty pockets is a sign of failure and weakness. That he needs to have lots of money, then he can love anyone he wants. We do not teach him to be a father or a husband or a man, because the men had no one to teach them to be men, so the circle continues. We groom girls to be loving, to have a job, make a little money enough to pay her bills, just before she is plucked to be married, like a flower. Do you remember the words your sister’s father in-law used when he came, alongside his son to ask for your sister’s hand in marriage? I do. He said ‘we saw a flower in your house and we have come to pluck it’. I will leave this discussion for another day.

Last week, I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine, Let’s call him David. I recall I had told him at one time that I had a bit of migraine, that felt like it was eating away the left side of my brain, and it made reading herculean. He suggested that I took some pain relievers or called a doctor. I would later not do any of that but come to realize, that the pain was as a result of stress or premenstrual syndrome. So when he asked on a later date if I still had the migraine, I told him it was gone and that it must have been stress or PMS(please note, that I was skeptical about telling him this, but I did it anyway, because I have always felt there was nothing to hide or be ashamed of when it comes to my monthly flow, but I was wrong this time or maybe every time, but I have just been courageous enough to go on with my life or I had simply not noticed).

Well, as I expected, David ‘burst my bubble and asked me what PMS meant. If he had asked me casually, it would have been less painful, but he did it in a way that mocked the term, especially because he thought I meant, Premium Motor Spirit!And he added, that he did not want to step on my toes by assuming he knew what I meant, and that he thinks it means something totally different along the lines of ‘Post Monday Menstrual Stress’ and he was still laughing. 

I have come to realize that, he did not think or expect that I would have that kind of conversation with him, because it was too personal, but what is so personal about menstrual flow? Every girl on earth would be worried if hers disappeared, every girl on earth would. Everyone on earth is here right now, because a flow did not happen, so what is so personal about human nature? It is almost like saying, one will not poo or say they want to, when they are pressed to do so, because someone might get offended, or because they are scared that everyone will have their eyes on them when they are done with their business or that they might smell like their poo? The normal thing is to know how to clean up properly after your business, because, Everyone does it!

David tried to make the conversation light, but I was not having it. I was worried about the women in his life: his wife, his daughters; how did he live in a family with a sister he is very close to, and a mom and still did not understand menstrual syndrome, pre, post and its effects? What will he tell his daughter when she gets cranky? Will he hit her for not being as lovely and sweet as she was the week before? Would he love his wife still, when her mood goes topsy-turvy? Will he know what to do with his wife’s body when she has cramps? Will he to buy her pain relievers, fill her hot water-bottle up, make her comfortable every month, with cuddles and hugs, some mouthed I Love You here and there, some space, breakfast in bed and a fresh and sweet-smelling body all through?

But how did David not know about these things? He said girls in secondary school were discreet about their menstrual flow and always hid stuff like this from them and that he thinks they were taught to believe it was forbidden, to let anyone know they were on their period. So, I bet it carried on into maturity. We teach our girls to be ashamed of their own bodies, to curse their entire day should they get stained. To with that someday they would wake and their menstrual flow will be gone. We exclude men and boys when we want to speak about our monthly flow, because we think and believe it does not concern them. Sometimes, such conversations are hardly had, even among women. I have seen women make yucky faces at the mention of menstrual flow, not the sight of it, because they think it is personal. 

I have never flowed with the norm (pun not intended), I like to question it instead. One time in secondary school, my friend got stained and school was not over yet. I noticed she turned her skirt, turned the stained part so it was in front and sat awkwardly till the close of school. By that time, it had dried up and no one noticed. Then, I got into her shoes on another day. I had gotten stained too, but I did not know to just sit awkwardly till it dried up. I asked for permission to leave school. I do know I turned my skirt too, but I doubt no one saw the stain, because it seemed they did. But, I really did not care, I was going home to get changed. I had extra classes to attend after school and I did go back and did not feel miserable, because I wasn’t ill for crying out loud, even fever shouldn’t make us miserable, I know it does, but not every time, so why should my flow? I know cramps can make you feel like it is actual illness, but to feel miserable every month? that is definitely a lot of time to spend feeling miserable, when it can be productively invested and tweaked (the experience I mean).

