Back at campus, and my former student who is helping with student orientation says to me, “You haven’t been blogging much.”
She was direct. It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. That’s why I love lecturing. My students keep me on my toes, literally. They also never cease to amaze me with how bold and brave they are.
This week, I was reminded of that, yet again. I had asked students to prepare a short paragraph and then come present to the class on the following topic: How does the budget affect me?
The first student spoke confidently about sanitary pads with zero VAT being effective from 1 April. On a practical level to her, it means that she will not have to ask her parents for money for her personal hygiene as she will be budget for it from her monthly allowance. Other students listened attentively. They applauded at the end. There were no sneers and jeers at the fact that she brought up menstrual hygiene. It is a fact of life- that both women and men need to acknowledge and discuss openly. And I could not have been more proud as a lecturer of the level of maturity that pervaded my classroom.
Seemingly, a far cry from the attitude of one American Academy Award jury member towards a short documentary.
“[I’m not going to vote for] Period. End of Sentence — it’s well done, but it’s about women getting their period, and I don’t think any man is voting for this film because it’s just icky for men,” he wrote in his anonymous Oscar ballot. (via The Hollywood Reporter).
Despite his ambivalence, Period. End of Sentence won the Oscar for best documentary short. It’s being hailed as ground-breaking both on and off-screen. I haven’t watched the documentary yet. It is definitely on my to-do list, but naturally, I am elated.
Growing up, having your period was always something spoken about in hushed tones. Within some Indian religious and cultural practices, having your period is equated with you being “unclean”.
I recall asking an elder family member, “What do you mean I’m not clean?! I did have a bath today!” Of course, I wasn’t taken seriously. Eyes rolled at my outburst and it was probably put down to a rebellious teenage phase.
That word made me so angry. It still does. Yes, it continues to be used by some in that very context. They insist women cannot partake in certain prayers or customs because it could bring “bad luck”.
And that’s why the world needs more documentaries like Period. End of Sentence.
It forces us to talk frankly about these issues rather than skirting around it. It really is time that we start seeing menstrual hygiene for what it is – it is a women’s birth right and by virtue of that she has the right to access sanitary pads and she has the right to continue with her education – be it in India or South Africa.
For cinema coming out of India, this documentary is a giant leap from the Bollywood formula. Though Bollywood too was brave enough to tackle the issue of lack of toilets and how this impacted women in particular with the movie Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (A Love Story). I loved the blatant and sublime messages the movie conveyed. I felt empowered after watching it and for me, that’s what good cinema should achieve.
Similarly, the cast and crew of Period. End of Sentence must be commended, not only because they won the Oscar, but because they beat so many odds to ensure that the story of millions of women reach this global platform for the world to take note.
You can read more about their arduous journey here;
For me, it’s reminder that as much as we live in a world where many try to emulate fairytales or fancy lifestyles as seen on screen, it’s when art imitates reality that the most powerful stories are told. Period.