Years ago I wrote a post on the taboo surrounding miscarriages. Over the years I’ve spoken about my own experience with other taboo issues like CSA, Child Sexual Abuse, molestation, and so much more. I don’t think I’ve been able to articulate exactly why I do this, other than the fact that I’m tired of the secrecy that shrouds everything that has anything to do with women.
Why is it that our sanitary napkins have to be wrapped in newspaper and disposed of ‘discreetly’. It’s not that we go around decorating our front door with them. Why are stained sheets and underwear whisked away and quickly washed before anyone realises what happened? Why do we not talk about a pregnancy until the first three months are over? So what if there is a chance of miscarrying? So what if we lose a baby? We lose older family members who have been a part of our lives – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, all the time. That is never a secret. In fact we call up, text, mail and inform people far and wide of the loss. So why is the inability of the womb to carry through a pregnancy, such a hush hush issue? Oh, btw, I think I miscarried (ectopic pregnancy, didn’t know about it, glad the decision was taken out of my hands) around the Bean’s birthday two years ago – I think that is why I didn’t post about her birthday. No, I didn’t go to the hospital. Just lay in bed almost bleeding to death until someone called a doctor home and the OA rushed from work. I didn’t go for a procedure after it either. I just lay in bed, convinced that the body would take care of itself given time and rest. I’m still here, two years later so I think we’re doing okay.
Anyhow, getting on with more important matters, I read a fantastic piece on Kafila today ( I love that website anyway) and had to share it with you. Someone far more articulate than I will ever be, has explained the phenomenon. Am highlighting a few of the things she says. Please go over and read the piece by Anupama Mohan when you can.
“I teach a big word in my critical theory classes: phallogocentrism. It is the idea that our societies are centred by the phallus and language (logos) and is a word that often scares, perplexes, and disturbs my students, but I unpack it using an example. In English, the word seminal, which means something important and path-breaking, derives from “semen” and in contrast, the word hysterical or hysteria, which is a word that has for long been associated with peculiarly female physical and mental disorders (and often used for recommending women’s confinement), derives from “hystera” or the womb.”
“So, how do we take the war to phallogocentrism? We begin, I think, by first acknowledging it as part of our everyday practices. Many people have been recently talking about “rape culture,” a phrase that disturbs me even as I recognize that what is being indicated is “phallogocentric culture” where the lingam is worshipped, women keep fasts for men’s welfare or for being blessed with a (good) husband, hide their faces, menstruation, pregnant bellies, abortions, and indeed, run the gamut of their social lives from one threshold to the next and the next, hiding various parts of themselves, physical and emotional. The focus on women as worthy of respect because they are mothers, sisters, and wives is almost always a ploy to constrain women within social identities where their “roles” are defined by and understood in relief from the normative male paradigm. This doesn’t mean that mothers, sisters, and wives are bad things to be, but it does point to the fact that in these roles, women are safest, most worthy, and most valuable to our societies.”
Also, do read this piece by Veena Venugopal. Where she talks about the denial of the existence of female desire. In some ways connected to piece above. A woman must be pure and have no desire. She must merely submit to beastly male desire. Oh well, anyone who knows this blog knows well by now that I have no such qualms. If Farhan Akhtar or Will Smith happen by, I’ll be happy to show them what female desire looks like, upfront and close!
A few days ago the Brat asked me, ‘Mama, can I call you a puma?”
Me: Erm, sure – but why?
Brat: Because Pumas are the best mothers in the cat family and you’re the best human mother there is.
Me: Oh well in that case 😀
I put it up on FB and Diptakirti who exists for only two reasons – to obsess over Bollywood (have you read his book Kitnay Aadmi Thay? No? How could you not?!!) and annoy me, asked ‘Is Cougar next (hee hee)?’
I thought about it and while I hate stereotypes and terms of this sort, I’m happy this term came into existence. Happy that this sort of female desire is acceptable. That women no longer seek out merely the security of an older man but are happy to have their fun and move on – just like men traditionally have. That it’s common enough for there to be a term for it.
For years the woman has merely been a Puma. A loving mother. One who submits to her husband until the deed is done and then focuses on rearing her child, the milk of maternal love quenching all other desire (if she had any to begin with). If at all we compare her again, it is to a tigress protecting her young. As her young grow, she is meant to turn to God and community service while the old wily foxy man continues to mate and breed. Centuries have gone by and only now are we willing to accept that a woman can be a cougar, might want to be one too. More power to them cougars I say.
