Period Shaming and Free Bleeding. Wait…what?

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Warning: This post contains discussion about menstruation and the human body. So don’t leave comments talking about how I ruined your breakfast because I’ve already warned you.

Just when you thought you’d heard about all the types of shaming – fat shaming, age shaming, beauty shaming, thin shaming, slut shaming and a laundry list more – there’s one more. Menstruation shaming.

This comes as a surprise to me, especially since I happen to be a woman and I also happen to menstruate. I’ve never felt ashamed or been made to feel embarrassed. We all went through that awkward phase during puberty where we had nightmares about getting blood on our chair at school, sure. Boys have their own version where they ‘rise to the occasion’ in front of the class. And we all had that dream about forgetting our pants. But, we’re talking about adults here. I’ve never had someone point at me at work and sing “Kenda’s on her perrrriod… Kenda’s on her perrrriod”. If you have then you work in a screwed up place and you need a new job (and a good lawyer).

A photo series, There Will Be Blood,  by Emma Arvida Bystrom draws attention to this concept with images of women in every day situations – but with the addition of being able to see their menstrual blood.

there will be blood photos vice

Even though I’m a woman and I’m suppose to be rallying with my sisters about how this empowers us… I just can’t. I don’t understand the need for this statement. Everyone who has been through puberty – male and female – is familiar with this concept. Some men may be a bit squeamish about it, especially when it comes to intimacy, but there are just as many women who are also ‘hands off’ during that time.  Call me picky, but I’d rather keep my bleeding to myself. That doesn’t mean I’ve been oppressed by society or I hate my female parts. I also don’t like to have snot running down my face – that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my nose.  Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it needs to be as free as the wind. Defecation is natural, right? I seriously hope no one starts a ‘free pooping’ movement.

So, in case you missed the memo: women bleed once a month. “This is empowering.”  I’m not sure exactly how that works. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, that part is obvious. (Yes, I understand other countries and cultures may have a different view – this isn’t about them.) But empowering? I feel empowered when I tackle a job, make a change in the world, stand up for myself and accomplish things. I felt empowered when I lost my period and carried life inside me.  My monthly cycle kind of just handles itself. Am I missing some extra woman power? I want all the womanliness I can get so it makes me wonder about my other bodily functions. Should I feel empowered when I pee? Someone give me a hint here.

That led me to another trend: free bleeding.

What is free bleeding? Boy am I glad you asked. It’s the suggestion that menstruation is, again, natural (just in case you missed that bullet point the first time) and that means you should just let your body do it’s thing. Without stopping it. As in – no tampons or pads. According to an article on Feministing.com, you shouldn’t feel a responsibility to keep it under wraps:

“But, I do feel expected of. Like I have to take care of my period so I can be a functional member of society. So enter the idea of “free bleeding.” More of a mindset than it is an action, the idea is, as this blog title gives away, letting ourselves bleed. No judgement, no worries about messiness or cleanliness. Just letting it happen.”

the article goes on to instruct

“…lay on your bed naked with sheets you don’t mind bleeding on, and focus your thoughts on letting yourself bleed.”

Hold up a minute. What if I don’t LIKE the feeling of bleeding all over myself and ruining my sheets, blankets and whatever else I happen to be in contact with?

“…heck, this might even include a tampon! remember, this is about you and what’s comfortable for you”

Now I’m really confused. If you use a tampon then what is the point of the exercise? Is thinking about the bleeding the important part? I shared this with a friend and she read my mind when she asked, “What exactly are we accomplishing by focusing on bleeding? What’s going to happen?”

Yes, what exactly is this about? Are we saying containing your flow is a bad thing and you are subconsciously hating your body for doing it? Are we saying concentrating on your flow makes something magical happen? Are we saying it’s healthier? Maybe if you forget to change your tampon on a regular basis – yes, you should definitely do this and save yourself the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. But I’d wager the majority of women don’t have that problem. Many of us like keeping Aunt Flo contained, make a point to keep a check on her and we’re reminded she’s there on a regular basis.

Menstruation doesn’t make me feel empowered. After dealing with it for  27 years the magic is gone. Now I wish I didn’t have to experience it at all. That’s not society shaming me – it’s my own dislike of feeling cranky, crampy and ready to rip someone’s head off every 28 days. I also like feeling clean and dry. If that makes me a less powerful woman in the grand scheme of all things natural, I’m okay with that.

