Menstrual Activists: The New Breed Of Artists, Writers, And Protestors Destigmatizing Your Period

I got my first period in the sixth grade. When my mom took me to the grocery store to buy pads, I remember glaring at every man that crossed our path, thinking, “You don’t know what it’s like to be controlled by your body! You’re walking around all nonchalant in your Dockers, not a care in the world.” I was immediately and irrevocably pissed off that I had to bleed out of my vagina once a month for most of the rest of my life. But I also felt solidarity, holding my mom’s hand and browsing the maxi pads. I guess that’s why I’m not surprised that the Guardian ran a story this week about women who’ve started a new breed of feminism called “menstrual activism.” Menstrual activist activities range from crafty to political to comedic to environmental. Since a woman uses about 11,400 tampons in her life, lots of menstrual activism involves championing products that aren’t treated with bleach or pesticides, and that can be reused. But you aren’t so interested in that—you want to hear about women dressing up as tampons and wearing period blood lipstick, right? Oh, OK. Take for example, Chella Quint, who writes a zine called Adventures in Menstruating. She’s a full-fledged “menarchist” who travels to feminist festivals (there are feminist festivals?!?) and takes photographs of the giant gray sanitary disposal units in bathrooms. She says, “I’m just trying to chronicle the number of clues a woman might see each day that say ‘You are a bio-hazard.'”

Other acts that have aided the menstrual activism movement: 18-year-old Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s My Little Red Book is full of women’s first period stories and became a bestseller in the U.S. It was inspired by her own story and her great aunt’s experience of getting her period when she was about to be strip-searched in Nazi-occupied Poland. Then there’s artist Ingrid Berthon-Moine who made a video of her “twanging her tampon string” along to the song “Slave to the Rhythm”; she is now doing a photography project showing women wearing their own period blood as lipstick. And who could forget Moe from Jezebel’s nightmarish tale, Ten Days In The Life Of A Tampon. She forgot about a tampon inside her for ten days until it smelled like “rotting fish meets sewage meets Black Death.”

For some reason, when I think about periods my Catholic school days spur me to remember how all the women knew Mary was preggers because she wasn’t at the bath house taking care of the uncleanliness that would have been her period. And then I think of “The Jenny McCarthy Show,” when Jenny gets her first period and her mom throws her a huge party and she’s mortified. Why should we have to spend so much of our lives being self-conscious? Plenty of grown women still are embarrassed when buying tampons and many young girls think they’re dying because when they first get it, because no one warned them they were going to start hemorrhaging from the inside out! I was heartbroken by the comments in the Guardian article; people compared talking about periods to discussing bowel movements. How is it the same thing? Oh, and people do talk about pooping, by the way! Periods aren’t going away and since they’re something we experience 25 percent of the month, why shouldn’t the topic be open for discussion?