And on that (I’m sure, rather scandalous) note, have a good week you all.
The links you gave are indeed thought provoking, thanks MM. And I agree that some of these ideas are so deeply ingrained, even the most forward looking people don’t stop to think why…
I recall this argument I used to have with my mom who used to be upset by the fact that when I played badminton my bra strap was seen every now and then. Not too many sports bras or athlete specific clothing those days and I used to tell her, “everyone knows I wear one and its not I’m displaying it on purpose, what’s the deal??”, she still thought it was un-lady like!
That was many summers ago and maybe it’s time to stop hiding…
My God I am melting here thinking of the bunny smile Brat looking at you with his lovely eyes and saying that you are the best mother. My heart is quite literally aching a little with the beauty of it all 🙂
Just yesterday I left work earlier because I had my period and wanted to go rest, but when my father asked me why was I home early I just mumbled about not having too much work. Now reading your post makes me realize how phallogocentrism is truly a part of our daily lives. I don’t know if I was explicitly forbidden to talk to him about my periods or it was implied in the way we are told to be all hush about it.
Another thng, I have often wondered why do women put up false appearances when they don’t get along with their in laws? I am not saying they need to carry banners declaring this, but what’s the point in trying to hide it? I don’t get along with my in laws, it’s unfortunate but can we all accept it as a fact and move on please, this whole nautanki merese toh nahi hoti hai. Earlier I used to feel bad, guilty even, but now I don’t care. Chalo hawa aane do yaar!!
And what a co-incidence, we are designing some Bollywood based stuff and Diptakirti’s book would be perfect, I don’t know why I haven’t bought it earlier.
You should include your website/facebook page in the url when you’re commenting, woman! That will get some publicity.
And yes, I don’t know why we’re so hush hush about anything at all. there’s dignity and then there’s unnecessary drama.
As for the periods – it’s implicit, isn’t it? You don’t let anyone see blood, you don’t tell them why you’re lying down. All this is recent though. In the good old day there was segregation. Clearly the whole family was aware of why you were in the doghouse, but even that wasn’t the best thing.
You are right! My Grandma (dadi) made me sleep on a mat with separate sheets which were put to wash the minute I was up. I had to wash my hair daily and not enter the kitchen without a bath.
Thank yous, Daal diya website, though it will redirect to our FB page for now as it’s under development.
Aaargh I meant…. loving eyes!!
So about this female desire thing na, there was this inside joke we girls had. Most of our moms were told on the wedding night to give into the husband demands and not question anything he asks, jo karta hai karne dena (Quite literally) and we used to joke that our husbands will be told give into the wife’s demands, jo karti hai karne dena 😉
You are awesome. That is all.
P.S.: Phallogocentrism, indeed. We need to center women’s experiences. Women shouldn’t be perceived as “the other”, but as humans. Funny how difficult that seems to be.
So umm, that wasn’t all. Sorry.
Just read the whole article, it’s a brilliant piece. This one line struck me hard
“Thus, it is, for instance, that while the history of the use of various forms of anesthesia to cope with injury goes as far back as ancient Greek, Roman, and Arab societies where the first subjects were men wounded in war, the first use of caudal anesthesia (epidural) upon a woman in labour occurred only as recently as 1942, for why would what “Nature” has intended for women require any other way to be? ”
I’ve never quite understood the glorification of not using pain-meds during child-birth that seems to exist, especially in India. I can understand it when it stems from concerns for the mother/child’s health, but there seems to be some kind of honour involved here as well, like you’re less of a mother if you take them. I don’t have kids, but I imagine it hurts more than, say a root canal, right? And yet my friend who finds the idea of a root canal without anesthesia “barbaric”, still insists that “real women don’t need epidurals”. Boggles my mind.
I have to admit I’m like your friends. Of course I ended up with a csec and didn’t have a choice. No it doesn’t make you less of a mother, but I think it’s more of a desire to experience it as it naturally is. Like carpentry by hand instead of power tools! Bad example? 😀
uff, definitely bad example :p
Except that when I was extolling the virtues of epidural and how it made *my* labor easy for me my aunt chimed in that “real” mothers need to experience pain in child birth.
