"We all know that the female mind works differently than that of the male one. For instance, if you slice through the prefrontal cortex of a female you’ll notice its distinct pink hue, not to mention the fluffy kittens, tampons, and kitchen utensils that seem to be lodged in every crevice. This is why women can’t be trusted when bleeding, because who would trust something that bled for seven days and didn’t die?"
Period shaming is a reality for women all over the world, and it's not rare for an emotional outburst from a woman to be met with an underhanded comment about it being 'that time of the month' (often in a failed undertone) followed by a few titters. In the larger, insidious structure of sexism, periods acquire a special place that a lot of men wouldn't go near with a ten-foot pole, and a young German woman named Elonë has combined the best of street art activism and social media to give voice to the irrational taboo surrounding menstruation in a striking new way.
Taking to the streets of her city, Karlsruhe, with messages against sexism and sexual abuse, Elonë has been making heads turn with her unique choice of medium - printed on a menstrual pad, these messages adorn lamp-posts, walls and boards raising the most uncomfortable question of all: how is it so easy for a woman's body to be hypersexualised, but not to be accepted for the biological being with bodily functions that it is?
"Feminism means equality not men hate!" Elonë clarifies in a Tumblr post, hitting the nail on its head as far as misconceptions surrounding the issue are considered.
"Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods," one pad reads, quoting a tweet Elonë came across last year. This is probably the message that best conveys the essence of the project, especially with respect to what's happening in our country.
We've explored the roots of gender-based violence in India and we're all too familiar with the deplorable misrepresentation of women in media; when it comes to periods, though, it's a whole different ballgame with a certain euphemistic vocabulary tweaking the facts selectively in many feminine personal hygiene products that depict fresh-faced women bouncing out of bed and playing tennis while on their period, even as the blood on the menstrual pads is changed to a demure, agreeable blue. In traditional Indian culture, women are often now allowed to enter the kitchen or the temple while menstruating, and attaining puberty is sometimes shrouded in a ridiculous amount of secrecy. Girls are generally taught to keep their periods private, a natural process that they've been conditioned to believe is embarrassing for some reason, a stigma that few other bodily functions are subjected to. With this year's Australian Open, the issue was brought out into the open in the sports sphere as well when a UK tennis player broke the taboo and spoke out on menstruation, following which several Indian sportswomen have spoken up as well.
Another pad reads, "My name is not baby," in Albanian, a direct reference to the atrocious amount of street harassment a girl faces on an average.
The message is pretty clear: a woman's body is not your property to pass comments on, let alone violate, regardless of how she is dressed or what time of the day it is, and it's being broadcast loud and clear through Elonë's groundbreaking project. The response has been overwhelming, with the images she's uploaded on her Tumblr and Instagram account going viral, amassing over 10, 000 hits over the course of two days according to Buzzfeed. People from various countries including Brazil, Sweden, Spain have written to her to take up the initiatives in their own parts of the world, bringing forward an incredibly inspiring drive that Elonë has set into motion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is how it manages to create important conversation about bodily functions without once actually depicting a woman's body in the art; with the message taking the place of blood on the menstrual pad, it compels people to question why the taboo ever found a place in civilised society in the first place.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari