I Posted a Picture of Menstrual Blood. Now People Want Me Dead?
“It’s come to my attention that women are having their accounts banned for showing menstrual blood (and no nudity). This is very seriously fucked up. If this was a picture of blood from a finger laceration, there’d be no issue.”
Seems pretty innocuous, right? I didn’t post a picture of my threatening lady parts, not even a nip! But, oh what was to come, and if I knew then what I know now… I would have done it the exact same way.
I thought I was standing in solidarity with women — who had their Instagram accounts banned for showing menstrual blood — against Instagram. Not only did I think this, but I said it. Explicitly. However, as it goes on the internet, my intentions got warped into whatever any ornery person wanted to fight against, and in this case, it was almost always feminism. I tagged this photo as I did to draw the attention of the women I was standing in support of. I never had any special desire to take selfies with my vagina blood, but I wanted to prove a point, that point being that Instagram’s policy regarding such matters was outlandish and indefensible.
I am a feminist and I’m not going to qualify that statement or defend it in any way. Why? Because, I shouldn’t fucking have to. However, be warned, this is a piece of writing about feminism. What I’m interested in is the irreducible essence of this photo that incited such rage in men and women alike, and from what I can discern, that essential component is the suggestion that the vagina isn’t merely for sex.
Why do you think people are so rattled by breast feeding? I mean, I see breasts all day every day on campus in the summertime. Breast tissue swells from the shirts of beautiful young women eager to show it off (and good for them!). It’s beautiful and it’s sexy and arousing, per their owner’s intentions. However, when a woman sits down on a bench in the mall, pops her nipple in her baby’s mouth, and proceeds to feed them, all hell breaks loose and we have to have a debate. What’s the difference between the overflowing, sumptuous breasts of a young woman, and the overflowing sumptuous breasts of a feeding mom? In both cases, the nipple goes unseen, for the young woman’s is covered with cloth of some sort, and the mother’s is covered by the suckling mouth of her little cutie. The difference is that while the sexuality of the young woman’s breasts goes unchallenged in our minds — i.e. they are presented as merely sexual — the mom’s breasts cause us cognitive dissonance. We look at her and think, oh man, look at those big sexy breasts…but wait, um, there’s a baby there, and babies aren’t sexy…but ugh, sexy boobs! Of course, none of this is explicit in our minds. It’s subconscious in nature.
We’re products of culture, and our culture tells us conflicting things about women. On one hand, women are sex objects. Womanhood is sexy and beautiful. On the other hand, women are mothers, and mothers aren’t merely sexy (kink aside). A lot of times, it isn’t acceptable to sexualize a mother. Mothers are holy caregivers. They have a clear purpose, and therefore, they are irreducible to mere sex objects. So when we tell a breastfeeding mom to put her tit away — through legislation or online activism or plain old rudeness — what we’re really saying is:
I can’t handle the fact that I am unable to think of you as more than a sex object when your big, sexy, tit is hanging out, even though I ought to be able to do that! You make me uncomfortable with myself. Therefore you ought to change your behavior.
We tell this to young women in high school when we force upon them a puritanical dress code. It’s not for their benefit. It is for ours. We don’t want to be in the position of confronting the budding sexuality of a young woman, who frankly, we can’t fuck due to legal reasons. Too much dissonance! Ahhh, cover yourself for my benefit!
Period blood is different, though not wholly dissimilar, and here’s where we’re getting to my intended point. Remember the last time you saw some blood? Was it on TV or in a movie or in a video game? It was probably recent - your last exposure to the sight of blood. How did you feel? Did you think the director of the show or movie, or the creator of the game should, oh, I don’t know, kill them self? Probably not. My point is that we see blood all the time. It’s a regular occurrence, and it is a sight that is considered socially acceptable. It is socially acceptable to show blood shooting out of the human body on the news and in every form of media we consume. It is ubiquitous, and we think almost nothing about it despite its often associated violence. So what? I just blew a dude’s head off in Call of Duty. Frankly, that’s how I feel every time. Blood and violence and gore don't necessarily garner an R rating in theaters, so we have children who can autonomously buy tickets and see movies depicting bloody situations, and for the most part, we’re cool with it. But, what we don’t tolerate is the sight of blood when associated with the vagina EVEN when the vagina is not shown. This is a problem.
