People tell women to be quiet about ambitions; periods; abuse, assault or rape; pregnancy issues; mental health; strength or weakness; and just existing. From the earliest times we can remember, we’re told many women issues are taboo. Told to hide our sanitary purchases (and die from the embarrassment of period stains and cramps), to hide our less pleasant pregnancy symptoms and bodily changes post-childbirth, to silently power through abusive relationships as “strong women”, and to pretend that mental health illnesses don’t exist.
To leave these taboos behind, here are a few things to remember when the image of silent shame looms over your head:
There is nothing to be ashamed of
Roughly half the world’s population of mammals menstruates, and monthly blood loss is stressful from any biological standpoint. Pregnancy is traumatic for the human body even in the easiest of pregnancies. Mental health is a global concern across genders, races or class… not just another ‘women issue’. Abuse is more reflective of the abuser than the abused. It’s not a fault and where there IS any fault, it is definitely not YOURS. It could happen to literally anyone, despite her best efforts. We need to learn to throw out unwarranted shame.
There are no prizes for needless suffering
Forget what the patriarchal system tells you, there’s no reward for suffering in silence, not even the guaranteed selection or elevation of the men whose approval we’re told to seek. Choose yourself. It is important that you love yourself enough to shake off the shackles of a culture that enables and upholds your suffering.
There is help
From gynaecological and mental health issues, to abuse and assault, there is help available no matter how severe your case is. There are helplines (such as the Suicide Prevention Initiative and DSVRT in Lagos), agencies, NGOs and shelters that do pro bono work for indigent women (such as Project Alert and Stand to End Rape Initiative). There are discreet help centres for women who desire more privacy. If your “friends” and family are unsupportive, look outside your immediate circle for external support. Whatever you do, talk to someone and get help.
There is strength in numbers
There are more people in situations like yours than you think/know: you are not alone. Even in cases where there is no local established help for your situation at the time, find the courage to speak out and encourage others to do the same. It increases the chances of getting solutions eventually, and might just be the catalyst for setting up a lasting structure that will provide help for others like yourself.
Speaking up for others helps you as well.
Even if you don’t suffer directly from such women issues, you should be willing to speak up for others from your position of privilege. Report, assist in, protest against, and defend the victims of abuse in cases to which you’re a witness. Join in raising awareness for women’s health issues. If you won’t do it for its own sake, do it for the sake of the women in your life: your mother, aunts, sisters and (unborn) daughters.
We need to push back against taboos that serve no purpose other than to diminish the quality of women’s lives. Let’s work together to build a future where women can speak out about issues affecting them AND live their very best lives. Let’s build relationships that matter.