Instagram, in all its fear of the real human woman body, shut down an image of a period blood, leaking through comfortable track pants. Artist Rupi Kaur knocked back a taboo, and exposed the cruelty that grey marle, so easily stained, is all you really want to wear during your monthly uterus melt. Instagram does not want the real human woman body represented: menstruation, pubic hair and nipples are all apparently banned. Unless it’s an archetypal male fantasy, you can’t show it. So zap those pubes, slip those nips under a teeny bikini top and by Jesus himself, don’t you ever mention your menses.
Occasionally it’s hard to believe it’s 2015. Women haven’t suddenly started bleeding out of their vaginas, people. We’ve been doing it since the dawn of time, you’re welcome everyone who is alive because we birthed you, and will have to do it for the rest of eternity because that is our blessing and our curse. Yet periods are still treated like one of the world’s great mysteries, raised to be neither seen nor heard. All we really get is the brief biology lesson with hollow, plastic uteri and the complicated, harrowing facts served up in sex education classes: an eggcup full of blood? Cocking my leg on a bath to vaginally insert a thumb-sized cotton wad? What if there’s no bath? Wait, is that a nappy? I might get boobs but I have to ritually bleed forever? Boys don’t bleed? They just have to deal with boners, which Hollywood tells us are just funny and cool? Call me new age, but it would have been nice to be repeatedly reminded that your human woman body goes through all of this because it is incredibly smart, and you are having bestowed upon you an insane superpower that means you can grow human life. Which I still think, even if I don’t choose to use it, is better than flying or invisibility.
Once the initial shock of your impending ladyhood subsides, there’s the advertising. Not only are we sold floral wipes that would be better off dealing to a penis, but we’re also given a variety of pad and tampax options to help us pretend our periods aren’t happening at all. Buy this magical sanitary towel and you’ll be ready to safely pop on some khaki pants and go for a sail! On a yacht! Look, we’ve developed a coloured string for your tampon so you can go rollerblading with your mates! Lipgloss! A disco! You’re unstoppable! Women! I’m not suggesting that we can’t go sailing, rollerblading or wear cycling shorts with pride, I’m saying the opposite: it’s so obvious that we can do whatever we want during our scheduled bleed, TV really shouldn’t have to point out that we can.
The other truth is, they’re often tricky to navigate. When I was at school, period cramps were pitched as a figment of the adolescent imagination. But the bitch is real. Mine, luckily, aren’t a guaranteed component of each cycle, but when they do show up all I want to do is lie in bed and be spoon-fed two-minute noodles while watching Notting Hill. Eventually I’m able to roll off my mattress and go rollerblading, but for many women I know, the horrible, gut-punching can last for days and feel infinitely worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. This isn’t what’s sold.
Modern companies offering modern services for the modern period are doing a little better: Hello Flo almost nailed it with a precocious eleven year-old gyno camp consult, selling their monthly mail order fem kits and their recent, quite excellent First Moon Party ad, even managing to make (SHOCK) fun of periods. Because, much like boners, they can be comical too. Yes, often when you drop your bag only Tampax falls out. Yes, they are frequently mistaken for lipstick. Yes, grey marle is permanently at risk. Yes, pads will unceremoniously stick to the odd pant leg. It’s OK to laugh about periodical (lol) blood coming out of a vajayjay (except for that one shark advert, ew). Enough with the tabooing, please.
Earlier this year, it was finally pointed out to the mass media that having periods isn’t all sunshine and laughing while eating low-fat yoghurt. They can affect performance, as stated by number one Brit tennis player Heather Watson. The whole world reeled in shock – but we thought you ladies just made up the cramps and fatigue to get out of swimming lessons? You mean bleeding out of your vagina on a monthly basis can take a toll? Really, we’re still not far enough from the era when Disney, suffering through the financial crisis brought on by Fantasia, produced this 1946 menstruation instruction video:
The closing statement still rings alarmingly like current period plots: “But don’t let it get you down. After all, no matter how you feel, you have to live with people. You have to live with yourself too! And once you stop feeling sorry for yourself and take those days in your stride, you’ll find it’s easier to keep smiling and even-tempered.” Fist pump! Strap on those rollerblades and skate your way into a fancy man’s heart! Live with yourself! Stat!
Treating periods like yucky unmentionables has allowed some incredibly nonsensical things to happen: for example, we pay a lot of money for tampons. Now we’re starting the honest conversations, using my disposable income to stock up on flow-maintenance seems so stupid I can’t believe governments everywhere aren’t simultaneously slapping their foreheads and changing laws. GUESS WHAT. Menstrual cycles are inevitable. More inevitable than sex. We have to buy specialist products so we can safely eat salad while wearing linen pants in public, and we have to do it every single month. Honestly. Of course they should be tax free.
But on goes the immeasurable fear of the human woman body and all its mysterious power. Menstruation is just the beginning. Biologically, the things we go through are wonderful, but brutal. Because once you’ve had a period most of your life, you might decide to have a baby. Because once you’ve pushed a tiny, angry stranger out of your vagina, you have to take care of it, mouth clamped to your raw nipples, expressing itself only in an assortment of wails. Because once your kids are making kids, you’ll then have to undergo the menopause. All while the world looks on, expecting you to do a great job, put on a brave face, follow the latest fads, because it’s all so straightforward and natural. Incorrect. The universe’s best (and only) superpower is beautiful, yes, but also unbelievably hard. And there aren’t enough discussions about the hard parts.
Thankfully, the female experience experts, AKA women, are finally rewriting the female experience narrative. 2015 will, hopefully, be the year that we keep demanding more from healthcare, from legal systems, from the media. Periods are an important percentage of womens’ rights’ pie chart: demystifying the lady body so we can stop having to answer ancient, idiotic questions sourced from the ancient fountain of ‘what else it is we need since us gals got the vote.’ A whole lot more, you jerks. And some free tampons might be a good place to start.
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