What do you think?

Is menstruation shame a real problem in the US? Do you feel empowered when your monthly visitor comes calling? Am I off my rocker and losing woman-points for writing this? Let me know.

*feature image by feral godmother Flickr Creative Commons

Kenda

I write stuff, drink too much coffee, and laugh at my own jokes. You can read more here or catch up with me on Twitter @RemakingJune

23 Comments to Period Shaming and Free Bleeding. Wait…what?

  1. Wantstodance Nic

    This is just crazy talk. Here I thought I was going to read about women making fun of other women if they ‘leak’ or something like that. Now THAT is period shaming.

    Did this person not take into consideration about STDs that can be transmitted back and forth with all this free flow mess all over?

  2. How the heck did that idea come about? I cannot stand to even wake in an accidental pool of my period mess. WHY on earth would I want to do it on purpose? Vile.

  3. Ugh. Seriously???? I don’t get the point either. And just like your snot analogy, I don’t let that run down myself either, just like I don’t want to feel wet or have a blood clot hit the floor while i’m in the checkout line. Ewwww

  4. Nope, I’ve never felt shamed. It doesn’t feel empowering to me, though the fact that I can grow people ups my superhero points.

  5. I won’t comment on the actual content because I agree 100% with you but I’m a guy who doesn’t bleed monthly, so I can’t really relate.

    But, this is my new all-time favorite blog quote: “I seriously hope no one starts a ‘free pooping’ movement.”

  6. There’s just so much that’s wrong with this, that it’s hard to leave it all in a comment . . . plus I’m still suffering from the dizzy spells associated with the serious eye rolls and head shaking I had going on as I looked at the photos.

    “Empowered” is the very last thing I feel when I’m trying to get blood stains out of clothing/sheets, and “shamed” is about as far away as it gets when it comes to my period. Annoyed, irritated, OVER IT ALREADY are much closer.

  7. As a trans man, focusing on my periods actually triggers my dysphoria. I am disgusted by my periods and have every right to feel that way.

  8. Great blog, and I agree with your opinion. I came up as a strong feminist and kept on keeping on in college by joining NOW, being a clinic escort and speaking openly and unapologetically about all the things we ladies have to deal with….including menstruation.

    I remember reading CUNT where the author talks about free-bleeding and the empowerment of just not giving a rip about the mess of blood. In theory it seemed great….yes, I bleed…I’m going to do it and NO ONE can stop me. Then the reality set in with….Oh dear, those sheets I slept in are now stained and bleach won’t even remove all the marks or, damnit there’s another pair of panties that I can’t wear on a date.

    I’ve never been ashamed that I bleed…though have experienced embarrassment those few occasions that I bled through something….but that was on me. It wasn’t as if people pointed and snickered.

    So while I’m happy when I hear of a woman finally EMBRACING her menstrual cycle instead of viewing it as a monthly curse….I simply don’t see the need for women deciding that the patriarchy can be toppled by millions of women just deciding to bleed everywhere. Blood borne illnesses are real. Viruses like Hepatitis can live outside the body for weeks in a bit of dried blood. As a nursing student AND a feminist I don’t want to be exposed to ANY ONES bodily fluids.

    If you love free-bleeding, great. Do it at home where you are both comfortable and safe. But keep the blood sports out of the public arena.

  9. I don’t feel empowered when my period decides to come I actually dread it because it is so heavy I have ended up in hospital twice.
    There is no shame in having a period but exposing everyone else to it along with possible diseases well that is something to be ashamed of.

    • Kenda Smith

      Thanks for the heads up, 415. Unfortunately one of the articles I linked is from 2004. So, while it may not be a moving trend, it’s definitely been a practice of some women before 4chan used it. Let’s hope it stays more in the realm of hoax than reality.

  10. Taking a shit is also natural. Perhaps the free bleeders would like to take a dump in their panties as well. Top it off with a quick piss to be 100% natural.

  11. I looked at the slideshow because I was way too curious not to and I am shocked. I can’t believe people do this. I would think, for sanitary reasons, this would be NOT right. I mean like you said, will people freely poop where they want, because they can?

    Gross.

  12. Here’s how I know modern day feminism couldn’t give a @#$@#$ about women – they have had NOTHING to say about the genocide perpetrated by “child protective services” – I have NEVER read anything written by a celebrity or scholarly feminist (and the two categories are often one and the same) that even criticizes, never mind calls for action against, “child protective services”.

