Why is the Female Body treated as a confusing, Mythical Anomaly?
At 11, I stumbled into the toilet with my eyes barely open, when I saw a big red patch on my favourite pyjamas. I pulled my pants down and felt a stream of blood trickling down my legs – while my pants looked like a crime scene. My head was spinning and for a brief moment, I thought I’d die. I managed to call out for my mother, between all that chaos.
When she found me, a bundle of tears, she asked me to clean up and follow her. What ensued was the most awkward conversation I have had with my mother. She told me that I was ‘grown up’ now and that this was ‘dirty blood’ coming out of me. I needn’t worry, I’d get used to it. Needless to say, I scared out of my mind. Why do I need to BLEED to grow up? Will I bleed every day for the rest of my life? Why did my stomach hurt so much? Nobody answered these questions for me, and I was left a confused and scared child.
Very first Sex Education Class at Catholic Girls School:
At 14, the nuns in my Catholic Girls School lined us up for our very first sex education class. There was a wave of excited giggles and nervous chatters. Right off the bat, we were telling that sex is extremely painful for women and that the only reason for anyone to even have sex is to have a baby. Therefore, if you have sex, a baby is inevitable, and that is why, even after marrying, you should only think of sex for the purpose of reproduction. We were telling that all homosexuals are dirty and that sexual desire was an evil thing. Never mind the real purpose of a sex education class, which was supposing to tell us about genital hygiene and safe sex.
Even in 2016, we live in a society where a packet of sanitary pads is wrapped in black plastic, because what a shameful thing it is to be on your period. As women, we’re expecting to be everywhere all the time and know everything all the time. If you’re a mother with a job, you must take care of your baby the second she needs you, as well as be ahead of your game at work. If you slightly falter in even one, you had shamed and told you are not good enough for either role. With all the responsibilities we juggle, our bodies, our women's health, and awareness are trivialised and neglected at large.
Women's Health Issues:
Recently, several experts have come out and said that menstrual cramps are as bad as having a heart attack. One in five women experiences complete disruption of their daily routine on account of period pains. Yet, the concerns of so many women around the world have been routinely dismissing by medical fraternity as an “over-reaction”.
At most, women complaining of severing cramps are giving a painkiller and sent their way. Dr Imogen Shaw, a GP specialising in women’s health, went as far to say that if this was an issue that was experienced by men too. We'd see far more investment of time and resources to solve this problem and have a variety of drugs to alleviate the pain.
A 21-year-old woman in England lost her life to cervical cancer. When she complained to her doctors about incessant pain and bleeding, they dismissed it as ‘lady problems’, missing several chances to diagnose her disease.
It is alarming how casually the concerns of women are taking by the medical fraternity. It is costing us our lives. What’s worse, is that there is negligible awareness among women themselves, to be able to identify that something is wrong and take the necessary action. Women quietly suffer from and die of diseases that need not be fatal at all, if only their concerns were taking seriously.
As many as one in five Indian women suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS leads to several complications, including insulin resistance, obesity and even infertility. Much of its prevalence has associated with lack of awareness and ignorance among women between 15 to 30.
Another common, and painful condition is endometriosis – plaguing 6 – 10% women of reproductive age throughout the world. More often than not, endometriosis goes undiagnosed, because women are not taught how to detect it. Even their complaints are often dismissed as inconsequential.
Strike a conversation with a bunch of women and you’d find how little we know about our women's health. An alarming number of women – often well into their 30s – do not know that the urethral opening is different from the vaginal opening, or where the vaginal opening even lies.
Several misconceptions such as the hymen being an indicator of virginity or that their menstrual blood is somehow “dirty”, rampant. Something as common as the vaginal discharge is known to fears of infections in women because we don't know better. If even such basic anatomical concepts are alien to us, one can only imagine how we had detached from more serious issues related to our women's health.
Mass Ignorance about Women’s Health:
A more fatal and agonising result of mass ignorance about women’s health is female genital mutilation. Perpetuated for cultural relevance in Africa and even in parts of India. The procedure is painful, dangerous and can often result in a death of young girls. All of this because there is no knowledge of the female body, women's health, and how certain practices can seriously harm it.
As women, it is our prerogative to initiate and lead this conversation. Every time we shy away, talk of our period in a whisper, or let our tampons have been wrapping in a newspaper. We're perpetuating the culture that shames our bodies.
The female body and all its processes are natural, normal and have been experiencing by several women across the world. There is no reason to treat it like an anomaly. There is no reason to leave prepubescent girls confused and puzzled about what their bodies are going through. No reason for them to be afraid of it. As doctors, mothers, elder sisters, friends, role models - as women - the onus is on us.