Ewww Blood!

A few days ago, the news of a woman who ran the London marathon while on her period made waves on the internet. This may not sound shocking, as lots of women run while menstruating, but usually these women have a sanitary product to help absorb the blood. Kiran Ghandi chose to run the race with blood flowing freely unto her clothes.

I am wary about actions like this, especially since the Free Bleeding movement arose. Till this moment, I am not sure if this movement is just a joke or if it for real. I hope it is the former. My first reaction when I saw this was: “ugh bloody free bleeders! Is this really necessary?”. I believe this was the reaction of most people. My second thought was about blood flowing freely onto my own body and I was disgusted all over again.

If perchance you have been living under a rock with no wifi, you may be wondering what the free bleeding movement is all about. Succinctly put, some feminists have allegedly branded pads, tampons et al as patriarchal agents of blah blah and are making a statement by allowing the blood to flow freely. If I recall correctly, there was something about tampons being a device to trick women into raping themselves. These women took to twitter to share pictures of their blood stained clothes. My research revealed that all this was a hoax started by “4chan” to paint feminism in a bad light. What I’m not sure about is if some actual feminists took the bait or if all the free bleeders are hoaxers.

It gets worse. There are some free bleeders who allegedly cook with their period blood, and put up pictures of their culinary delights. I don’t fully believe that someone out there is really menstruating into a measuring cup, but anything is possible.

I think for a lot of feminists, there is the struggle between being for girl power and expressing one’s honest opinions on certain matters. I’m sure some feminists find themselves in a bit of a bind with the Kiran Ghandi and the free bleeding movement.  I find that when a woman identifies as a feminist, there is pressure on her to be supportive of all actions carried out by all women. Criticising another woman is tantamount to a betrayal, seeing as we women get criticised by society for the smallest thing. Even though free bleeding is not the most pleasant thing, some women may be reluctant to express their true feelings about it out of fear of being tagged a fake feminist. “Free bleeding is a natural process! How can you be disgusted by it? All women go through it. Women should not be ashamed to walk around with blood dripping down their legs..” You get the gist.

The threat of a backlash from other feminists does not bother me. I am not at all on board with the free bleeding movement. Use a pad or put a tampon in when you leave in house. Bleed all over your house if you please, but spare the internet the pictures.

However as a person, I feel uncomfortable judging people until I understand the reasons for their actions. Most times I find that people are judged too quickly and too harshly. From her name, I suspected Kiran Ghandi was Indian and this made me  recall an interesting article I read a few years ago, about an amazing Indian man who created a way for women to make their own sanitary pads cheaply. It was through this story that I first found out that there are girls who drop out of school once they start to menstruate. A huge number of women worldwide do not have access to sanitary items, either because these items are not available or because they cannot afford them. According to the Times of India, only 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins. The others use unsafe and unhygienic alternatives. Without pads, tampons and the like, menstruation becomes even a bigger inconvenience, one that completely takes over their lives. Some women stay in all day when they get their period and they are severely restricted by this natural occurrence.

I remember being shocked that girls miss out on an education because of their periods. It seemed incredulous to me. When I think of periods I think of blood, cramps, a restriction on certain things. I even think of endometriosis and the woman in the bible who had the issue of blood and was cured by touching Jesus’ robe. I think of labour pains: “If cramps are this bad, how will labour be?” But not once, not ever did it occur to me that a girl out there had to stop going to school, because she looked in her underwear and saw blood.

Kiran Ghandi explains why she ran without a tampon:

I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist.

Kiran Ghandi also says that she ran to combat the stigma associated with menstruation.

‘On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer.

This elicited cries of ‘Attention seeker” from those who claim there is no stigma associated with periods. “Period shaming? Puhleeze! There is no such thing.” Now we don’t have to agree about her methods, and attaching shaming to every noun is annoying, but let’s not pretend as if there isn’t a stigma of sorts about menstruation.  In societies where women have access to the necessary items, this stigma may be easily overlooked or imperceptible to some but it is still there.

Perhaps stigma is too strong a word, but there is some embarrassment associated with being on one’s period. Back in school, a girl on her period had an army of friends on call at all time to check if her skirt was stained. In the event that she was stained, blazers, sweaters, anything that could hide the stain would be sourced, all while making sure that no boy catches on. Heaven forbid a pad fell out of your bag in front of a boy, oh boy, that’s when you realise that black people can blush.

One only has to look at the religious books to see how menstruating women are viewed and treated as unclean. In some religions, women are restricted from doing certain things, or entering the holy temples when on their periods.The reason for this could be that back when the books were written, women still had to rely on messy and unhygienic means when their periods came. These restrictions persist, even now that menstruation does not have to be messy.

The older I get, the less embarrassed I am by my period. Every woman (well most) gets a period, deal with it. I am not shy buying feminine products and if a pad fell out in front of a man, then so be it. The other day I told a male friend I was feeling ill and he pointedly asked me if I was bleeding. My knee-jerk reaction was to say no, and I wondered why he would ask me that. A few seconds later I changed my answer to yes and he laughed and told me some tips his sisters use to deal with cramps. I realised that I liked the conversation. He didn’t treat periods as this huge taboo that must not be spoken off. I am not going to hop on a balcony and announce to the world that I am on my period, (mainly because I will be in bed trying to rip out my womb), but menstruation should not be banished into the Chamber of Secrets either. Women bleed.

I respect Ms. Ghandi for trying to draw awareness to this situation.  What People may say that awareness could have been created some other way, one that did not involve her bleeding in public. They could be right, but she chose to do it that way and she managed to somewhat achieve her aim as her story was everywhere. It is okay to feel squeamish, as long as you don’t overlook the message. At least Kiran went out and did something; here I sit with my copious amount of sympathy but no action.

My only grouse is that the story died out too soon. I wish that more could have been achieved with the attention she got. Kiran’s blood stained tights got more attention than the cause she was trying to garner attention for. People took one look at the headline and did not bother to find out the the reason for her action.

What exactly can be done for these women? Awareness is necessary of course, but unless it leads to action, it is pointless. So how can these women be helped?  The main issue here is that these sanitary products are too expensive. Do we just perpetually send them pads and tampons? If condoms can be given freely, why can’t the same be done for sanitary items? Should the women be taught how to make their own absorbent pads and tampons? Can these items be made cheaper? Reusable pads and menstrual cups may sound gross to some, but they may just be the solution. There are a host of safe alternative menstrual products that could help mitigate this issue. Looking further ahead, it would be nice to set up an adult education program for those women who had to drop out of school as girls.

If you have any thoughts, comments, ideas, feel free to share them with me.

Interesting fact: Ever heard of a menstrual hut? Read about them here, here, here.

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