It was the question every period-suffering pupil dreaded. Raising their hand, asking the teacher if they could use the loo – already a risky move this soon after the break. Relief sweeps through them as permission is granted. They clutch their bag from under the desk, ready to take it and its sacred, necessary contents to the toilet. The door is in sight. Almost there! No one has noticed! Then, suddenly, an adolescent voice representing the dregs of an ignorant society pipes up: “Why is she taking her bag to the toilet?!”
For many, experiencing a mixed-sex school whilst having your period was an unfortunate one. Constantly panicking that you wouldn’t be allowed to go to the toilet without having to explain, petrified that someone would see the sanitary towels or tampons in your bag. Not to mention the sheer horror of being caught off guard unexpectedly, not wanting to ask around too much for the desperately needed spare tampon so you don’t draw attention to this societal taboo.
But this stigmatisation of periods, this natural bodily function, is something that US teen Jose Garcia wants to end. Posing with a picture of sanitary towels on his Instagram, he states that he believes that all men should carry sanitary towels and tampons and be aware of the problems people face whilst on their period. It could be as simple as lending them a hoodie to cover spoiled clothing or not ridiculing them on discovering it’s their time of the month. Coining the hashtag #realmensupportwomen, he advocates that women should not be treated differently or made to feel embarrassed by their periods.
First of all- hats off to the guy. It was the right thing to do and you can imagine the derogatory abuse he would have gotten from generic high school thugs before the picture went viral (it took quite a few weeks for this to happen). The spread of his image, however, has raised some much needed awareness to the embarrassment and shame people with periods face. Although he has inevitably had some negative responses (slurs of “fag” and “gay” are most common on the instagram comments section, hurrah for hyper-masculine creativity), overall the response has been overwhelmingly positive. A quick scan of a few prominent feminist blogs and news websites shows that generally he has been dubbed an “Instagram hero” for “women everywhere”.
Something doesn’t quite sit right here, and it’s difficult to pinpoint it within such a positive, well intentioned act. Apart from the blaringly ‘white-feminist’ aspect of this move (I can’t help but feel his newfound fame could be used to help spread awareness of the severity of the stigmatisation surrounding periods for people outside the western world), it’s the overall response that makes things feel a little uneasy. A quick scan through the google results of his actions, you’d be easily lead to believe he is the FIRST INDIVIDUAL EVER to bring this stigmatisation of periods to attention.
Back in March, artist Ruki Kaur posted a picture of herself and a small patch of menstrual blood on her clothes and bedding to Instagram. The purpose of the picture was to highlight periods as innately normal and something that should not be stigmatised. Sound familiar? It was swiftly removed as it did not follow ‘community guidelines’. Considering the average Insta-spammer can post that grotesque picture of their latest ‘Drunken’ accident (we all have one of those, right?) and still be following community guidelines, there are an infinite list of reasons why this is your typical, patriarchal hypocrisy. Instagram, after the backlash, put the picture back on and claimed it had made a ‘mistake’. Hmm, funny how those aforementioned run-of-the-mill pictures with bloody injuries aren’t accidentally removed.
Why does the de-stigmatisation of periods need male validation to be overwhelmingly well received? Apart from the removal from Instagram, the reporting on Kaur’s act by either the same or similar news sources I read about Garcia’s had a much more neutral tone to them. You won’t see a vast amount of regular news sources calling her a hero. And don’t even get me started on the comments section. There also seems to be a lot more women berating Kaur for her act than Garcia, which is a real shame.
By all means, Jose Garcia is an open-minded young man who clearly has good intentions at heart and at the end of the day he has contributed to making periods less taboo in the western world. But we must ask ourselves why the majority of people are OK talking about periods and supporting this movement when the reality of periods are hidden from view and the message is coming from a man. The argument that ‘no one wants to see blood’ doesn’t sit with me, coming from a society that will literally pay millions to see the latest gory and bloody blockbuster.
Women have been trying to get this message across since the beginning of time, but people are more willing to listen to an ‘insta-famous’ young boy. If the comments on a particular newspaper site (three guesses which) are to be believed, people don’t want to see “things that come out of a vagina”. If that’s the case, someone should break the news gently regarding where we all came from.
[Chiara Bullen – @bullieob]