“Their patriarchy is leaking. Their misogyny is leaking. We will not be censored.”
Toronto-based spoken word poet Rupi Kaur’s photo series for her visual rhetoric project has Instagram all worked up for depicting a fully-clothed woman menstruating. Stating that it was ‘against community guidelines’, the photo-sharing platform has deleted the photo, resulting in Rupi writing a letter to the organisation that is the middle finger to society’s hypocritical perspective on the female body it deserves. Her blog post accompanying the photo series on her Tumblr reads:
”I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether I choose to create or not. but very few times it is seen that way. in older civilizations this blood was considered holy. in some it still is. but a majority of people. societies. and communities shun this natural process. some are more comfortable with the pornification of women. the sexualization of women. the violence and degradation of women than this. they cannot be bothered to express their disgust about all that. but will be angered and bothered by this. we menstruate and they see it as dirty. attention seeking. sick. a burden. as if this process is less natural than breathing. as if it is not a bridge between this universe and the last. as if this process is not love. labour. life. selfless and strikingly beautiful.”
Rupi Kaur sheds light on how absurd it is that periods are kept a secret despite them being such an integral part of a woman’s life, with women in several communities being shunned and oppressed while they’re on their period. “I have been hospitalized many times because of issues associated with my period,” she relates. “I have been suffering from a sickness related to my period. And ever since I have been working so hard to love it. Embrace it. Celebrate it.” It’s incredibly inspiring to hear a young woman speak so openly about her health issues, while still retaining a positive attitude towards the process. In India, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is an affliction that has doubled amongst young women in the past 10 years, with 9.1% of adolescents affected by it; yet, how often is this illness spoken about freely in our society?
A female body menstruates once a month; it’s hardly a secret. Period shaming is a reality for women all over the world though, 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 structure of sexism, periods acquire a special place that a lot of men wouldn’t go near with a ten-foot pole. Recently, a young German woman named Elonë Kastratia combined the best of street art activism and social media to give voice to the irrational taboo surrounding menstruation by spreading feminist messages on menstrual pads in her city.
Interestingly, this resulted in a lot of other similar movements all over the world, including our very own public art project in Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia university campus. Mejaaz, Mohit, Sameera and Kaainat, who initiated the project, haven’t been lauded for their efforts, though. They pads have been pulled down and the students have received a show-cause notice from the Chief Proctoral Office asking them to clarify their actions by March 31, stating that it was not the message but the medium that they objected to. There’s a highly disturbing pattern here, rooted in a misogynistic society’s discomfort with accepting the female body in its entirety.
Why is it that it is so easy for a woman’s body to be viewed as a sexual object, one that the rape language in our country even results in the violation of, but a process as natural as any other bodily function is viewed as being ‘gross’? “Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods,” one pad in Elonë’s art project reads, perhaps best capturing the crux of the problem. The idea of the female body itself has been subject to a shocking amount of speculation, with images of airbrushed models and a media that reserves its hawk-like gaze for the ‘flaws’ of the female body resulting in countless girls all over the world growing up with a warped body image.
Rupi Kaur, through her project, highlights the aspect of female life that a large section in society believe she should keep behind locked doors, to be discussed in muffled whispers. She turns their misguided notions on her head in her letter to Instagram (which you can read in its entirety here) pinpointing how this response was exactly the mindset her work was ‘created to critique’. The sooner we accept the female body as a human body that isn’t designed solely for the gratification of a patriarchal society, the sooner we can stop acting like periods are a dirty, little secret and start living our lives to the fullest - without censorship.