Coincidentally, something similar happened when I was in my 3rd year in the university. This was even different, because, I had no idea I was stained, it was a male course mate that called my attention to my stained skirt. What he did was to tell my friend I was stained, because he could not bring himself to do so. Was I calm when she told me? Very calm. Did not freak out. Instead, I thanked them and walked to my hostel to get changed, with the stained skirt! Naturally, I do not enjoy waking up to a stained bed, nightie or panties, when I am on my period, because, when I do, it increases the number of things I would have to wash immediately, but to say I would be ashamed of getting stained, no, no way, I will not, you know why? Because it is not a curse or a sin, and its certainly not a taboo!

I knew I had to be hard on David, I apologized and went really hard on him. I felt like my rod of flow instruction had fallen on him that day, and I’m glad he listened and was willing to learn. I told him about another friend, Nnabuchi Victor, who knew when I was on my flow, from some signs, majorly sleeping and dozing off during classes and that act was endearing, to be understood when you said nothing and be allowed to be yourself as well. It was healthy because he got all my notes covered and even bought me a pack of panty liners when some company came to class to advertise!

I also told him of a time in the university when my pad fell off my bag and a course-mate asked “who dey leak?’’ and I, the courageous woman that I am, instead of shrieking in fear and anger and embarrassment, that is expected of one whose pad fell off her bag, bent forward instead, picked up my pad and replied ‘me’ to which David said, ‘that is sexist!’ ‘is it?’

Women need to stop hiding these things. How would they understand when your pre-menstrual symptoms? I’m not asking that women announce to everyone, that’s entirely up to you. What I’m driving at is that women need to be comfortable enough with what happens in our bodies to answer honestly when asked ‘are you okay?’ or ‘how are you?’. Its nothing to be ashamed of

And men, you too can stop waiting to be told, Read! Read! Read! If you know nothing about menstrual flow or its hygiene or the symptoms and everything about the woman you want to be with or marry, why do you want to get married? Or be with her? Because, the flow is an integral part of her system, she will bleed every month until menopause and that is like 20 or 25 years of your lives together. Its in your interest to learn how her body works.

I cannot remember how mine came or what I did the first time, but in primary school, the description always went thus: ‘a girl saw blood, drip down her leg, from her thighs, maybe she was injured or was dying’. What I do know is that, my mom had a big ball of wool that we (my sister and I) used as starters before we graduated to pads, which I think happened because the wool got exhausted. I would like to commend a friend of mine who had asked me, when we were teenagers if I would tell him when I was on my period, so he could buy me pads. I thought it was ridiculous, especially if the way to have sex with a girl, at that time, was to buy her new panties and tell her you want to see them on her. So, I said no, because I was not ready to have sex yet. I would later learn, as he told me, that his only sister called him when she saw her period the first time and he told her what to do. It increased my respect for him, to think that she trusted him enough put me at ease with him.

But, this same young man would go on to be irritated and impatient about menstrual cramps, because, one time I was in so much pains, he goes ahead and says, not in the calmest of ways ‘do something about it, instead of just sitting in pains!’. It was as if I caused the pain myself and should deal with it. This is not to discredit him, I would always hold him in high-esteem for being the number one person his sister confided in, but this is also to say that, at some point, men get irritated about a woman’s menstrual flow, as if it were her fault.

Picture credit: Reports Healthcare

David agreed that most men only love the lady for her intelligence, figure and appearance, but never want to see the blood. But you have to see the blood, accept the blood and love it as much as you say you love the woman. I do not mean that every woman, loves her blood or plays with it, that is far from it, if anything, we do not like the smell, it is blood! Like bad blood actually and I think even the blood, wants to leave the body as quickly as it can.

