When the %$@# did menses become a bad word?Reading Mode
A chance viewing of a sitcom leads to a deeper, social introspection of our nation's view of sex and sexual health.
Have you ever watched ‘The Big Bang Theory’? It’s this hilarious American sitcom about four nerdy geniuses and their super hot “normal” friend called Penny. Over the last couple of seasons, they’ve introduced two more female characters and watching the seven of them on screen is an absolute hoot!
I chanced upon the show the other day, as I was channel surfing, and decided to settle down for half an hour of laughs and giggles. 5 minutes into the episode I realised something was off. Weird gaps and incomplete lines made the jokes a lot less funny than I remembered them. And that’s when I realised what was happening – the channel was muting certain words that they thought were inappropriate for Indian audiences.
What makes a word “bad”?
Now, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has never been a particularly risqué show. The episodes mostly revolve around the social ineptitude of the four geeks and their general inability to get anywhere with women. So while there are no profanities, words like ‘sex’, ‘sleeping together’ and ‘masturbation’ do get used from time to time. Maybe the channel found these words too inappropriate for family viewing and decided to mute them. Although the theme of the episode continues to be around these very terms, so I’m not sure how helpful simply muting these words would be.
What struck me about this particular episode, however, was that our jolly gang of geeks wasn’t even discussing their sex life (or lack of it). This was a conversation between two of the female characters, one of whom (Amy Farrah Fowler) has decided that the other (Penny) is now her best friend. So excited is she about this new found friendship that she declares, “maybe our menses are finally syncing up.”
Except what we got to hear on TV was, “Maybe our **** are finally syncing up.”
So now “menses” is a word so bad that it deserves to be bleeped out, lest it offend family audiences?
Off with that word!
I’m not sure on what basis the channel decides which words make it to TV and which ones get axed. Maybe there is a list that the Information & Broadcasting ministry has released that clearly marks words that are unsuitable for TV. Maybe the channels are responding to feedback from audiences stating their discomfort with certain words. Or maybe, there’s just some guy sitting there who’s been told to be super prudent and delete anything that might be remotely offensive to anyone.
Whatever be the basis of censorship, the question remains - why should the word “menses” be offensive to anyone?
Let’s talk about menses
Menses refers to the monthly discharge of blood that almost every female roughly between the ages of 12 and 55 goes through. This most natural phenomenon occurs around the world, in all social and income strata and forms the very basis of a woman’s ability to conceive and bear a child.
From fast moving consumer goods like sanitary towels and tampons to pharmaceutical products like pain-relief medication and birth control pills, there are multi-million dollar industries built on the very foundation of a woman’s menses.
When a woman of reproductive age goes in for a doctor’s appointment, be it for a headache or viral fever, one of the first questions she gets asked after her name and age is the date of her last period.
Regular television programming is constantly sponsored by ads for sanitary pads – pads with wings and propellers and dryness benefits and the ability to help a woman do everything, from wearing white to conquering the world! We see these pads in action with a blue liquid being poured into them to demonstrate just how awesome they are keeping a woman dry and comfortable during her menses.
And yet, the very word is so bad that we, the Indian family audiences, cannot be subjected to it, lest it offend our sensibilities.
More than just periods
Clearly, this is telling of a deeper social problem. As a nation, we have always been extremely conservative about all matters relating to sex, and I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. What we do need to realise, however, is that this determined vow to not talk about sexual health is leading to some serious lack of information, which in turn leads to actions that can often be disastrous.
From unwanted pregnancies to sexually transmitted infections – lack of authentic information manifests itself in a variety of ways. Wouldn’t it be wiser to avoid the confusion by simply addressing the issues and having a frank chat with our children about it? By clearly talking about actions and consequences and equipping our young folk with knowledge and the ability to make the right decision?
Maybe we could start by just saying the word out loud. Try it out now. Menses.
Photograph via CBS
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