How to (Not) Talk about Menstruation

By Evelyn Gonzalez '18
Feminism Columnist

The crimson curse. That time of the month. On the rag. The period. Aunt Flo and Uncle Red. There are a lot of euphemisms out there used to talk-- or, one could argue, to not talk-- about menstruation. Although for many, menstruation happens around once a month and is therefore very common, it is still a topic that contains a lot of stigma and elicits hushed tones and abashed voices-- an effort to hide something very normal and natural in many lives. Individuals who menstruate are taught that it is a specifically private thing and should not be discussed in the public sphere. The words that we use to discuss periods in society, such as “unsanitary,” “wasteful,” “painful,” “dirty” and many more also illustrates the ways in which society has socialized individuals into believing that conversations surrounding this topic should be swept under the rug. These negative connotations perpetuate the idea that menstruating is something abnormal. While it’s perfectly acceptable to want to keep certain parts about yourself private, it’s also important that those who wish to engage in these types of conversations can do so without reprimands or embarrassment. As a society, we need to work towards the social normalization of the period so that no one is made to feel the guilt and humiliation that is often associated with this process.

Kiran Ghandi at the London Marathon

Kiran Ghandi at the London Marathon

Last year, a group of anti-feminist users from the website 4chan tried to start the “free bleeding” movement on Twitter by creating fake accounts to persuade women that sanitary pads were oppressive in order to show how irrational they believed feminists were. Their aim was to get enough media coverage on this “trend” and “make shitty, hairy, feminazis mad, because  [periods are] dirty and disgusting.” While it was a sad attempt at best, some users did bring up some well-founded concerns about periods such as being made to feel “embarrassed and ashamed during menstruation.” While the 4chan free blood movement might have been a hoax, there are plenty of individuals out there who have chosen to make a statement using their own menstrual blood in constructive ways. In April, Kiran Ghandi was looking forward to running the London marathon. When she discovered the night before that she had begun her period, Ghandi chose to not use a tampon and to free bleed during those 26.2 miles. She spoke about her experiences in a post for saying, “As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist.

Because it is all kept quiet, women are socialized not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see it happening.”  Buzzfeed also showcased the work of Jen Lewis, who used her period blood to create abstract paintings in fishtanks. Her goal for the project was to “normalize the menstruation process.” Recently, The Huffington Post also presented the work of Carina Ubeda, an artist from Chile, who saved five years worth of menstrual cloths to create her own exhibit. Each cloth was embroidered with words like “production” and was hung into an embroidery hoop next to rotting apples that she says were used to symbolize ovulation. These acts of art, while shocking to some, can help to open up discussion and to create an environment that de-stigmatizes the human body.

While conversations like these are important in relieving some of the stigma that individuals face, movements that focus on menstruation are often thought of as particularly white feminist in the sense that these often do not become intersectional conversations and tend to equate being a woman with having a vagina and uterus. These criticisms are particularly necessary because they allow us to change the ways we talk about menstruation to become more inclusive and less transphobic or ableist. Vaginas and menstruation are not the end-all-be-all to the feminist movement, but it is helpful for those people who do experience the stigma from their period to have an outlet and space in order to combat negative and harmful comments and views. By de-stigmatizing the period, we are making it easier for people to learn about their bodies and their health in a manner that creates visibility around the realities of their experiences.