Periods: The Shame and Shaming


I am not a fan of the menstrual cycle but i understand it is a natural part of making new human lives and this is great. If there was any intelligent designer, aka God, women wouldn’t need to bleed every month for new human lives to be possible, and this is one reason i can say God is not a woman.

It is sad that the society portrays menstruation as an obscene, dirty thing women should be ashamed of. As a teenager, I was scared and ashamed to go into chemists’ shops to purchase sanitary pads and it did not help that the people behind the counters were usually men. Most times, I found myself going from one shop to the other, praying and hoping there would be a woman behind the counter. If the shame i felt could kill, i would have died at the spot!

Thanks to feminism and the liberation it brings, I now buy my sanitary pads and tampons with pride. Gone are the days I made extra efforts to keep my sanitary pads hidden under the bulk of my shopping, now i make a point of not hiding it under any grocery/shopping. This ‘little’ act feels like liberation from century old shackles.

Also in an effort to demystify the myths, break the taboo and shame associated with menstruation, I discuss openly with my son about any menstrual related problems i have.

Growing up, the time I ever had to talk about my periods with my parents or the adults around me, including class teachers, was all about the lecture and stern reminder that with menstruation comes the risk of pregnancy. I remember getting my first period and immediately told it was a warning not to mess around with men. Subsequently, having my periods right on schedule every month was a way of confirming to the adults around me that I was not sexually active or at least not pregnant. My periods became a way for people around me to police my body and sexual activities. Growing up in a society where sex education is almost taboo, my monthly periods seemed like the inaudible way of saying, “Hey, I am not pregnant!

There is also the unfortunate religious stigma surrounding menstruation. In many religions, including Christianity under which I was brought up, menstruation is viewed as a dirty thing to be avoided. A menstruating woman is referred to as unclean and is forbidden from entering the House of God or going near temples. The bible in Leviticus 15:19 says,

“When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean.”

Yeah, WTF is the appropriate response!  At the time, I was an ardent churchgoer and i remember feeling sad when i could not attend church services with my family, due to the monthly ‘curse’.

Religion further entrenches the stigma attached to menstruation. Menstruating women are made to feel unclean, dirty, unworthy and a freak just because they bleed from the vagina every month.

Never mind the science behind it.

Never mind that is what makes procreation possible.

Never mind that it signifies an important part of keeping the human race alive.

Never mind that it ensures the continued survival of our species because as far as religion and patriarchy are concerned, a menstruating woman is yet another example of why women are the ‘weaker’ sex.

Is it any surprise that women have learned to be ashamed of that time of the month?

Is it any surprise that many men go “Eew”, pull a disgusted face at the mention of menstruation?

Is it any surprise that it is considered ok to post a picture of a bloodied nose or advertise a bleeding gum to sell mouthwash, but it is not ok to post a picture of a woman with a spot of menstrual stain?

Is it any surprise that Instagram would categorise a picture of a woman asleep with a spot of menstrual blood on her pyjamas and menstrual stains on bed-sheet as an obscene image that must be taken off its site, even though most women have had this experience?

Is it any surprise that some people would report this image as obscene? tumblr_nlr1zr1zrg1sn0z5fo1_1280

Source- Rapi Kaur

 

When Rupi Kaur, a student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, posted the above image which is a part of her photoseries project on Instagram, it was deleted by Instagram, citing violation of ‘Community Guidelines’.

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Rupi kaur responded with:

Thank you @instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted a photo of a woman who is fully covered and menstruating stating that it goes against community guidelines when your guidelines outline that it is nothing but acceptable. the girl is fully clothed. the photo is mine. it is not attacking a certain group. nor is it spam. and because it does not break those guidelines i will repost it again. i will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. pornified. and treated less than human. thank you.

This image is a part of my photoseries project for my visual rhetoric course. you can view the full series at rupikaur.com

I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether i choose to create or not. but very few times it is seen that way. in older civilizations this blood was considered holy. in some it still is. but a majority of people. societies. and communities shun this natural process. some are more comfortable with the pornification of women. the sexualization of women. the violence and degradation of women than this. they cannot be bothered to express their disgust about all that. but will be angered and bothered by this. we menstruate and they see it as dirty. attention seeking. sick. a burden. as if this process is less natural than breathing. as if it is not a bridge between this universe and the last. as if this process is not love. labour. life. selfless and strikingly beautiful.

Instagram once again took down the image. Rupi kaur responded with an appeal on tumblr:

Dear tumblr family,

Instagram has chosen to once again, take down this image for violating community guidelines. Despite the fact that about 95% of comments were beautiful. Flowering. And in support.

