Bloody Brilliant: Scotland the first country to provide underprivileged women with sanitary products / Amy King

  Photo: thehomelessperiod.com

Photo: thehomelessperiod.com

Societies across the world have the weirdest relationship with periods: some view them as a nuisance, some are convinced they’re a conspiracy theory to give women an excuse to be grumpy. Arguably, much of this apprehension towards the very body part that allows our species to survive comes from a lack of understanding and education around what menstruation is and why it happens. Even many women are unsure about exactly what happens during the menstrual cycle, despite conditions such as PMS and PMDD being a strain on the lives of many females.

The language we use to communicate about menstruation is deeply important. Mouthing period, or using phrases like "Aunt Flo" or "the red river" to delicately inform others of your current uterine situation upholds the idea that periods are something which we should pitter-patter around to soften the blow.

Worldwide, menstruation is met with varying degrees of misunderstanding and stigma. In Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, Buckley and Gottlieb noted that taboos surrounding menstruation are near universal. In some countries, women on their periods are considered untouchable and are sent to stay in menstrual huts until their cycle has ended.

In Scotland, however, unchartered territory is being explored. The Scottish Government is piloting a scheme in Aberdeen that, if proved successful, will see subsidised sanitary products provided to the less privileged women in the country. Primarily sourced from shelters and charities, these sanitary products are expected to help women rejoin society more fully, after it emerged that girls were missing school due to the lack of funds to buy sanitary products each month. This is a huge step towards integrating women in society by providing the equity necessary to do so.

Complaints have been made about the inequality of providing sanitary products to these women. Some have even called for their toilet roll and babies’ nappies to be funded by the state. These arguments miss the fundamental point of the pilot scheme. Providing these necessary pads to women and girls in need will ultimately allow them to remain active members of society. They won’t miss out on their education or jobs because of a biological response to their maturation. 

Menstruation activism - namely the destigmatisation of menstruation and providing a better understanding of the variation in menstruation experiences - is on the rise. Many feminists have taken on menstruation as part of their activism’s focus. In creating a period-focused zine for a 24 hour creative challenge, Chella Quint discovered and began writing against the stigma in past advertising of sanitary products and discussions of menstruation. The focus on whispering, on silencing and stifling the very ideas of menstruation and bleeding was key to menstruation product advertising in the early 1900s. To be honest, not much has changed.

Some of the most powerful activism comes from artists tackling the stigma and misrepresentation of periods. In 2015, Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet and illustrator, stirred controversy with one of her Instagram posts that was removed twice by the platform for violation of the platform’s community standards. The original post? A photograph of her, fully clothed, sporting a blood stain on her trousers and bedsheet. Not exactly on a par with the softcore porn found regularly to have passed community standards and end up on your Instagram newsfeed.

Kaur is by no means the only artist to have faced backlash for her representation of menstruation. Spanish artist, 21 year old Cinta Tort Cartrό, has faced criticism for creating images that mimic menstruation. Under the handle Zinteta, Cartrό has received negative feedback in response to the images that are considered more graphic or unsavoury - those depicting periods. It doesn’t seem to be stopping her, though. She uses glitter and bright colours to destigmatise periods (among other physical features often deemed unattractive) and is brightening Instagram with her artwork, one rainbow-coloured tampon at a time.

Moves are being made around the world to make room for menstruation and the varying effects it has on women and their contributions to society. That starts with open conversation. Admitting to being on your period should be neither shameful nor a badge of honour if you’re over 13. It’s just fact. A fact that everyone, whether you menstruate or not, should be comfortable discussing.

Words by Amy King