Special Feature by Meghna Pant, Ideas Editor, SheThePeople.TV
Rupi Kaur’s visual rhetoric on a woman’s period – a bloodstained sheet in a washing machine, a bloody toilet bowl, and a woman hugging a pink, hot-water bottle on her stomach – created a worldwide scandal when Instagram pulled down her photos last week.
Kaur said she wanted to tackle the taboo around discussing a woman’s period, and provide “a peek in the day-to-day life of what happens to me and millions of others every single month.” She wanted to start a conversation that periods were normal and that no woman should be ashamed of it. If we can experience the period collectively, she argued, why can we not see it collectively? She wanted to demystify the period. Make it something that is innate and normal.
Which is all well and good. More power to Kaur and women like her trying to debunk patriarchal and misogynistic mindsets.
But my unease with this concept is its actualization. Is it possible for us women to practice such intentions in our day-to-day life? Can we wake up the morning of our period, look at the bloodstain on our pajama and strut it around in front of our father, our father-in-law, our mother, our mother-in-law, our brother, our grandfather, our neighbour, our teacher, our boss? Can we treat a bloodstain the way we treat a curry stain on a shirt? Can we make a leak an issue of feminism instead of hygiene? I know I can’t.
I know, of course, that menstruation is a natural body function that billions of women undergo. I am aware that periods are not inappropriate. Or dirty. I too get annoyed when I am told not to enter the temple or a religious ceremony during ‘that time of the month’. Does that mean I have to find the stain beautiful when all I’m wondering is whether it will wash off my bed sheet, my clothes or my car seat? Can I really love and embrace and celebrate my period when all I’m thinking about is cramping and raging hormones and bloating?
I am all for equality. I have spent most of my life doing and thinking I can do everything that a man does. But I do this through hard work. I do this by applying myself, putting my knowledge and ability to the test, not through shock and awe. To me feminism possesses a quiet dignity, the will to be equal through merit not scandal.
Which is why I find turning an issue of period stains into an issue of woman empowerment farcical. To me a period stain is an issue of hygiene and not feminism. If we peg such issues to feminism then the real issues will be lost in the noise.
In our fight for equality we have many battles to win. These battles must be practical, applicable and capable of making a tectonic shift in the day-to-day life of women.
But first we have to stop feminism from becoming sensationalism. We have to believe that women can defy censorship, patriarchy and misogyny without resorting to scandal.
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