Ramadhan and Period Shame: Decentring the Critical Male Gaze

Ramadhan, Period Shame and The Critical Male Gaze

Ramadhan and Period Shame

Picture this. You get your period in Ramadan. If you are a man, pretend for a second that you are a woman. You have a father and a bunch of brothers. None of these people should know that women go through menstruation. Or they know but they are supposed to pretend not to know about it.

Upon getting your period, your fast becomes nullified. You have two choices. Eat for the rest of the day (either by sneaking around or openly) or starve and pretend to fast until its time for breakfast.

Now sneaking around is what most people encourage. But since you are on your periods, you need to nourish and hydrate your body well. So snacking on something here and there is not enough. You need to eat well and regularly. But you only manage to grab two snacks before sundown. Three if you’re lucky.

When it comes the time for Suhoor, you want to sleep well while the rest of your family eats and get up for some Dhikr later. Maybe you get extra tired during periods and need extra rest. Maybe you just don’t feel like getting up and putting up a show when you know very well that you will not be fasting the next day. But you have to do it anyway.

Now comes the time for Fajr prayers. Your father and brother wake you up for Fajr. But you are exempt from praying at this time. Again, two choices, tell them that you can’t pray or get up and put on a show. Literally. Fake Wudu, fake praying movements and fake the whole prayer.

Another day goes by and you pretend to fast. You soon get tired of having to sneak food around so you stop eating altogether. You develop this habit well into adulthood. This will affect your health negatively. Or what could happen is, you would get very short windows or private time and you would binge on food because you don’t know when you will be able to eat again. This is again bad for your health as you are not eating according to your body’s needs. Is this really what Islam requires?

My question is, what is so bad about telling your father and your brother that you are on your period? Is it not by revealing to your family members what your body and mind is going through, even if it is not during Ramadan, that they can nurture you accordingly? This issue doesn’t begin and end in Ramadan but it is definitely an interesting time to bring this issue to people’s attention.

It is no secret that girls and women need special care during menstruation. Some girls and women can go through it without a lot of intervention but the majority of girls and women do need some sort of special care. Add girls and women who have conditions like PCOS and Endometriosis into the mix and it becomes even more nonsensical that we have to hide it from the very people that we love.

Give a chance for the whole family to nurture the girls and women. The same way you would ask everyone in the family to contribute to nurturing the one in need when one falls ill, goes through a rough patch, prepares for exams or a big presentation etc.

It is especially important for fathers to be allowed to be close to their daughters so that they have a strong bond. One reason is to prepare for a day where the girl may not have reliable female mentors to seek help from. The bond between sisters and brothers is very important. It trains boys to nurture and respect the women in their lives in the future. If boys who are taught to respect women and their menstrual needs grow up and end up in policy-making positions, they would work to make the whole society a more inclusive place for women. For instance, period leave, accessible healthcare, more accessible period products, accessible and accurate reproductive health education for young girls in schools can be made available. The amount of things that would change for the better, not only on an individual level but on a large scale, if we could just get rid of this completely pointless taboo we have attached to menstruation is incredible.

Let me conclude with a brain teaser. Why is it alright for a girl to tell her brother that she has to go pee but not okay for her to tell him that she is not fasting because she is on her period? Both are natural biological functions that take place in the vulva. Is it because both boys and girls pee but only girls menstruate hence it is sexualized? Think about it.


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