It was a school project for a course I'm taking in my senior year at college. It was an Instagram post made to dissect the way different forms of media embrace a piece of visual rhetoric. It should not have been a big deal. It should not have been a brave, nasty, or terrible thing to do. A school project should never have turned into a protest.
Yet when Instagram repeatedly removes the photo of a sleeping girl with a period stain on her pajamas, this becomes more than a class project. You are quickly pulled back into your fourth grade classroom. The constant streams of bullies run through your head. That is the moment you must decide if you are going to be the person you needed all those years ago. The alternative is to be the person that stood next to you and watched silently. However you know the pain of being silent and you cannot sit around. So you speak.
Eventually they listen.
I have just come back from a small dinner with some family and friends. I have tried not to venture out much in the past few days. Having your backside plastered onto some of the biggest headlines in the world will do that to you. But I was feeling for some Italian food and so we walked into a restaurant. Before we were seated, the cooks and waiters came to our table, thanked me for the photo and gave me a hug. And then it hit me. It was clear. The conversation had spread. The discussion had begun. Opinions were being shared. We were finally talking about the period without any shame. The word wasn't being whispered anymore.
This photo was supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. It was intended to disrupt and open dialogues which venture beyond our simplistic notions of how comfortable we feel and reach into spaces where the impact of our silence results in actual, real world problems for marginalized female populations.
Why are we so terrified of a natural process that allows for life to be brought into this world? Why do we scramble to hide our tampons when we pull them out of our purses? Why do we whisper "period," but shout "bitch," "slut," and "hoe"? What is more damaging? What is it about the ways our bodies work that makes us so ashamed?
We are content seeing sexualized bodies, but the moment we gaze upon something that does not serve our sexual egos we are offended. Highlighting the fact that the vagina is used for something other than sex is a direct attack on our idyllic conceptions of a manicured feminine identity. We are not outraged by blood. We see blood all the time. Blood is pervasive in movies, television, and video games. Yet, we are outraged by the fact that one openly discusses bleeding from an area that we try to claim ownership over.
"I wouldn't put up a picture of my semen so you shouldn't post your period."
This attempt at an equivalency became the most vocal critique in the days immediately following the piece. From classrooms, funerals, and temples to Instagram comments, a man can openly talk about "jerking it." In these public and private spheres, semen does not have the same taboo and shame associated with periods. Another comparison is made between feces or urine but these do not negatively influence the opportunities we may or may not get due to our period. We are not told we are sick. We are not told we are dirty. We are not forcefully stopped from leaving the house, going to school or attending our place of worship. These excretions do not fill us with shame or fear each time we get up from our seat wondering if we are leaking and if so, how we might be perceived by those around us.
Since the photo has been circulating, the outpouring of love and positive reactions has been astounding. It has been a move toward a better direction of open discussion and embracing what is naturally ours. One of the most poignant responses is from Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon who wrote,
"If you're a platform that reaches millions of individuals every day, you have a unique opportunity to educate and enlighten. Maybe even help. Or you can go on treating female experiences that aren't sexy as offensive. What women are expected to endure in silence is real, and that silence hurts them. We have to fight for change. And you can't have a battle without blood."
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