I am not saying that when a woman is on her period, it means whatever she does, is or should be justified, because there are hormones catapulting themselves in rapid succession to God knows where, making her calm this minute and restive the next, which she cannot actually control, what I am saying is, it is easier to handle what you understand fully. To know that, she does not look like ‘hunger’ (oh yes, I was told once, that I looked like Hunger, can you imagine? As if I deliberately would wake up and say to myself, “Dear May, you have to look miserable and like Hunger today’). To understand, that when she is not performing at the capacity that is expected, it is not because she wants her boss to yell, but because she is going through a phase, and if you understand it, you will know how to stay happy, I mean, everyone will be happy.

It is also important to note, that these hormones make their awesome trips, before, during and after the flow. This is to say, that at every point in a girl’s life, for every month, her body is dictating how she feels and reacts to issues. And her reactions or the manifestation vary. So, it might be migraine this month, the following month, could be absolute calm, excess acne on her face, absolute joy and happiness, excitement, unexplainable distraction, complete focus or a lack of it, irritation, or just an extra dose of pretty and beautiful or it could also be nonchalance or total unfazedness, tears, fear or getting overwhelmed over things she is passionate about.

I used to be very angry about my period, curse, be tired, fagged out and worked up, but I realized, she was like my toes, that I once did not like but I was never going to cut them off, so the earlier I loved them because they are a part of my body and will be with me till old age, the better for me, because my toes do not care, they do not know, they will be who they are, always. So, I applied the same rule to my menstrual flow, that the earlier I accepted and loved her, the better for me, because she was not going anywhere.

There were still months it felt like I was going to die from the pains cramps bring. I know of a friend who actually gets admitted to the hospital from cramps–Reproductive health can be intense, sometimes dangerous. Thankfully, mine doesn’t get that intense. Nothing Paracetamol, a soda and pain can’t fix.

Women need to pull down these walls as well, where we hide everything from the men, including how we feel when we are on our period. Let’s just talk about these things, because it is human nature. I would not be here if my mother did not have periods (and then miss them for some months). Most of us wouldn’t be here were it not for menstrual cycles. It is just as human as farting! Try hiding a smelly fart from anyone.

Instead of being ashamed or embarrassed, we can teach girls and women to embrace their monthly flow, because it is magical. We can teach them ways to navigate it every month, to wash themselves up and maintain good hygiene during their flow. Menstrual hygiene is important but we can’t tackle it with all the layers of stigma surrounding the cycle.

Let them know that it is okay to get hysterical and angry about their menstrual flow, but that it will not go anywhere, so instead, they could try to understand their bodies, study her to know what she needs every month, talk about the pain as well. It makes it all easier.

I encouraged David to read, I told him I owed it to his wife and girls to teach him these things. I have asked him to read on his own (Thank God for Google), but to feel free to ask me if anything is unclear. I would, at this point, like to add that I think including men in menstrual hygiene education is important. Because to keep them out of the lessons is to imply that they don’t have a role to play in shattering the stigma.

Is this another feminist rant? I just thought someone somewhere will think it is. I am not going to argue with you or convince you otherwise, all I am saying is, men need to read about women and their bodies and prepare for marriage and to be with her, as much as women are groomed to. Men need to prepare to have kids, girls and boys, as much as women do. Is this feminist? It is if you say so. I however consider this a call to see menstrual flow as human as it is and not a curse or something to be ashamed of.

I am excited to write about menstrual flow because it is okay to do so, because we should have these conversations. Men cannot continue to live in the dark about a woman’s body and only come to her to satisfy himself or satisfy her. It is important that at least attempt to understand the body he is making love to. I am glad to lend my voice to issues concerning every girl and woman all over the world. I count it a blessing because this is a conversation that needs to be brought up as often as necessary.

If if this piece made you even a little uncomfortable, good. I hope more women use popular mediums to make you cringe a little.

CONTACT DETAILS

Ekene May Eliye

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