Welcome to 2019! What a wonderful time it is to be alive!
Scientific progress is almost in the realms of sci-fi with mission to Mars, Sophia the robot being granted citizenship of UAE, gene edited three parent CRISPR babies and such exciting progress!
Unless of course you are a woman.
In which case you are still living in the 15th century or even further back, perhaps in a cave.
You are chained to the domestic sphere by your uncontrolled fertility, you are at constant risk of predators and all you are allowed is to entertain yourself with the shadows on your wall. And maybe some cave art drawn using your menstrual blood.
Plato’s cave is an allegory in which he imagines a cave with prisoners in it who can only see shadows projected on the wall and think that it is the reality. One day one of them escapes, goes out and sees the multi- colour, 3 D reality and is shocked. She comes back to tell the others but they don’t believe her and would rather stay in their comfort zone of the shadows on the wall.
So coming back to the issue at hand ( and let us gloss over the obvious absurdity of organized religion –a matter for discussion on another day!) and see what happened with the Sabrimala Temple.
Hinduism apparently regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals. But while most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.
Hindu devotees say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone – it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
Every year, millions of male devotees trek up a steep hill, often barefoot, to visit the shrine. They also undertake a rigorous 41-day fast, abstaining from smoking, alcohol, meat, sex and contact with menstruating women before they begin the journey.
So what is the legend of Lord Ayappa?
Apparently he was born out of a union between two male gods which gave him the ability to defeat a she-demon who had been unstoppable until then. Upon defeating her, it was revealed that she was really a young woman who had been cursed to live the life of a demon.
She fell in love with him and asked him to marry her, but he refused, saying he was destined to go into the forest and answer the prayers of his devotees. She persisted, so he said he would marry her the day new devotees stopped coming to seek his blessings.
That never happened.
The legend says that she waits for him at a second temple, which lies on the way to the main Sabarimala shrine. Women do not visit either temple – the belief is that to do so would insult both the deity and the sacrifice of the woman who loved him.
So in all this chaos and commotion, no one has focussed on the fact that Lord Ayyappan was born of the union of Vishnu in the form of the beautiful woman Mohini and Shiva. This can been read as an epic moment for fluid gender identity and homosexual union.
Also women have apparently stayed out voluntarily since everyone who has faith in such things believes that it would affect both their own energies and interfere with the sexual energies of the male devotees.
Who would want to do that after all?! For all we know there is some Viagra vibe in that temple that makes the devotees so worried about letting women in.
Or maybe they worship homosexual unions.
Who really knows?!
More importantly, why do we care??
The Supreme Court recently struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The bench in a 4-1 verdict said the temple rule violated their right to equality and right to worship.
Justice DY Chandrachud termed the custom as a form of “untouchability” which cannot be allowed under the Constitution. “Article 17 certainly applies to untouchability practices in relation to lower castes, but it will also apply to the systemic humiliation, exclusion and subjugation faced by women. Prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women based on menstrual status is a form of untouchability which is an anathema to constitutional values.”
So far so good.
As a result of this, menstruation is currently front page news in a country where the topic is usually considered so shameful that women who use cloth rarely dry it out in the sun and suffer from fungal infection while those who buy sanitary napkins are given black or brown bags so that, heaven forbid, some man on the street should not recognize the packet of that and have their sexual energy fly away.
Why just India? Even globally the stigma around menstruation is amplified. When Instagram took down a photo posted by Rupi Kaur showing period stains on her clothes, this was her response:
“I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
Abortion stigma is not just some attitudes we can shrug off. It can actually kill you as Tulasi Shahi from Nepal found out when she died after being bitten by a poisonous snake while staying in a shed where she was required to sleep during her period.
My daughter’s biology textbook said that ‘menstrual blood was the tears of a non- pregnant uterus.’
Poetic perhaps but utterly ridiculous in a science text book. Not to mention the implication that women are only child bearing machines and any failure to do leads to tears.
Then there is the entire mythology created around PMS. Yes it is real. Yes some women have it bad. Yes, they can continue to function like responsible highly skilled professionals through it all, thank you very much.
Because sometimes it is easier to blame PMS than accept the reality 🙂
There is finally the blessed menopause which frees women from more than just periods 😛
Historians tell us that even in the western cultures, menstruating women were associated with magic and sorcery. Apparently the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that menstruating women could stop hail storms and lightning, as well as kill bees, dim mirrors and rust weapons just by looking at them.
Isn’t it amazing that none of these quotes and words of wisdom are ever from women? You know. The humans who actually menstruate??
So here is a funny video where some more mansplaining is being done but in a wicked takedown way. Enjoy!