Let’s get back to the picture. So, in the picture I’m holding my menstrual cup (Softcups. Ladies, if you haven’t, TRY them. They’re awesome and you can have mess-free sex with them INSIDE of you. This has been an unpaid promotional message) and blood is dripping down my fingers. You never see my vagina, and you probably don’t even know what the hell I’m holding. The only reason you know it’s menstrual blood is because I tell you. Hypothetically, it could be stage blood and you wouldn’t know the difference. So here we have the following case: there is a picture of bloody fingers and a weird disk. Is this in and of itself offensive? I’m sure you’d agree that it’s not. However, when coupled with the suggestion that it came from my vagina, it transforms the essence of the image into something obscene. Here we have another case of “Piss Christ.” Aesthetics anyone?
This is a nice photo. It’s haunting, and sad. The colors are wonderful. However, it’s often considered one of the most offensive works of art. Andres Serrano took this photograph and then told everyone that it was of a crucifix …submerged in a glass full of his urine. “Piss Christ” he called it, and everyone freaked the fuck out. But what’s interesting is that without knowing that last bit of information — the bit about the urine — you wouldn’t find it offensive. Perhaps you’d find it beautiful. Perhaps you’d think it a lovely representation of christ. It’s fascinating how suggestion can entirely change the context of that thing in question. What if this piece was called, “Golden Christ” and it was a photo of the crucifix behind a stained glass window? Would you still be offended? Probably not. But, back to my controversy, the point is that it’s not the image that’s offensive. It’s the context. And the context is the source of the blood. And the source of the blood…is my very own vagina.
Almost no one got it on Instagram. (Like, I knew there would be haters, and whatever about that. “To the left,” as they say. …I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Too late.) Despite the fact that I was completely transparent about my reasons for posting the picture, it’s as if that information just couldn’t be digested. I tried restating my purposes, but alas, Spicy_afterbirth nor quote_queen23 could be reasoned into seeing it from my side. But that was really just the start. It started getting reposted and tagged with all kinds of biggotry. The most common tag used, you ask? Feminazi.
You may be thinking, Lou, you’re overestimating the internet. People are assholes online. And to that I say, no way, fool! I am not. You and I are on the internet and we’re not assholes. Sure, there are trolls and jerks, and asshats, and meninists, but there’s no merely when it comes to what the internet is. And I say this despite having my OKC piece just torn apart on Reddit very recently. They were so mean, you guys! So mean.
But I digress. Let’s get back to my vagina. One of the main justifications people have forwarded to justify their aggression and outrage is that menstrual blood is a bodily fluid, and bodily fluids are private things that should be taken care of and kept secret.
There is a problem with this assertion, however, because blood is not one of the bodily fluids which we consider to be — socially speaking — offensive. Like I stated earlier, blood is omnipresent in our PG-13 entertainment. This is not the case with, well, the other bodily fluids. It’s easily thought of like this:
If I were at a party and I cut my finger, despite the blood dripping down my finger, no one would be fundamentally disgusted nor offended. Sure, it wouldn’t be pleasant, but someone would offer me a band-aid and I wouldn’t be asked to leave. I wouldn’t feel shame or embarrassment. I wouldn’t fear for my reputation. This is all in thanks to the cultural acceptability of blood. If, however, I was at the same party and I had a sudden, uncontrollable bout of diarrhea which left me, um, soiled, I would be embarrassed, ashamed, and my social standing would not go unharmed. I would go on to be the butt of many jokes — pun intended.
This is all to say that drawing a comparison between blood as a substance, and other bodily fluids as substances, is not entirely fair. In my opinion, it’s entirely unfair. Again, the essential problem can be boiled down to my vagina: blood is only offensive if this is its source.
Look, you don’t have to like my picture, you don’t have to agree with values. But am I wrong in hoping that I can post a picture of some bloody fingers and a weird disk without the threat of being sprayed with sperm and set on fire? Obviously, while sitting here in my apartment, this truly isn’t a risk. But women in this country are routinely raped to be “taught lessons.” Women are at risk of violence for speaking their minds, for posting pictures, for talking about their vaginas, for wearing short skirts, for wearing clingy clothes, for being bitchy, for looking bitchy, for sounding bitchy, for being slutty, for being hard-to-get, and the fucking list goes on and on and on. This is a HUGE problem. It really is. As someone who’s suffered sexual violence more than once, let me tell you, it is pervasive and it needs to be taken very seriously.
Jerks online? Whatever. Say what you will. However, these jerks exist out in the world too, and they bring with them these ideas about women and about feminists. If they’re willing to threaten violence, they are violent people whether they act on their impulses or not. Violence is not merely physical. Violence against women online is as ubiquitous as blood is in entertainment. And I suppose, I’ll leave you with that.