I dont know why, but suddenly menstrual taboos in India is getting a lot of virtual column space. Practically every time I log into facebook, I see someone posting something about how menstrual taboos are demeaning to women and how it is time it stopped and what not. Or alternatively how menstrual taboos are deeply scientific and how ancient hindus knew a lot of science and we are better off following whatever they say.
Being an Indian woman from a conservative family, I am fully familiar with menstrual tabboos. I have faced my share of them, and right from puberty during my monthly ‘time’ I was not supposed to do stuff which I otherwise do. Now if I describe what the taboos were, it may sound awful and inhuman, but actually it was not that bad. After I read up a lot on feminism and started seeing these taboos as something demeaning to the essence of women, I resented them, yes. But the people who were imposing these taboos were my own family, people I loved. No matter how strong my resentment, I somehow complied because in the larger scheme of things, this didnt seem worth fighting over.
And of course no matter how much I claim that I dont share these taboos, I would still hesitate to walk into a temple or even a public pooja during that time. It is not just me, friends of mine, who were bought up in more open settings (without so many taboos) still hesitate to walk into temples. Maybe it is an example of how we are complicit in our own discrimination. But no matter how comfortable we were in our private prayer settings, going to a temple was somehow not OK.
But my most major insight about the experiences were that I railed against them for what they meant, but that was at an intellectual level. In actuality I was quite compliant of what was expected of me. Sometimes I even enjoyed the fact that I didnt need to do household chores at that time. Taboos which were inconvenient for me I railed against or did not follow, but things which didnt affect me negatively, I simply followed them or even benefited from them.
This is perhaps one of the truly discriminatory experiences I have actually faced (I may have faced discrimination as a woman, but nothing so obvious). And when I think about it, I am stuck by the fact that despite understanding the discrimination, I have not blown hot about it. I have subverted some aspects, accepted some aspects and moved on.
I am not trying to say people who are discriminated enjoy it, just that their experience of it is much more complex than simple acceptance or denial. I have observed similar things in my workspace where I have interacted with leaders of sex worker collectives. One of the primary steps in empowerment of sex workers is helping them value and respect themselves and not internalize the notion that they are doing something ‘bad’. But I have seen this is rarely an either or situation. Sex workers can accept that they are not fallen ‘women’ that theirs is a job like any other. They can even take pride in it. But their acceptance is not always complete, it is always a journey towards greater acceptance of themselves.
Maybe this is what a lived experience of discrimination is like. You rail against it but accept and subvert it in your own ways. And perhaps emacipation itself is also a personal lived experience, as you gradually throw away or subvert more of the discrimination