She gave birth to her 2 gems by C-sec btw. Yes the irony was lost on her.
I was the same. I had a c-sec and hated it and desperately wanted a vbac (in a city with over 40% c-sec rates and miniscule vbacs) and got it. Of course I almost had to go to war about it but it did make me question why and it’s what you wrote MM – I wanted the experience. jp, also, in the name of women’s lib women started getting knocked out (literally) and having dangerous c-sections in the 60s in America and also were told formula wass much better (which it was not then) and they quit breastfeeding. This was also done by the medical fraternity of men – so it makes you think about men swaying us from side to side depending on their whims.
On the other side of the coin is breastfeeding. As a working mom I bfed my daughter over a year until she weaned and determined to do the same for my son but he is a pain in the rear. Thrush, no appetite, you name it. I kill myself by pumping and forcing and I know it’s because I cannot get myself to say I stopped at 8 months. I will defend to death any woman’s right to give her baby formula but I won’t allow myself and I do wonder what that is about. I thought it’s misplaced vanity on my part but now wonder if there’s more to it – my “duty” as a mother and so forth. I shall think.
“I will defend to death any woman’s right to give her baby formula but I won’t allow myself and I do wonder what that is about”. Exactly. I too struggled immensely with this contradiction, and too many others on feminist issues (e.g. epidural, karvachauth *gasp*, superwomanhood).
I’d like to think that it simply meant I supported the right of a woman to choose the way she feeds her baby. But I know it is far from simple because of the crushing guilt and sense of failure I felt whenever I chose differently. And my need to continuously justify each choice meant that I did give a damn about what the external forces that shaped my mindset thought (Not all women who defend themselves do so for this reason — just ones like I, who stand quivering on the edge with wavering conviction).
I keep avoiding the question of whether my “choices” have truly been educated ones or made by allowing myself to get bullied by forces such as patriarchy. Feminist on the outside, regressive on the inside? Sounds like a dangerous cocktail designed to produce lasting hangovers.
But if any expecting person personally asks me what I would suggest (not that anyone will yet?) I will say go ahead with a C-sec..with the kind of horrid natural delivery I had, I didnt want any other child for like 4 years…
and then when I got pregnant, I had a miscarriage in December..darn! just all the bad luck eh?
Loved your post MM…you are an icon in your own way!
Learned something new today. As a matter of fact, I always do while lurking your FB wall and your blog. So thank you my dear friend.
Fantastic article by Mohan. It should be recommended reading for everyone.
As far as cougar is concerned, I had someone suggest to me, just some weeks ago that perhaps I should explore being one now that I am happily into my forties.
And I am considering it seriously;-)
I too enjoyed that piece on phallogocentrism. Of course, with patriarchy being more prevalent than second-hand smoking, I’m sure my language is infused with several etymologically disturbing words. Also, this is more 9th-grade humor than critical theory, but I do get a snicker out of phonetically interesting words such as fallacy and penalize, although there’s no etymological basis for the connection.
You got puma? Cool! I mean, considering. I tend to see myself as the lioness, putting myself at risk to get food for the lazily lounging lads that do nothing but puff their chests to roar or pee around the territory. I’m sure the way they see it, I’m some sort of nocturnal sloth that turns into a hissing rattlesnake once a month.
The post is wonderful MM but my comment is totally off-topic, the last line in this comment made me laugh so hard that I had to put down a line here. I am sure my family sees me this way too “nocturnal sloth and once a month hissing rattlesnake ” 😀 Like
*Giggle* I don’t know what mine sees me as, really. I would not want to ask the OA.
Iv often wondered about why when a man is known to have multiple partners, he gets called a casanova and it is a trait we almost look up to and consider awesome. But if a woman does the same she is called a slut. I read the kafila piece yesterday, twice-over, and was overwhelmed by the clarity. Im often unabashedly candid (is that even possible?) about getting my period because Im almost always in bed writhing in pain and I in the midst of that, I couldnt be bothered spinning stories about the whys and hows I am feeling that way. It works to shut everybody up and keep the questions at bay, because the word “period” is sort of like a bad word, once uttered shuts everyone up.
