Posted on: 12 March 2017
Women bleed. It happens. Period. Sure, periods are uncomfortable and messy, but they are also totally natural and impact over half the world’s population.
Still, most of us loathe talking about them. Rather than use the P word, we’ve come up with any number of alternative phrases, from “Aunt Flo” to “Surfing the Crimson Wave” to “The Red Wedding” (thank you, Game of Thrones). We hide pads and tampons inside bathroom cupboards and cringe at the thought of accidentally bleeding through a pair of pants. In some cultures, the “impurity” of women on their period means that they are even denied entry into places of worship and forbidden from cooking meals for others.
To a world that still wears this symbol of womanhood as a scarlet letter, here are 7 badass feminists unafraid to move the conversation on menstruation:
A musician, activist, and former Harvard MBA, Kiran Gandhi made waves when she ran the London Marathon on the first day of her period without wearing a pad or tampon. In prioritizing comfort during her 26.2 mile run, she faced a slew of hateful comments casting her as “disgusting” and “unladylike.” Still, Gandhi remained steadfast in her decision to encourage period positivity and draw attention to the women and girls around the world who do not have access to menstrual products. Her latest musical venture, Madame Gandhi, gives a voice to the complexity of the female experience, and her work with non-profits such as Women’s Voices for the Earth pushes for ingredient disclosure in female hygiene products.
Artist Zanele Muholi focuses her work on issues surrounding South African lesbian oppression. Her exhibit Isilumo Siyaluma (“period pains”) showcases an intricate set of paintings created with menstrual blood. The exhibit is a commentary on both the literal and symbolic pain of menstruation, particularly as it relates to the act of “corrective rape” in Africa, which is used to “cure” women and girls into becoming heterosexual.
Poet Rupi Kaur caused a stir on social media when Instagram deleted her photo of a woman bleeding through her pants and onto her sheets. Kaur fired back, writing, “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society…where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.” In the span of just a few years, Kaur has become a celebrated voice for tabooed discussions around menstruation and the strength of women. Her collection of poems, Milk and Honey, is a New York Times bestseller.
Ridhi Tariyal and Stephen Gire
Tariyal and Gire worked together in an infectious disease lab at Harvard when they learned of the frequency with which asymptomatic reproductive diseases go undetected in women. Determined to make women’s medical testing more preemptive, the dynamic entrepreneur-scientist duo has devised a “smart tampon” system that collects biological data from tampon blood samples and helps women track their reproductive health at home. Their company, NextGen Jane, aims to make women more proactive in detecting “silent” infections, such as endometriosis or ovarian cancer, and get in the habit of monitoring their health on an ongoing basis.
American singer and Hidden Figures actress recently tweeted a simple message for Women’s History Month: “Menstrual Period Blood.” Her three words invoked a flurry of responses on social media, ranging from appreciation to disgust, with many people calling out her public discussion of menstruation as “gross.” Monae refused to back down and began responding to individual tweets in an effort to educate period shamers. In her words: “It’s sad that there are prob folks more grossed out by and/or ashamed of menstrual period blood than they are the current administration.” Y’all gone learn.
Muruganantham is an Indian social innovator who has revolutionized female hygiene for women in developing countries. After getting married in 1998, he noticed his wife using dirty rags in place of pads during menstruation, a practice followed by a vast majority of Indian women. Muruganantham set out to develop a low-cost menstrual product maker that took over 18 months to develop, and began providing it to women’s self-help groups. Because of his decision to tackle this tabooed topic head-on, he became socially outcast and was abandoned by his wife and mother. Nevertheless, Muruganantham charged on and today his machine is used in 23 of the 29 states in India with plans to expand internationally! Icing on the cake? His wife, mother and village have all come around.