Imagine having to leave school, forever, because a maturational event beyond your control made it impossible for you to attend every class. Imagine having to spend days in a rough cowshed – dirty, smelly, cold or hot – simply because you were a healthy 14-year-old.
That’s what happens all over the world to people who have two X chromosomes.
Even in such “Westernized democracies” as India. (I put those words in quotes because of the cruel tortures of this past week in Delhi, and the initial government reaction to furious protests.)
As this recent New York Times article makes clear, the difference between the bodies of healthy girls and healthy boys within their society can create lifelong inequities, regardless of one’s intelligence, work ethic, talent or skills.
When these girls’ menstrual periods start, they are barely trained by their mothers in hygiene. Lacking the resources of girls in wealthier parts of the globe (e.g., sanitary napkins, tampons, reusable cups), they must – as was common everywhere before the 20th century – create their own pads from cheap cotton. And then, how to dispose of the pads? Keep in mind that years ago, even in America, because handmade fabric was expensive, used menstrual pads were often soaked in water and washed to re-use.
It is to avoid embarrassment and shaming that girls quit or are yanked from school. Staying home even one week per month, as is common in Africa, means girls fall behind in their studies. Staying home forever makes for a society in which only boys are educated beyond the onset of adolescence. This create an enormous power differential.
It also enables a ridiculous waste of resources.
What sense does it make to consign a person with intelligence and imagination to a life where every repetitive task could easily be done by someone less able to resolve complex problems and come up with innovative solutions?
What does the world look like when half of a country’s collective talent is ignored?
And what do women who manage to get educated face in a society that dumps female intelligence on a domestic scrapheap?
In part, they face a world where cruelty is inflicted upon them, where male police officers dismiss their pain, where their pleas for justice go unheeded. It’s not just for show that West Bengal – the Indian state whose biggest city is Kolkata (Calcutta) – plans 65 all-female police stations. It is that state’s response to a fact that Indian women know well: police stations staffed by men are not places of succor and refuge for women. They are offices of scorn, criticism, blame, and, too often, sweep-under-the-rug-ism.
Police stations, offices, hospitals that are uniformly staffed with men in charge are symptoms of societies in which biology, specifically menses, is still destiny — despite IQ test levels among women that are measurably at least identical if not larger.
Insert large sigh here.
For half the adult population, menstruation is a fact of life. Experiencing regular periods is not essential for health – many women’s cycles are irregular, and some birth control methods eliminate menstruation for months at a time – but where they’re present, regular cycles are simply monthly occurrences.
Deal with it.