    There is no greater violation of the rights of a woman than taking her baby or child. Feminists have done NOTHING to even expose this gross injustice, never mind even try to fight it. I personally think they are in agreement with it. They must be, as they are completely silent on the topic.

    • MA Jones, you have a great point – I don’t know of any scholars that have come out against CPS and their exploitation against children, though, and I think that says something more about the system repressing information about itself to protect the status quo, rather than the feminist movement. It’s also hard to find scholastic evidence of Planned Parenthood’s connections with eugenics, too, even though it was co-founded by a eugenisist. Remember who the real enemy is. Show solidarity with the ones who are trying to change the system. Blessings.

  13. Of course, as with anything involving bodily substances, other people’s health and safety should be taken into consideration but the whole tone of the article rubbed me the wrong way.

    I didn’t see the photo collection and I’m not sure how seriously it was meant to be taken but I’m sure it’s some variation of an artistic statement not to be taken totally literally.

    Free bleeding in private (or, if with others, within consideration to other people’s safety) or not should be up to the individual/individuals involved.

    However, to act like blood-shaming (as an overall aspect of patriarchal control of women’s bodies, reproductive cycles, sexuality and spirituality) doesn’t really exist or likening a substance (menstrual blood) that is being used to create HUMAN STEM CELLS to poop or snot is some fucking internalized BS I can’t even be bothered with right now.

    Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you an ally to women’s liberation from societal and systematic oppression (as we can see when we come across ultra “conservative” and “fundamentalist” women.)

    WHO CARES if you don’t find bleeding empowering? Why offer a snide tone to women who do? Eggs develop in a woman’s body before she’s even born. Any children a woman ever has are in her body in some form before she’s even out of the womb and stay with her for her entire life until the egg is either fertilized or released with blood or until she’s too old for either process (very different from the life cycle of sperm.) AND menstrual blood can be used to create human stem cells. I think that’s reason enough some women may feel empowered aside from just reclaiming something that HAS been shamed by patriarchal thought.

    Humans have always placed great significance on blood and what it symbolizes. Menstrual blood is blood without death or violence. That actually is kinda cool if you think about it.

  14. What do you mean, you’ve never experienced period-shaming?

    I think you’re a little out of touch with reality, and to any other woman who says “I don’t feel shame about bleeding,” I would say that you are mislabeling your feelings because you live in the consumer culture, just like I do, and it’s pretty much impossible not to have body-shame in this culture, but it’s really easy to have it and not know you do because it is absolutely everywhere.

    I think you’re suppressing more adolescent memories than you claim, or you grew up in an especially liberated household in an especially progressive la-la land. In my parents’ house in Southern Illinois I was taught from the Bible that women are by nature unclean, and how they used to be sent to a tent for the duration of their moon time (try picking up The Red Tent by Anita Diamant if this is a totally new concept for you). In childhood I saw my grandmother bleed (she was in her late forties then) and I asked her what was up, and she just said, she bled, and that some day I would, too. I was never taught that it is my blood that makes it possible for me to grow life in my womb. I was never taught that my time of blood is my time of power, that I can renew myself in a way inaccessible to men. I was never taught that my menstrual blood is clean enough and beneficial enough for my skin to give myself a facial with it, if I wanted, let alone that I could use it in holy rituals dedicated to the Goddess in liberated religious expression. All those teachings were Occult, hidden, Satanic, evil, or unnecessary. I was never taught that tampons can make me sick because they contain industrial poisons like bleach that are added with the knowledge that they make me bleed more, thereby causing me to need more tampons to make the manufacturers more money (and if you don’t think that’s abject exploitation, you need to re-examine what exploitation is).

    I was never taught that free-bleeding in a safe place, at home, onto a towel, or however I am comfortable, could be helpful to me to feel less pent-up, at peace with who I am. That is what I believe the point of this exercise is. When was the last time you took a moment to just feel your body? Do you know what that’s like? It’s amazing! The first time I was truly in my body I had a spontaneous orgasm. Up to that point I had been living in my thoughts. “I’m not thin enough,” “I need to work out more,” “I need to quit smoking,” “I don’t look pretty enough for that guy to check me out, that’s why he didn’t check me out,” “I have too many bumps on my skin!” “Why am I so exhausted!” “Ugh, here’s the blood, again, what a gross disgusting mess!”