I loved vena venugopal’s piece and of course the website is awesome!
There was this twitter chat abt regressive thinking started by women’s web that reminds me of this topic. Sometimes we don’t mind singing along or plodding along just to maintain the peace or equilibrium no?
Some of that reticent attitude has changed with women working/getting an education and learning to be audible but more of that will change only when we accept and lend a shoulder to women in our own family.
Btw hugs to the brat! And sorry to hear abt the miscarriage!
Most people are not supposed to go to temples during their periods. I just don’t get it. How can it be unclean if nature intended us to have it? I make it a point to go and behave as naturally as I do on all other days.
And, sorry to learn of your miscarriage. Hope you had the company of friends & family by your side then.
It’s not that society does not get that we have physical desires, it’s just they’re so uncomfortable with the notion that they will do all that is possible to deny its existence. Women who ask for sex, even in the marital bed, are considered wanton or forward. Women who chase men are labeled sluts or horny bitches. When a man is horny, there’s an element of awe wrt to his virility, when a woman is horny, it’s a slur.
You should read this blogpost about Mirabai http://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-tryst-with-mirabai-and-narayan-surve-the-fd-zone/
Society was so uncomfortable with her way of life that they tried to expunge her from history. Forget physical desires, even our spiritual desires are a crime.
MM, Thank you for the links. Very insightful read. You SHOULD read this http://www.alreadypretty.com/2013/02/hair-or-bare-a-pubic-service-announcement.html and the comments too- they are brilliant!
I think talking openly about many things including periods and miscarriages are super awesome but also make sense only depending on your audience. If you audience lacks maturity or is judgement or basically regressive, then its almost like a moot point. Why would you, for instance, have a talk about miscarriage with an older woman who probably staunchly believed that it must have been something that you have done to cause it in the first place.? Or talk to your boss about how you have your period and its such a terrible thing every month to live through it (now that in my world is almost professional hara kiri :D).
Don’;t get me wrong, I am all for being open about everything and I am with most people in my life who are sane and mature. But a lot of them are not, and I think its a waste of my time and energy debating about such issues or justifying anything when it will not lead to any form on enlightenment.
I can’t change the world, but I honestly believe that change begins at home, so in my house everything is out there. I prompty tell my hubby to cook if I get too crampy giving him every single excruciating detail of the cramp (:P), I have no qualms in PDA before my son and having had a miscarriage myself, I have an open door policy for anyone who wants to talk about it.
I think most of us have enough common sense to not talk to a boss about our periods or anything personal for that matter!
But the rest, be it an older lady or whatever, I’d be fairly open – which does not necessarily mean a debate. By simply stating facts and not hushing them up, you’re leading change in your society. The 24 year old who hears me mention it will know that she can be open about hers too.
Sometimes, when my husband has problems falling asleep, he asks me to tell him a story. When I don’t have anything to tell, I tell him what it was like getting my first period and if he still cannot fall asleep, I describe in detail what *happens* when I am menstruating. Full blown science + visual descriptions on my iphone. There’s nothing called TMI.
If we have a daughter and I conk off before time, he will be able to explain everything she needs to know 🙂
🙂 So, after all the details does he ever ask again?
and thoo thoo thoo. You’re not going to make such a dramatic and filmy exit. Am sure you’ll be around long enough for your daughter to tell you that you’re a puma 🙂
I thought that piece by Veena Venugopal was brilliant. She writes so clearly and yet to simply about female desire, it’s a wonder it has remained unsaid so long. I’m going to share that piece – what better way to counter all the cheesiness and stereotypes that are inevitable on Valentines Day?
I’m sorry to hear about the miscarriage MM. I hope you had all the strength and support you needed during the time. * hugs*
I didn’t mourn it really TGG. I didn’t know I was expecting. And my family is complete. So by the time I found out, it was already over and the bigger fear was me bleeding to death really. Fortunately I didnt and here I am! So I’m celebrating the life I have rather than crying over the one I lost.
I came here after quite a while. Somehow feel quite connected to you on FB and blogging has not been on my mind for a while. But oh this was so relevant. Last month I had a miscarriage (there I said it) and its so hard to be able to talk about it- and i WANT to. People get so uncomfy- and I wondered exactly that- that if we can commiserate for older people why not little babies?
