It’s enough to make most of us cringe. Switch on the TV and you will come across periodic, prime-time exhortations of maintaining menstrual hygiene, alongside graphic depictions of the soaking and absorbing capabilities of sanitary napkins.
Most of us have grown so accustomed to it that we do one of three things: change the channel, suddenly remember to finish an odd job or pretend to get busy with our smartphones.
The focus on women’s health issues and sanitary products sometimes borders on voyeurism. From events such as ‘Happy to Bleed’ and ‘Come and See the Blood on My Skirt’, to extensive promotion of personal hygiene products like intimate washes and explicit description of menstrual hygiene concepts on TV, women’s intimate health is constantly subjected to exaggerated attention. This is so pervasive that it makes you wonder if an excessive focus on women’s personal hygiene issues — vis-a-vis men’s personal hygiene – has its roots in misogynism.
It also puts women’s bodies and regular bodily functions — such an intimate, personal concern — in the public eye, to be speculated at and subliminally reviled, like most things related to women in India.
By playing into the hands of multinationals manufacturing such products and using voyeurism to the hilt to sell them, many women’s rights leaders feel that this is reverse misogyny, cleverly cloaked as “a liberated woman’s free choice to discuss intimate personal hygiene issues publicly and alter public perception on the matter”.
V Mukherjee is a humanities professor based in New Delhi. She narrates her experiences of living with this reality. “You go to buy sanitary napkins, and the man at the counter becomes visibly embarrassed. Then he carefully wraps the napkins in a black polybag! The narrative of shame and subliminal revulsion is all-pervasive here.”
Some time ago, the Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University played host to an ‘audacious’ campaign ‘Come and See the Blood on My Skirt’. In a wholly misguided attempt to ‘bring to light the stigma attached to periods’, young girls raged against patriarchy by inviting people to come and see them ‘bleed’.
“These enthusiastic young people fail to see through the inherent hypocrisy and perversion that permeates the male psyche in the sub-continent. The men appear to be supportive of the cause and might even drop by in a show of ‘solidarity’, but most of them are there for reasons that are impossible for us to fathom,” says Priyamvada S, an independent counsellor in Psychology, based in Mumbai.
This holds true for detailed TV commercials on intimate washes and other women’s products that posit personal hygiene as a matter of public concern and consumption.
All they essentially do is give more fodder to the pervert mill and end up making women’s bodies objects of ridicule, at best and of base voyeurism and sexual deviancy, at worst. It is time for women to see through the charade that half-cooked ‘women’s liberation campaigns’ — which are mostly smartly-packaged commercial endeavours — are turning into.
Real ‘feminism’ starts with respecting yourself, even when that respect might come from abandoning hopes of making converts to the cause out of perverts.