    Tell me you don’t remember ever hearing a guy in high school (or college) say “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die,” or you and your girlfriends never saying to each other, “Oh, Brittany is being such a total bitch today! She must be on her rag.”

    Every moment of irrationality, extremely emotional behavior, that is really our true selves waking up, our Womanhood speaking up and saying “This repression will not stand!”, has been chalked up and simplified to us “being on the rag” or “PMS”ing. Every commercial I have ever seen for a feminine hygeine product has engaged in shaming the woman’s period by showing the woman dreading her period! They only ever use a sterile-looking blue dye to demonstrate how effective pads are, and yet “Game of Thrones” is one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

    If you look around you and don’t see period-shaming, you need to wake up. Really. Because it’s the products you are buying that are choking our landfills with bloody plastic. Blood is an incredibly potent fertilizer. By collecting the blood in a cup and pouring it out into the Earth, or at least back into the water supply, you are restoring some of the nutrients you took from the Earth. If you and every woman you know keeps on using tampons and pads to catch your blood and not looking for alternatives to stay comfortable and safe, you are not aware, and you are contributing more significantly to the problem than someone who is working on living in balance with Nature.

    None of us are living in balance with nature, if we have a car, if we use plastic anything, or if we buy anything from a supermarket. But we have to start somewhere, and kicking corporations like Proctor & Gamble the hell out of our vaginas, along with the governments and the churches.

    My name is Faye. I hope I’ve jolted you a bit from your ant-itude.

    • That sentence above should read, “But we have to start somewhere, and kicking corporations like Proctor & Gamble the hell out of our vaginas, along with the governments and the churches is a good start.”

    • Faye,
      I’m not going to lie. I skimmed your post because, you lost me at “I think you’re suppressing more adolescent memories than you claim, or you grew up in an especially liberated household in an especially progressive la-la land.” I have to rebuff your generalizations. I grew up in a very strict, highly conservative household, in the Deep South. I was taught that menstruation was a gift and I should embrace its onset. I was never allowed to curse it, be embarrassed by it, nor was I shamed for it. I remember the first day I received my “gift”. I went to school and told EVERYONE. The girls were in awe of me because I was one of the first to receive it and the boys, well, they didn’t care.

      I’m deeply saddened that you feel corporations are living in your vagina. Your issues are far more deep-seeded than corporate vagina espionage. You can make your own feminine products or even purchase a Diva Cup to avoid corporate involvement. However, I feel if a woman wants to “free bleed” she should do so at home. Bleeding all over public facilities is a public safety concern and falls under the column of “health hazard”. That last part is called public responsibility.

      As for being “in your body”, I agree we, as women, should listen to our body. I’m extremely happy you have spontaneously orgasmed while having a jam session with yourself. I call that masturbation. I do it frequently, because well… it feels freakin’ good.

      I am a woman who doesn’t think menstruation is “gross”. I believe the natural cycles of my body serve a larger purpose. The experience is deeply personal. Not because I’m ashamed of it, but because spiritual things are ALWAYS personal. No one can understand how I feel toward my menses, because they are not me. Saying that Kenda is “suppressing” the shame says that you can read her mind and share her personal thoughts. Now, we know that’s not possible. In psychology, that’s called “control issues”. With that being said, please don’t generalize about “women”. Your opinion, is not everyone’s opinion. Your issues are your own.

      I’m Kelli and I hope I’ve jolted you from your misconceptions.

  15. you can do whatever you want with your body, and nobody can stop you. this article is incredibly offensive and i’m surprised that it wasn’t written by a man.

  16. Honestly, i just read this article and the comments twice. & I love this article and what the woman is saying. I am a 16 year old girl and I dream of being a lawyer. I am still enrolled in high school and doing very well. I am currently on my period. And although, it is extremely painful some days, I don’t have a problem with it. I thank God for them men and WOMEN who created these devices to allow me to go to school everyday and have a future. Some girls do not get that because of where they live and their religion. But the fact that some women, especially older women, think it is okay just to sit around at home and bleed all day; It is not only disgusting, it is pure laziness. Women have fought for our right to work and vote and be equal with men and you plan to give that up because you’re on your period? It is outrageous. But prehaps I am to young to understand. However, I love to meet the sassy, young mother who wrote this article and tell her, excuse my French, You’re one hell of a writer.