I think we as a culture (and i lump us together) have never understood the idea of sharing in the true sense. Here I dont mean interfering which our culture is fab with. I mean sharing as in help groups, people who have been through something together or not even- simply listening to someone say stuff. We get uncomfy too fast.
Perhaps you are further along than we are- and I keep looking to you guys to inspire me to make those changes here too- to be able to bring out things in the open and talk about them- isnt that the only way to truly heal?
😦 I’m sorry to hear that, love. And this is my point. There might be people who don’t want to talk – which is fine. But what about those who *Do* need to talk to someone? I agree entirely – both our countries (yes, same culture) need to learn about space. The space to keep things private as well as the space to share.
I totally agree with whatever you said up there.. what part of ‘females are humans too’ is so bloody difficult to understand? It’s not like we are asking for anything special. Just treat us as equals and thats all we need.
I have always read and re read ur posts, never commented though. But this post of yours timed with a major development in my daughter’s life and I thought of sharing our experience. My daughter was already aware and had been counseled by her father, also. The day she attained puberty was a working day for me and she was home (holiday from school) with her father ( he took an off to keep her company and make her finish the science project). My daughter mentioned abt her bloomers being unclean / stained while taking bath to her father and he knew the reason. He bought her panties ( she only had bloomers till then), bought her sanitary napkins and took her to the lady doc who taught her wear them and explained her everything again. Everything handled as a matter of fact and I went home after a full day at work. ( My in laws stay with us and take care of kids , but my husband did not deposit our daughter to the MIL, instead took care of her the best way so that she is not intimidated ). it has been 3-4 days and she has handled it well for an 11.5 year old.
Wow. I’m floored by the way your husband handled it. Not many men would have done that. Most would have run to their wives for help. Kudos to the whole family for being so awesome. And big hugs to the big girl.
Hi Mad Momma, You do post such relevant stuff! I agree with most of the sentiments, except I am not sure, ….do you mean I would be less panicked about a stain from a paper cut? Hmmm have to think about that…But having lived in hostels and girls’ chummeries, it seems like a good thing if people whisk away their stained clothes and sheets to be washed (or someone does it for them, I make my husband, if I am sickish) instead of leaving it crusting at the edges in the name of being cool about menstruation.
About miscarriage – I feel people do not speak much about it because it is a very private pain, which one suspects not many people will understand? I had a miscarriage and I was devastated, but I was pisssed off when my mother in law told me that my father in law could not sleep on account of my M. My reaction was pure anger at their presumption to mourn a loss that they could not understand- maybe I was not being fair to them, but I felt unable to communicate with anyone in the older generation. In my opinion it was my loss, that was that.
So…different people react to different things differently, no? When I think a little more, this reticence about announcing a pregnancy or a miscarriage is also a woman taking ownership for her private joy, or even confusion, and her private pain before society lays claim to it?
Thats all for now. Love all your posts. Keep em coming
I think there’s a huge difference between leaving stains to set in, and being embarrassed or ashamed about something natural. You and I may not be, but in loads of homes for years before sanitary napkins came in, women washed cloth and hid it away in dark damp unhealthy places to dry. There is a conspiracy of silence that must be broken, regardless of one’s personality which might be more private or open.
I also don’t think it’s fair to believe that a miscarriage is only your loss. Just my opinion. I have been through it and I think an entire family mourns a life that might have been a part of theirs. I’ve cried over a close friend losing a precious pregnancy.
Again, this is less the reticence you mention, more that women are afraid of being blamed for having done something wrong. The myths that surround pregnancy in our culture. Don’t talk about it for the first three months or it will be jinxed. I’d rather it were left to individuals to choose rather than be foisted on you as part of your culture and social conditioning.
I think that’s exactly what this person is saying here though. If you are aware of your mind then you know whether it’s your choice or social conditioning. Otherwise it’s another type of force used over women – first they told us we cannot talk then we have to speak to ensure it’s no longer a taboo. I understand that many times we have to look deep to understand the reasons we are hiding or not hiding our news so it’s important for women who have been shut up to read your post. But I also don’t feel like just because other people may mourn a miscarriage we need to tell them – I feel protective of the womb and the baby a woman carries. It is her body and news first and I do understand anger towards others appropriating it before you are ready to let it go. Your grief is valid but I should be allowed to feel that my mourning is my own first. I have not had a miscarriage but I have had news which rightly or wrongly I felt was mine first and I remember feeling angry at others making it their own before I had a chance to process it and come to terms with it myself. I couldn’t handle other people’s emotions thrown into the mix and felt cheated of my own right to my feelings. I’m not saying I was being very objective and I may well have been harsh but again this was not the most objective moment of my life.
