Menstruation Stigma Still Prevails

by May 25, 2019 0 comments

Menstruation Stigma Still Prevails - Rhea Mathew

Filmmaker Rhea Mathew tells Ayushi Sharma that her film Stains is an attempt to represent menstruation in a way that it looks ‘normal’

Every country has a different culture and practice surrounding menstruation, the only commonality being the taboos. The stigma exists in speaking up boldly about it or its manifestations, like blood flow.

In Kenya, more than one million girls miss up to six weeks of schools each year because they don’t have access to menstrual products. In India, many women are not allowed to enter the kitchen or be part of any rituals during periods. But some major misconceptions crumbled when Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui announced that she was on her period when she swam during the 2016 Olympics. In Nepal, a historic practice called chhaupadi has been banned. The practice entails banishing a person who’s menstruating to a shed outside their home because of the belief that women become “impure” during the time of their period.

Twenty two-year-old filmmaker Rhea Mathew’s film Stains is an attempt to examine the portrayal of menstrual blood through the eyes of the sufferer, the people who assign discriminatory connotations to this blood and how it becomes a metaphor for relationships. It also looks at an urban relationship that struggles to exist in the tussle between individuality and tradition where a woman attempts to define and reclaim her autonomy.

Rhea apprises us that the story is written by Manjula Padmanabhan under the same name. She says, “The original story is set in a very different context. It is set in the US and portrays the relationship between an NRI man and an African-American woman. I changed the story line and placed it in the Indian context. I come from a displaced cultural background. My parents are from Kerala but I have never lived there. I have lived my life in Gujarat. I am not rooted entirely in that culture yet I do go back to it. Malayali culture is still very much rooted in patriarchy. It started developing as I was shooting the film. It just put me in the thought process and it also reflects in my film.”

She explains that the film revolves around the story of a couple from different cultural backgrounds who are spending the weekend with the man’s mother on the occasion of Onam. The woman, in the meanwhile, starts menstruating and stains her bedsheet. And her boyfriend’s mother has an extreme and conservative reaction to this. The event, and her boyfriend failing to stand up for her rather expecting her to adjust, creates conflict that builds through the course of the film. She begins to examine her own relationship with her period — the blood and the pain — while simultaneously examining her relationship with herself and her boyfriend.

Rhea has talked to a lot of women around her about the idea of menstruation for them and not just a taboo in society at large. But “how do you come to a space where we are conditioned to, in a way, hide our own blood from ourselves? It’s a subject that has been represented fairly often in mainstream commercial cinema in the sense of taboo. But I don’t see a lot of representation and acceptance of the blood itself,” she says.

“Let’s talk about Padman or other films that speak against the taboo. You’ll, at the most, see sanitary napkins being shown but there is a politics of representation of that blood, which I feel is equally important to talk about. We have never talked about menstrual blood as it is. Not in the sense of creating a shock value but just as an ordinary everyday thing,” the filmmaker adds.

So how can we begin normalising something? She feels that it’s just by being able to see it and talking about it everyday. There is a need to discuss the matter until it becomes normal. It’s such a huge part of our life and we are still conditioned in a manner where we are not even okay if another woman sees it. It’s actually about rethinking this relationship that you have with your own blood.

As the film is set to screen at the Habitat Film Festival at the India Habitat Centre, she says that such film festivals are important for emerging artists and filmmakers to get a bigger platform to reach out a larger audience.

(The film will be screened at 2 pm on May 25 at IHC.)

Writer: Ayushi Sharma

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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