This just goes to show who is sitting behind the desk. And whose controlling the show. Whose controlling the media and who is censoring us.

It’s sad in this world. That this is still happening. I know that some communities and cultures go out of their way to shun and oppress a woman on her period. I guess Instagram is another one of them.

Some women aren’t allowed in their religious place of worship. Out of their homes. To do certain things. And are told they are sick. As if the period is a common cold. Yes. This is here in North America. I have been hospitalized many times because of issues associated with my period. I have been suffering from a sickness related to my period. And ever since I have been working so hard to love it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Even thought it’s given me so much pain in the past few years. and they want to tell me I should be quiet about this. That all of this we experience collectively does not need to be seen. Just felt secretly behind closed doors. That’s why this is important. Because when I first got my period my mother was sad and worried. And they want to censor all that pain. Experience. Learning. No.

I am going to share the photo again once I figure out how to go about it. I would appreciate if you could “at” instagram and express your thoughts. Or even share the photo on whatever social media platform.

Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

We will not be censored.

Many women suffer from endometriosis. Every month they endure excruciating menstrual pain. Unfortunately, they can’t discuss this condition openly because of the stigma associated with menstruation. They learn to live with the pain and shame of menstruation.

Source- Rupi Kaur

Source- Rupi Kaur

It would be great if we learned to embrace our bodies as women and tell the society to stop its relentless shaming of women’s bodies.

As a friend puts it “To all women out there who feel ashamed or suffer from heavy cramps: try to bleed with pride! It helps”

I was glad when Rupi Kaur announced that Instagram finally restored the picture it deleted of the woman with the menstrual bloodstains, with an apology.

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Breaking taboos is indeed a good use of social media.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    And yet people can get away with posting horrific acts of violence to other people and animals. But talking about menstruation and, gasp, showing a touch of blood is bad, immoral and disgusting!

    Jeebus, there’s some mighty stupid people running around. 🙁

  2. iknklast says

    In my family, talking about menstruation was so taboo that when I first got my period, I thought I was dying. How could you bleed so much and not be dying? Finally my older sister, who had her period for three years by then, pulled me aside and explained it to me in whispers, since my mother could not bear to even whisper about it. She kept me home from school and other activities. At the age of 12, I was learning that it was a sin to be a woman.

  3. Meggamat says

    I wonder if social attitudes to menstruation correlate at all to the types of local predators that cultures deal with. Do cultures which deal with blood-seeking life-forms such as mosquitoes, piranha and sharks tolerate the ailment less than those who do not?

  4. Bahati Nzuri says

    I’m one of possibly very few women who doesn’t dislike her menstrual cycles. To me, it’s an assurance that I and my reproductive system generally are in good health and it fills me latently with happiness for my fertility. I don’t consider it an inconvenience. It’s only that because given the socialised taboo of the phenomenon, it has to be hidden away and ‘plugged up’ from view. Additionally, if more people on the whole were more educated on and open about the subject rather than it being simply dismissed as a ‘woman thing’, pejorated (e.g. the ‘she must be on her period’ gibe at an angry or displeased woman) or seen as ‘disgusting’, then overall attitude to menstruation would be healthier.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    “If there was any intelligent designer, aka God, women wouldn’t need to bleed every month for new human lives to be possible, and this is one reason i can say God is not a woman.”
    .
    If there was any intelligent designer, reproduction could be handled in a more rational way, say, with 3d printing…
    BTW the whole “half this bunch of DNA, half of that bunch of DNA” is error-prone, since there are so many crappy genes. Every reproduction cycle should come with a software patch. No more sickle-cell anemia. Also, I want stem cells that are cancer-proof, and have a warrantry for 200 healthy years.

  6. dontsayhello says

    Hmm… I support this wholeheartedly.
    But
    I do hate my period tho. Or rather I hate the pain. I’m one of those people with excruciating, mind numbing, id-rather-be-dead-than-go-through-this pain. Pain killers don’t work, nothing does. There’s usually a lot of tears involved lol. So yeah… I evny you women that feel little or no pain. That being said…after the second day… It’s pretty cool.
    No body should be shamed for a natural occurring phenomena. My mum used to say I must hide the fact that I see my period because people might want to use that knowledge for juju purposes (ugh Nigerians!) but it never made me feel bad… I actually felt special. Like I had a secret that no one could know. Sadly people still have that horrible notion that period makes someone unclean /dirty (and the bible supports it too). I wish people would stop seeing things women do ( breastfeeding, menstruation) as dirty and celebrate them bcos of how wonderful our bodies are.

  7. says

    Wao, this was indeed powerful and touching, our voice really does count, let’s use it wisely and effectively.

    Thank you rupi Kaur.

    Mike from Nigeria.

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