The first memories I had surrounding “Aunt Flo”, “The Rag”, “that Time of the Month”, or in short, my period, were mainly associated with a feeling of fear. Visions of my period coming unexpectedly, painting my school uniform a crimson red and consequently fueling the classroom with laughter, taunted myself and the majority of my friends.
We were not taught about the natural phenomenon of menstruating: period blood consists of the eggs to create human life. Instead we were raised with a heavy stigma around periods. It resulted in behaviors like flushing pads down the toilet, afraid the blood stained tissue would be seen in the bin. It created phrases that undermined our emotions, such as the infamous, “oh it’s probably that time of the month.”
Myths surrounding periods date back to Ancient Roman times (around AD 77-79). Pliny the Elder, a Roman Author, described in Natural History the effects of a menstruating woman.
“Her very look, even, will dim the brightness of mirrors, blunt the edge of steel, and take away the polish from ivory,” he wrote.
“A swarm of bees, if looked upon by her, will die immediately.”
As I sit in my home in 2018, the idea of a satanic period seems absurd. For the most part, we long ago relieved the period of this myth and many other monstrous stories but the shame and unsanitary stigma of the period still lingers in mainstream media, like tampons advertisements that use a vague blue liquid to represent blood.
Hope has come in the form of artists, advocates and intellectuals like Petra Collins and Sandy Kim. They are the new age feminists unafraid to show the menstrual cycle as something equally bloody and horrific but also fascinating and beautiful. After all, we are allowed to exist as both.
Collins is an artist and curator widely known for her photographic style of pastel colours and dream-like haze. In 2013 she caused controversy with her vagina t-shirt for American Apparel. The t-shirt’s drawing is a close up of a vagina covered in pubic hair, a hand masturbates whilst a bright red period blood trickles out. The t-shirt is bold, unapologetic and completely natural.
Similarly, photographer Sandy Kim documents her period underwear in an intimately raw self portrait. In the photograph she is bent over with her butt facing the camera, a small vivid red stain near her vagina stands strikingly out for the viewer. Another shot captures Kim naked next to a lover, with period blood smeared over her vagina and legs.
Seeing the same crimson red blood I was once terrified of staining my clothes with displayed overtly through Collin’s and Kim’s different mediums eliminated the shame I felt earlier on in my adolescent years.
Don’t get me wrong, we are yet to abolish the stigma all together. US President Donald Trump stands as a prime example of period shaming. In 2015, the President shamed journalist Megyn Kelly after a CNN presidential debate, claiming that “There was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”
Collins, Kim and many others have taken their period, put it on a pedestal and spun it around for the world to view, and this is far more powerful than a man-with-a-toupée’s sexist commentary. No more hiding, let’s represent period blood for what is really is: pure and intensifying.
As we look into the future of period destigmatisation, a new angle needs to be adopted. The period is known to affect 50 percent of the world’s population. But are we taking into account trans women, men and non-binary people?
The Establishment published an article titled ‘Yes, Trans Women Can Get Period Symptoms’, which reported trans women on long doses of estrogen showing PMS symptoms like cramps, bloating, headaches and mood swings. Basically a menstrual cycle without the vagina and blood.
Some trans men and agender people menstruate. Equating the period with womanhood attaches biology to gender, marginalising trans and non-binary people.
Associate Professor at UTS, Melissa Kang, specialises in adolescent health and advocates for LGBTQI inclusive sex education in schools.
“The school environment should promote understanding of and respect for sexuality and gender diversity,” she wrote in an article for The Conversation. “Policies and programs to address homophobic and transphobic abuse and support the professional developments of school staff, are crucial to inclusive sexuality education.”
As a woman who menstruates, I hold the period battle close to my heart; it creates a space for me to feel comfortable in my skin, no matter the time of the month. To show the uttermost power our periods have in breaking down stigma, the battle needs to be as inclusive as possible.
Whether you are woman, man or gender non-conforming, menstruating or not, let’s unite for the fight.