By: Renee Chan
You are a recurring character in my life, in my home of Hong Kong. A city where east meets west. Dubbed “the Pearl of the Orient,” Hong Kong may seem to be a thriving metropolis which has plucked the best from both East and West, but I wonder, what about the fights for equality, particularly feminist movements?
The moment I saw you hurtling across the wide expanse of our classroom, you and I, Pad, are connected by a red thread of fate. You are inseparable from my identity as an Asian woman. Studying in an all-girls’ public school in Hong Kong for 12 years, I notice your omnipresence in our everyday conversations, ranging from the “Do you use 24cm or 32cm pads?” to “Oh! That brand is super nice and soft.” In my school, periods and pads are never something that seem awkward to be conversed about. After all, pads enable us to survive through the agonizing cramps and aggravating lightheadedness.
On a day-to-day basis, someone would yell, “Does anyone have pads?” I witness your mighty flight in the air, the white flimsy plastic wrappers acting as your wings, fluttering to the desk of the unfortunate girl who is going through her time of the month. These scenarios are normal occurrences in my life, and never have I questioned your ubiquity. Stepping outside of the premises of my school, however, I realize you are devoid in the conversations I come across. I am starting to miss you.
Everywhere I go, women try to conceal their obnoxiously colored pouches – red, yellow, blue – filled with pads while dashing to the toilet. It is an oddity to me, having been accustomed to my classmates simply stuffing pads into their uniform pockets without a care in the world. I do not understand why other girls find you, Pad, to be embarrassing. They are somewhat ashamed of having to take you out from the deepest chasm of their bags and exposing it to the bright daylight.
Pad, my ongoing journey with you has prompted me to ponder why you always pose as the unpopular wallflower in every teenage coming-of-age film, even when your existence has been the relief for so many women. It appears you are like issues within society: sensitive and intimidating to approach.
Like pads, topics such as gender inequality, pay gaps, LGBTQ+ rights barely see the light of day. Simply acknowledging but not working proactively to address these issues is like asking girls to eat chocolate to feel better during cramps. It is, a temporary fix contributing nothing to development of long-lasting solutions.
Now, we see activism all around the world, ranging from the #PadManChallenge in India to the Free the Nipple challenge that swept the world. But why did we not see it in Hong Kong? Where have all the feminist activists gone? While considering the surging social status of women in Asian countries, I cannot help but notice their absence in such incredibly important milestones in feminist activism.
I would argue that this is because Asian women are still dealing with labels, some of which encourage women to become the sole caregiver in family, and some which discourage women from wearing anything remotely revealing out of fear of being considered “slutty”.
We, ourselves, know that activism and advocating for our well-deserved rights are vital changes that we need to take, to speak up, and to have our voices heard. However, growing up in Hong Kong, I have seen merely a handful of women outside of my school’s walls who would talk about these issues and raise the public’s awareness. I believe this comes from a culture that exists in Asia more broadly, where we have fewer examples of women breaking the glass ceiling. We feel somewhat adapted to and content in our current situation. But I believe this should not be the reason why we let ourselves out of the picture of activism.
What we need is to initiate conversations in traditionally conservative societies, to push forward in the crusade for pay equality, and most importantly, to empower women to fight for their rights within the workplace environment. However, being able to fully achieve what I envision as an equal society will possibly be light years away, given that men are not engaged in these issues. Moreover, traditional mindsets and gender stereotypes are the pouches containing pads, obscuring them from the masses, rendering them to be unspoken. Breaking down these archaic standards is similar to asking men to buy packets of pads. It is uncomfortable because it confronts the unpleasant reality of what women really face, be it the 22% pay gap between men and women or having the shortest maternity leave in the world.
Being a feminist, you, Pad, have become my beacon of hope in this world that is still trying so hard to eradicate gender inequality. You have revealed to me how involving men into conversations, such as gender inequality, is not as absurd as it seems. I realize that it all stems from a certain culture in my school – throwing you in the air when an alarmed cry laced with emergency is heard. I want societies to talk more about these issues pertaining to gender with men; it should be as simple as asking for a pad. I believe it is through open and honest communication that we will be able to find common ground and explore ways to bring about gender equality in the society. This, is truly what will rid false preconceived notions.
Pad, you have served me and many other females well and I sure hope you will no longer be hidden from plain sight. I imagine a world where females will be bold enough to embrace their monthly needs with a more open attitude, no longer seeing it as a monthly routine of playing “hide the pad” from the prying eyes of others. I imagine a world where gender equality can be accomplished and women will be paid what their hard work has garnered. I imagine a world where dialogues on gender, equality, and pads will be facilitated everywhere, blossoming and bearing the fruits of advancements in gender equality.
You will certainly remain as my closest companion for the decades to come and I know I will not be able to live without you. Pad, I hope you will soon be released from the confines of the dark interior of women’s bags to enjoy your brief yet life-saving days out in the open.
Pad, we met in that fateful summer and I this knew right away: activism needs to be normalized.
Renee is a rising college freshman from Hong Kong, who is interested in Model UN and dance. Having dabbled in international politics from previous conference experiences as chair and delegate, she would like to go to law school after graduation and ultimately, work at the United Nations. Moreover, she is an avid foodie and can be easily bribed by a cup of bubble tea.