Friday May 22, 2020 By: Mariam Diefallah
If you are a Harry Potter fan, perhaps, like me, you have always been fascinated with the cloak of invisibility. Who would not want to own a magical artifact that provides impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast at it? If you are not a potterhead, just imagine having the power to hide with utmost secrecy!
As a child, I would hide in the balcony and observe people. Covering my body with the curtains, I would imagine disappearing under their lightweight. My playful relationship with the powers of invisibility was turned upside down when my body started changing. The magic quickly transformed to a weighing burden as I came to realize secrecy was going to become a part of living in a woman’s body.
Like many girls, I was taught how to become smaller. Girls learn to hide and be embarrassed at their growing breasts and their body hair. They are told to glue their thighs and sit like ‘good girls.’ They learn they are inherently bad, dirty, and impure. This fact becomes crucial the day they start bleeding. Imagine the horror of finding blood coming out of your body at school. Or waking up to red stains on your bed. As thousands of girls around the world do not receive any education about this natural part of life, seeing menstrual blood for the first time can be truly traumatizing. Many girls think they are sick, others think they are bleeding to death. When they turn to parents and teachers for guidance or support, the reactions usually add to the confusion. Girls ask: Why am I bleeding? And as they receive ashamed whispers, they envision a lifetime of pain and sickness. The reason behind this ‘curse’ is heard loud and clear: Well, you are a woman now!
Every month, womxn bleed in silence. They bury traces of blood on their clothes. In Ramadan, they pretend they are fasting when they do not have to. They hide tampons in black plastic bags after leaving the supermarket, and their extra pads and painkillers find their way to friends in need without any man noticing.
I acknowledge this secrecy has its benefits. You are just emotional. Ew, that’s gross. It cannot be that painful if it happens every month. You must be PMSing. These are only some of the comments womxn get if they dare to take some space. Staying invisible protects us from belittling and condescending mockery. But this comes at the expense of harming the relationship we have with our bodies. For years, I felt my gag reflex every time I glimpsed lumps of blood or brown spotting on my underpants, I blamed my mood swings and cravings on hormonal imbalance, and negated my pain, thinking it was normal. On most days, I believed my blood was an inconvenience, and it felt like I was living my life despite my menstruating body.
As a feminist, this disturbed relationship became a constant reminder of my discomfort with the body I claim to love and celebrate. I was a complete stranger to what happens inside my womb and I wanted to change that. Earlier this month, I joined an online workshop on conscious menstruating with Emily Mattingsley (you can follow her Instagram account here!) I found myself virtually surrounded by womxn from different generations. The burdens of silence have exhausted us. As I listened to their stories, I felt seen and loved. The pain was common, but so was the desire to connect with our innate feminine wisdom.
Towards the end of the session, Emily asked us to close our eyes. I took the first deep breath of the day and surrendered to her voice. I repeated:
my period is a release,
my womb knows what it needs,
this stream of blood flows, and with it,
I release what no longer serves me,
the shame, the secrecy, and the deafening silence.
Emily’s voice brought me back. “On a scale from one to five, how connected are you to your menstrual cycle?” I grabbed my notebook and the closest pen and wrote, “Maybe three? I am just grateful I am learning to reconnect.”
I strongly believe that we owe it to our inner child to befriend our bodies. We have a responsibility to create a kinder world for the girls and womxn around us. Self-love is a commitment to growth and learning. For me, this journey is best traveled when I am surrounded by strong womxn. Their support can guide me back to my magic, and to them, I express my admiration and eternal gratitude.
Mariam Diefallah, A gender activist, blogger, and creative writer. I was born and raised in Giza, Egypt and currently live with my family in Doha, Qatar. I am a strong advocate for better sexual and reproductive health and rights for womxn, and a passionate believer in pleasure as a form of activism. In my free time, you will find me dancing or cuddling with my four cats. To read more of Mariam Diefallah’s articles, visit her blog here
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I am pleased to know this is being talked about in cultures where it has been hidden. The removal of shame and misinformation, has to help everyone, especially the woman who is able to understand and know her body and its whims, so she can function better for herself and family.