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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Why is menstruation a feminist issue?

October 12, 2017
Smiths monthly columnist Heloisa explains why menstruation IS a feminist issue

I find it intriguing how obsessed we are with pregnancy but we cringe when it comes to talking about menstruation. Isn’t one linked to another? Half of the world population menstruate and yet it is treated as something weird, gross, or worse, shameful. It’s something else that women need to worry about, something else used to make us feel fragile and embarrassed – aren’t we embarrassed by too many body shaming marketing campaigns already?!.

The pads and tampons ads using blue liquid are so embedded in my memory that is hard not to think of the real thing as something we need to hide, to be careful as not to disturb others while it is happening to us. The words period or menstruation apparently are so weird that pharmacies choose to use “monthly care” or “feminine hygiene” to mark the dedicated isles. How can we not feel we should hide and be secretive about our periods?

In 2015, writer Rupi Kaur – author of the amazing poetry book ‘Milk and Honey’ – published on Instagram a picture of herself wearing a blood-stained pair of trousers, a situation so familiar to so many women. The picture was removed twice by the social media, only proving that when it comes to women’s bodies, we are far from having control. While images of abuse and objectification are so widespread, menstruation is what is censored by social media channels.

Another example of how women’s bodies are perceived as public – and therefore need to fit with certain rules – is Kiran Gandhi’s experience running the London Marathon in 2015 while on her period. And not wearing a pad or a tampon. Her decision struck a nerve, as many people were “disgusted” by the blood stain on her running attire. Although she ran the 26.2 miles free bleeding for her own comfort, her action was, above everything, political.

As a white, middle-class, cisgender woman, I have experienced a lot of period stigma. But things are much, much worse for women and girls around the world that have no access to sanitary pads or private spaces. Women living in less than dignified conditions in refugee camps or women that are sleeping rough. There are girls that skip school while on their periods as a less shameful alternative, as their families can’t afford to buy pads. And remember: they have to deal not only with bleeding but also with pain and discomfort.

One time I came across a very interesting post on social media. Someone wrote: “Anything men can do, we can do bleeding”. At first, I thought that was an empowering statement. But I soon realised that this is only true for the privileged women that nowadays not only have access to pads and tampons but also silicone cups and even period-proof pants. Millions of women and girls around the world are simply not allowed to do “anything men can do” while on their periods. And if they miss out on education, work or social gatherings (Like the “chaupadi”, a “tradition” in western Nepal that forbid girls and women that are on their periods to be with other people. They have to eat outside and sleep in separate sheds) just because they are women, we need to approach the menstruation taboo as a feminist issue.

In the UK, there are some amazing charities that collect and donate sanitary products to women in need. Bloody Good Period (what a great name) is one of them, taking donations to asylum seeker drop-in centres and food banks. Binti is another UK charity that helps vulnerable women in the UK to have access to pads. Apart from that, they have education programmes in India and Africa to teach girls about menstruation, breaking taboo and stigmas. There are several other organisations around the world doing great work to keep girls in schools and making sure ancient “traditions” don’t get in the way of female empowerment.

Words, Heloisa Righetto @HeloRighetto

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Heliosa studies the MA in Gender, Media and Culture at Goldsmiths, she left her home, Brazil in 2008 and moved to London. In 2015 she launched her first London Travel Guide (in Portuguese) and co-founded Conexão Feminista, a Youtube channel about Feminism. Basically, she’s great! 

Pic: Getty Images