Why Indian Fathers Must Talk to Their Daughters About Periods

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Why Indian Fathers Must Talk to Their Daughters About Periods

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Most women remember their first period. They remember the time and date and circumstances, they remember the absolute panic that sets in when they see blood, followed by abject embarrassment, they remember rushing to the closest female figure for assistance. Some will remember the rites of passage that followed – a friend was draped in a bright red sari at the end of her first period, and worshipped like a little goddess.

What no one remembers, is the presence of any male figure in these very female rituals – not even fathers.

Rare is the Indian father who is handed over a ₹100 note and asked to pick up a pack of sanitary napkins for his daughter. After all, it is as simple as going to buy a loaf of bread. But how many fathers do we know, who can just walk up to a chemist and ask for tampons with applicators? How many fathers can discuss the benefits of menstrual cups – which can help women do basic activities like swimming or running – over other feminine hygiene products? Forget that, how many are part of the conversation on everyday menstrual issues like heavy flow, PCOD, or irregular periods?

The father is often an absent figure in a young girl’s journey to womanhood. But why should it be that way? When fathers have risen to the occasion on so many other counts – equal parenting responsibilities, becoming “diaper dads”, ensuring that their children have well-rounded personalities – why do they shy away from this essential part of their daughters’ lives? Is it second-hand social embarrassment? Is it that they have historically been left out of the conversation on these “girly problems”, and can’t find a way in?

Very few girls of my generation and those growing up today have the luxury of being brought up by fathers who educate themselves about what their daughters experience during menstruation. It makes them uncomfortable, and they think it’s just the mother’s job (like many others) to deal with it.

But how many fathers do we know, who can just walk up to a chemist and ask for tampons with applicators?

Maybe if they had taken the time out to understand what their daughters were going through, they could have been of more help. Had they been allowed to overcome their own biases and embarrassment, maybe they could have had more fruitful conversations with their daughters. If they had known about period pain, and the excruciating cramps that women go through, perhaps they’d treat the women around them, like colleagues who need menstrual leave or wives who want to rest through the day, with more empathy. Instead of being judgmental about it, watching their daughters undergo the same pain, they might even be able to suggest remedies, like simple herbal pain relief solutions like Sirona’s pain relief patches.

And it isn’t the most hideous parts of menstruation: If men were included in the conversation about periods, they would know about the laundry list of discomfiting problems that women undergo. The chafing, the odours, the discreet (and environment-friendly) disposal of sanitary products, the constant worry about staining and the “can you just check my behind”s… And that would result in more compassionate individuals. And it begins with the first men in a woman’s life: fathers.

If only fathers sat down with their daughters and discussed menstruation, they’d realise the period conversation is in severe need of normalisation, not just among men, but women too. A majority of Indian dads, however, are unaware of how to deal with their daughters’ period.

A friend of mine shared a real story about a 40-something widower in Lower Parel: Apparently, he kept his daughter locked inside a room for seven days because he had no idea what to do when she began menstruating.

If mothers can talk to their sons about puberty, dads, you must talk to your daughters too.

That might be an extreme example, but we don’t realise how parents can pass on conservative social conditioning of so many years down to their children, without the slightest idea of what needs to change. Parents who will ask their sons in their homes to go play outside in the evenings, but won’t bother explaining to the daughters why they are not being allowed inside the kitchen five days a month.

For any real change to take place, we need to include the men of the house in the conversation.

Let’s break it to them. If mothers can talk to their sons about puberty, dads, you must talk to your daughters too. This is an experience that changes the lives of your little girls forever. It’ll be nice to read up about menstruation and be prepared in case she comes to you with a question. It’ll be nicer to tell her that this is something that empowers her, and she doesn’t need to be afraid or ashamed — or, in fact, not be too embarrassed yourselves to hear words like “vaginal discharge” without having to leave the room.

Trust me; that little chat will bring you closer to her than you ever were. You’ve been her dad – this is the time to be her superhero. For life.

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