Talking about menstruations: fluctuations of a taboo

05.13.2015    Catégories : Humanitarian aid

All menstruated women know an embarrassing little story about "the wrong week", which is certainly not always easy to live. What we do know is that our society, which rejected for a long time menstruations and menstruated women, plays a major role in our hesitation to talk openly about this phenomenon that affects our lives.

But why is it a taboo? Where did it come from and what does it say about our society? How can we break this taboo in order to be able to express ourselves freely on our period?

The artist Rudi Kpaur got herself talked about throughout the world with this photograph that has been banned on Instagram.

The blood, symbol of life and death

If there is such a rejection of menstruations for so long, is mainly because menstrual blood is shrouded in a mystic symbolism, between purity and stain. Menstruated women were sidelined for a long time: they were accused of being impure, dangerous, their blood responsible for diseases and curses, making rot food, and other joyful things...

Different from the red and pure blood of the warriors' injuries, the "black" blood is still shrouded in legends until it has been understood by biology. However, science didn't succeed to completely demystify the period, that are still victims of their negative image and prejudices in many minds.

Because if the blood that flows is not necessarily a problem -think about war movies, horror movies with a bloodthirsty serial killer-, people don't want to see to one coming from women's sex.

Artistic representation

Since the XXth century, the represention of the menstruations in the public space has been made with ups and downs. It's difficult to back in time very far, and we take an inventory of works of art dealing with the subject starting in the 60s, in particular with Vagina Painting, an artistic performance by Shigeko Kubota. In 1965, the artist, squatting, painted with a brush soaked with red paint, hung from her knickers.

Shigeko Kubota performing Vagina Painting in 1965. GEORGE MACIUNAS

Three years later comes 1968 revolution, which corresponds to a certain liberation of women who can sexually better assert themselves. They're not the slaves of males' desire anymore, and they can become a sexual subject too. Some works show this ambivalence between menstruations and feminine sexuality, and many have a provocative aspect, firmly feminist, sometimes bordering on trash. (The jellyfish look, from Orlan)

Works of are dealing with menstruations still remain rare, and difficult to document after 70s, as if after the revolution, the taboo came back...

Yet, it's not so rare to find in movies or series, feminine characters having their periods. We could say "Cool! Women on tv or in movies are like us after all!" But are these representations enough positive so we can really enjoy?

Popular representation

To get straight to the point: no. Very often, in movies or on television, when a women has her period, goes through hell. In the most striking example so far, we can even say that everyone goes through hell. I am obviously talking about Carrie movie, in which the telekinetic powers of the character are activated by her first period. As it's a horror movie, we can easily imagine, for those who haven't watch the movie, that she doesn't use her powers to carry supermarkets bags.

In 1976, Carry made a strong first appearance on big screens, in Brian De Palma's Prod DB©Redbank Films movie.

Carrie is humiliated in the changing rooms of her high school, when her classmates discover she has her first period.

This representation may appear to be extreme, but the fact remains that in the vast majority of the movies that mention menstruations, the effect produced is always negative. discomfort, shame, confusion, stress, ridicule, here is the range of emotions menstruated women feel. Moreover, the situations are by turns horrific or funny, always at the cost of women, who become "victims" of their own periods.

There is a discrepancy between artistic representations of menstruations, often created by engaged women, and the more popular representations seen in the movies. Are they destined to never meet? Is the "popular" audience convicted to only see negative images of menstruations?

Fortunately, the masive arrival of social networks tend to prove otherwise, even if the assessment is still mixed so far.

Cover up that blood, which I can't endure to look on!

Remember this 2013 tee-shirt designed by Petra Collins. The general outcry wasn't long in coming: horror! indecency! vulgar obscenity! Reactions related to this artistic choice didn't fait to reflect the unease caused by the evocation of a variety of taboos, crystallised into a single object: menstruations, feminine masturbation (even more taboo than "shared" sexuality), and to top it all: masturbation during the period! Oh, and hairs too! Really! Are you nuts?!

More recently, the artist Rupi Kaur posted on Instagram a picture from the series "period", that represents a woman, lying, from the back, her trousers and the sheet under her are bloodstained. A rather ordinary image, that many of us recognize as "a very boring thing that happened at least once but probably several times, and we are sick of it" - but the photo-sharing platform disagreed. Without a second thought, Instagram deleted this photo.

Photo Source:

This reflex is not that strange, in view of a current trend on social networks: the broadcast of only one version of "women" is accepted. They have no hairs, no stretch marks, no period, no children to breast feed. This version of "women" leads us to have a complex, to refer to an intangible ideal, because "women" we see in the media, well, they only exist... in the media, and it's inappropriate to make her bleed in public!

However the rallying of the artist and thousands of women on the Internet who expressed their dissatisfaction faced with this ban incited Instagram to restore the photo on its platform. A significant step forward.

Social networks behind the change

We understand with these popular representations why it's so difficult, as women to feel easy with their period, whether it's in the public space or in their private life.
However, it seems that the arrival of social networks allows a certain trivialisation of the period, in other word not see it as a dangerous or dirty phenomenon anymore, but as sometimes that is just part of our life. By broadcasting massively content relating to the period (visual or written), social networks allow us to avoid the taboo and maybe even to break it. Since, fundamentally, there is no reason to be ashamed because of the menstruations!

Dans Ma Culotte Tumblr Account during the Menstrual Hygiene Day

This is also why the Menstrual Hygiene Day, that takes place every 28th of May, was created. This awareness day about sanitary questions relating to the menstruations aims to allow women worldwide to manage their menstruations safely and with dignity. In order to mive from a shameful situation - and for some women in the world, really dangerous from a health point of view - to an acceptance of this physiological phenomenon, the Menstrual Hygiene Day is spread out on all 5 continents, and leans a lot on social networks and the community sharing.

For this occasion, Dans Ma Culotte opens dialogue on menstruations and offers you to talk about it. This is the occasion for each of us to ask ourselves how do we live our period and when, how and where do we talk about it. Do we feel comfortable to talk about it in public? In smaller circles? Maybe we are used to share content on Facebook group or on a forum? How do we react when we see these works or movies depict the period? So many questions we need to ask ourselves to know what is our personal relationship to our menstruations, but also those of other people.

Pauline Burel

References :
5 Menstrual Blood Art/Projects Worth Seeing : this way
What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Your Period : this way
Représentation et Modernité : this way

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