I feel like my university has been a blessing for me for many reasons. Not only is it an open space for diversity and expression as well as learning, but it also let me convey an untold story.
As an art student specifically majoring in Visual Studies, we concentrate a lot on the background and significance of art, deeply studying the cultural, historical, and philosophical context in works of art. Last semester we were given an assignment called the “Found Project,” based off of artist Marcel Duchamp’s ideas. The assignment was to take an object from its regular habitat and place it somewhere else, (a spot where you would not normally find it). I thought very hard about this assignment. I wanted to use this opportunity to bring awareness about my cultural and personal experiences. Instantly, the idea of “Tampon Tales” came to mind.
If you are reading this you might be wondering why there is a picture of a tampon in a bathroom and also next to several food items. Well, in the Indian (and many other cultures and religions), a woman receiving her period is considered to be taboo, an impurity. Weird, right? Not only is menstruation an aspect of the female anatomy we cannot control, it also indicates fertility. Yet, it has been spoken about with hostility under hushed tones for many, many years.
Let me explain:
Not only that, but numerous families have certain rules for women when they get their period. These rules include examples such as:
- Not being allowed to enter a holy place.
- Not being allowed to enter the kitchen.
- Not being allowed to pray.
- Not being allowed to eat with her family.
- Having to sleep on a hard surface.
- Being completely ostracized by the female members of the family, (a lot of elderly women do not want to be near younger women on their period).
- Making sure their act of purchasing tampons, etc., is a covert mission.
- Keeping their menstruation cycle to themselves, and not telling the male members of their family.
My personal story
Luckily I have never experienced any of these rules myself, but there was once an incident that could have caused controversy in my family. This is the reason I decided to use this “Found Project” to express my personal story.
When I was in 12th grade my family and relatives all planned a trip together to a famously holy temple called Tirupati. I knew it was the time of month for myself and so did my mother. She usually does not have any problem concerning periods, but this time she acted differently.
She expressed her concern about what our relatives would say. She offered me a pill to delay my period, fearing that the female members of our family would become very upset if I went to the temple with my period. Of course, I knew very well why my mother was so worried. She did not want the elderly members to feel betrayed or as if we were purposely acting against their beliefs.
But I refused the pill. I was totally against it. It wasn’t so much that I was worried about the health effects of such a pill, (although that can’t be too good for you); it was more my decision to take a stance against such an old, demeaning practice.
Interestingly enough, my dad was fully supportive in this. He did not want me to take the pill and also understood that it was a ridiculous ethic to continue. Why should a natural process women cannot control stop them from anything?!
I did go to Tirupati, period and all. However, we had to hide it from my relatives as to not cause any drama. Regardless, I felt so good about myself for the decision I made. It felt amazing!
Thus came my tampon idea for the Found Project. Through this project I am empowered to share this story of mine to anyone who cares to listen. I wanted to create a symbol and a visual notion of this story to show how I not only beat, but tried to eradicate this sexist practice from my familial customs. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but it was for me.
I do not want this story to insult my culture because there are other aspects of it that I do love so much. However, I think it is crucial that people are made aware of these old-age flaws that are still so customary and present in modern day. I don’t believe periods should only “belong” in the bathroom and be considered taboo, ultimately because they are a part of all female anatomy no one can control. If I, myself, am not confined solely to a bathroom, shouldn’t all other parts of my body be exempt from these rules also? Hence, I am concluding my story with reference to my two tampon images from my project “Tampon Tales.” First, a tampon confined to a bathroom setting, and secondly, one out in the open. The tampon represents the ability I wish all women in my culture had. To stand alone proudly, not confined to the bathroom. Without feeling any shame, but instead showing confidence and courage. I am very glad that my university gave me a platform to spread this awareness and to share my story.
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Sahiti Bonam is a student at Tyler School of art in Temple University. She's lived in many places through out her life and is big on global exposure and cultural awareness, as she's been in international schools doing IB. Apart from art, she loves to read, blog, watch shows and movies, and spending time with her family and friends.