I know you are coming at it from years of social conditioning and misinformation and breaking through and I do hope many of us have the strength to overcome that just as much as we have the strength to figure out our own way of dealing with the grief as well as the news.
okay, I understand all of that. And I’m not talking of us. I’m talking of those who have only been conditioned. I’m talking about us openly being told that it’s not right to tell anyone you have your period/pregnant/miscarriage.
The second part, lets agree to disagree. Just because you have not processed your grief does not mean your husband/FIL has no right to grieve. How can we say that their grief is less valid? We’re then buying into the whole motherhood is sacred theory. One that we conveniently reject when we talk of adoption, bottle feeds, anything. It’s your child, it is also your husband’s child and your FIL’s grandchild that has been lost. I *have* experienced loss and I have to say everyone grieves in their own way and has a right to that space.
My argument was never (either here or on the original post) to say we MUST talk about it, or to put the opposite of pressure and expect public grieving. My argument was against the kind of stupid hush hush culture we have where abuse, loss, puberty – are all treated like dirty secrets. Being private is not a problem. Being told it is something to be kept under wraps, certainly is.
I think we are all agreed that we should not be made to do anything that we do not want to, including keeping quiet about the facts of life, menstruation etc. Yes the more open our culture, the less the problem of sexism, which could even mitigate, however infinitesimally, the trauma in the case of sexual abuse. Of course openness leads to hyperventilation too…
This hush-hush culture re pregnancy and miscarriages – I think we are all on the same page, maybe we differ in our perspectives. You have a big heart mad momma…
I understood my FIL’s grief, but I did not console him or respond to him because I felt his grief was less valid than mine. I wanted my child for myself and yes I think I subscribe to the sanctity of motherhood theory. The buck stops with the mom, and she therefore has the right to take the calls and withold information, especially today where there is not even the difference in education and exposure that men routinely claim make them better able to take decisions. I hope I am not sounding randomly strident. Just my thoughts.
Not at all. I like to discuss things with people who are open to talking and who can debate without getting personal.
So we’ll not talk about you or your FIL because that gets personal.
In theory I used to subscribe to the motherhood is sacred theory for a long time. But I’ve learnt that when we do that, we’re invalidating an experience like IVF, surrogacy, adoption. This is just me being grown up, mind you. Break me down to the core and I’ll sob that I get first right.
That said, I think making motherhood sacred is a slippery slope. We don’t like to be told that a child must only be held by mother, only breastfed, raised by mother blah blah. We want to leave in a daycare at 3 months and go to work and not glorify the whole experience. Can’t have it both ways. Yes, motherhood is sacred, so is fatherhood, grandfatherhood, grandmotherhood. All of them. Someday I hope to have grandchildren and I’m already planning what I’ll do with them (clearly I am in a rush!) and I’d like to see someone tell me it is any less.
I don’t for a minute want you to think that I am taking away from a mother’s grieving. I just think everyone grieves a loss in the family. In their own way. I may not have the strength to reach out and console another, but I can give them the space to do their grieving, and respect and appreciate it.
3 days after i read this post, I had a miscarriage … it was my first pregnancy and still trying to deal with the loss .. but yes, i have realized that talking helps ……
😦 I’m sorry to hear that Surbhi. I hope you’re healing well. I hope you have people to talk to and support and lots of love.
I loved your post. I just recently moved to India after a decade in the US – almost all of my adult life there. I’ve been thinking about women here and there. I think women here are so much more empowered in many ways than women there especially when it comes to parenting. But as thinkers they still seem to be encumbered by meaningless *traditions* that turn us all against one another rather than supportive of each other. I’ve been struggling to find my place here myself, these past few weeks here. I wanted to say – love what you’re doing here. And thought you might like this link given you mentioned stained underpants and sanitary napkins. Things are getting better around the world .. hope it picks up in pace here too.