It seems as though women’s bodies have always been a source of controversy. Through media and daily interaction, I’ve learned that women’s bodies are disgusting and shameful, and need to be hidden. (That is, of course when we’re not supposed to have our bodies fully on display, but only after we’ve completely altered what we look like to fit a non-human ideal.)
Once, I used the word “clit” in conversation, and my white, male friend flipped out. “Do you kiss you mother with that mouth?” he exclaimed. “I would say dick around my mother, but never clit.” “Oh really?” I asked. “So male body parts are fine to talk about, women’s bodies are too dirty and vulgar? I get it.” He said that it was “different” because men’s body parts are funny. And what, women’s parts are disgusting? On another occasion, a black man (that I would most definitely not call a friend) kept trying to force a conversation about sex, even after I had repeatedly told him that I was not interested in discussing it with him. At some later point, he tried to make the assertion that I was responsible for cooking as a woman, and I said “really? You think having a vagina has something to do with cooking?” He freaked out because I said the word “vagina.” Interesting, how he someone preoccupied with trying to force a conversation about sex was so affronted by the use of the word “vagina,” the female sexual organ! The name of a body part, just like a cornea or tibia, was too disgusting for him to have to hear because it’s a female body part. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed someone mentioning the word “period” or “menstruation” and seeing all men in the room grimace and cover their ears. Women’s bodies are just so disgusting.
Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from rural, southern India, has spent the last 15 years trying to make sanitary pads affordable for women, starting with his wife, after seeing the rags that she used during her period. Women make up half of the world’s population, yet for so many, access to pads (much less alternative forms of menstrual sanitary accessories) is completely out of reach, sometimes meaning they end up dropping out of school and severely limiting their income potential; trapping them in a cycle of dependency.
Muruganantham ended up being completely ostracized from his community– his wife left him, his mother left, and he was run out of town, facing vitriol from both men and women- simply for trying to find an affordable method to provide with a basic health provision.
Fortunately, thanks to Muruganantham’s perseverance and his invention to allow women to make and sell affordable pads, women in over 1,000 villages have access, and stigma around a natural biological process is disappearing. He says of his success: “My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women – but why not 10 million jobs worldwide,” and is planning to expand to over 100 countries around the world, including Nigeria, the Philippines, and Mauritius.
Although the initiative is by no means a panacea for the vitriol that is directed towards women’s bodies on a daily basis, just imagine, all those attitudes changing, all that income potential for women, and all those pads, thanks to one man from a rural Indian village.