Menstruation is simply a biological function that many women have to deal with once a month. It’s not always pretty or painless, but it is what it is. But why is something that impacts more than half the world’s population stigmatized and shamed so much?
It’s no secret that female bodies are constantly scrutinized, stigmatized, fetishized and co-opted. One aspect where this is remarkably clear is menstruation. The monthly event that most women experience has come to be associated with something dirty, disgusting and shameful.
How did it all start? Thousands of years ago, women had “red tents” that they would go to to bleed in during that time of the month. For some, it was an empowering event, but over time it became something that separated women from men in a different way. Starting in the early 1900’s when tampons and sanitary pads began being marketed via advertisements, it was clear what the overwhelming thought was regarding menstruation. Kotex framed it as a burden, with one advertisement questioning “Why was I born a woman?” because of periods.
These types of ads continued for decades, and included this gem — again from Kotex — that basically told teens that boys won’t like them if they find out they have their period. The shame and disgust made its way from advertisements to social media in the last few years, with Instagram deleting accounts from people who were showing menstrual blood (but not nudity). Yet, Instagram has no problem with people posting violent or bloody images when it’s just “normal” blood (i.e. not period blood).
The disgust and shame focused on women’s bodies became too much for some people and many have started pushing back against it all. Temple University student Louelle Denor purposefully posted a picture of herself holding a bloodied menstrual cup in protest, captioning the photo:
“Yes, this blood is from my #vagina. It happens every month. The thing I’m holding in my hand is a #softcup #menstrualcup and it’s awesome but messy to remove.”
Unfortunately, Denor ended up getting a host of violent, horrific responses from those who disagreed with her. There were many sexist and misogynistic comments like random men commenting on her Instagram, telling her to make them a sandwich to other more threatening ones saying they hope she dies. Over a picture of period blood.
Another woman who shouted her support of women and their periods is Kiran Gandhi, who recently ran a marathon while having her period and didn’t use any sort of pad or tampon, allowing her blood to run freely. She described her decision as one that deliberately fights against period-shaming while also bringing attention to the fact that around the world, many people don’t have access to pads, tampons or menstrual cups and have to find inventive ways to deal with their monthly bleeding.
In addition to individual acts of protest, some companies are changing their tune. Tampon and pad commercials don’t focus on the negative aspects of menstruating but rather on all you can do regardless of whether you’re bleeding or not. And one company, HelloFlo, has made it its mission to destigmatize and normalize menstruation, starting with young girls who have gotten their first periods.
In addition to fighting the stigma and shame surrounding periods, we also have to fight the financial burdens placed on women. Countries like the U.K., Australia and even the United States all have taxes in place for feminine hygiene products. In the United States, it varies by state, but the way items are taxed, tampons and pads fall into taxed “luxury items” rather than tax-free “necessities.” I’m not sure about you, but there’s nothing luxurious about tampons or pads, and they’re actually very necessary. There have been many protests over the tampon tax, including in Canada, where they recently got rid of the tax in response to those loudly against it.
It makes me wonder what would happen if all men bled monthly. Would it be a sign of virility and strength instead of something to hide or shame? We’ll just have to wonder…