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‘No blood should hold you back’ – is this really liberating for women?

Like many of us, I have an account on Instagram…and I have to say, some of the images I see in regards to women and their periods are questionable. I may not be very popular for saying this but will just come right out and say it – I feel the so-called liberation around women’s periods has been largely misunderstood and is not liberation at all. Let me explain…

Yes we have come from a society, culture and a history that has painted a picture about menstruation and therefore about women, where we are made to feel dirty, that we need to keep it all a secret, that it is humiliating and in some cultures, that we will poison food and people so need to be banished to a cow shed during the time of bleeding. This narrative has shaped the way we think about periods, even if we don’t come right out and say it like this. It’s passed down through generations and generations of women and men that this is the story, this is the reality and this is what it is to be a woman. We have been shamed and ostracised over the most natural function in a woman’s body.

Even in this day and age, where we are supposedly modern, progressive and even evolved, girls and women everywhere are still feeling the shame and humiliation in experiencing the very natural process of menstruation. When I speak to groups of girls at ages 10 and 11, many are very embarrassed and think that menstruation is disgusting and an inconvenience. I remember one girl saying that ‘periods should die’ and that they ‘are going to ruin her life for the next 50 years’. This all sounds rather extreme and not all girls feel this way, but it is fair to say that the vast majority don’t feel comfortable with the topic of periods.

There are real questions to ask here. Why? How did this narrative begin and how did it embed itself so deep that it became so normal and ubiquitous amongst most societies around the world and through countless generations?

Before we go there though, I’d like to come back to the title of this blog – ‘No blood should hold you back’ – this was a tag line for a brand of period products that was supposedly revolutionising the way we advertised and therefore communicated about periods. The ad depicted a woman in battle dressed in armour riding on a horse. She had wounds all over her, she was bleeding and fighting to the death. This image was hailed as the revolution that we needed for women and the topic of menstruation. Since then and perhaps in recent years before that, I noticed this surge in images of women bleeding, whether that be graphic design images, drawings and sometimes real images of seeing blood on underwear or her clothing or lying in pools of blood. I understand that this is aiming to demystify the ‘bleeding’ aspect of the menstrual cycle that collectively, we have all learned to become so ashamed of. But I question if this is actually what is needed. And I seriously question if this is really liberating women from the depths that we have descended to around this topic.

Going from one reaction (hiding) to the other end of the spectrum and being overtly and literally putting menstruation on show doesn’t feel like we’ve quite hit the mark. The images I see don’t feel honouring of women, in fact they feel quite the opposite. And this is where those questions come back in where I feel we need to be asking more questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ to understand what kind of response is really needed here.

What is it about a woman’s cycle that has become so taboo? The word ‘taboo’ itself has its roots in the ancient word Tapu – meaning sacred; menstrual flow; forbidden; too dangerous to even speak of. This reveals the mixed messages around menstruation. On one hand there is acknowledgment of the power and sacredness, on the other hand it is also regarded as dangerous and something to be hidden at all costs.

About 5000 years ago, men started to become more dominant in society and with that, the view on women and menstruation shifted from being that of a blessing to a curse. It was discovered that men also played a role in fertility and in came the repression and suppression of a woman's cyclical nature and her menstruation. It was then thought and taught that men were superior and that women were inferior. Of course, neither man nor woman are superior or inferior. No one is better and no one is lesser. We simply have our different ways to express the same essence that resides in us all.

We have all swallowed the lie, both men and women alike and generation after generation of girls are growing up not knowing the power of who they are and how absolutely needed the uniqueness of their expression is – an example of a cycle going in the wrong direction, perpetuating lie after lie until it becomes so normal that we have no awareness that something might not be quite right.

There was however, a time in history when women did know the power of their menstrual cycle. And more than that, they knew the power of being a woman. They lived together in communities where elder women passed on their wisdom. They understood their body, they listened to what it was communicating and they also knew that they were a part of something much grander than this physical world.

There is a deep-seated knowing that there is something very powerful about a woman who knows herself…and furthermore, groups of women who know themselves deeply. This is what has been feared and this is why we have the narrative that we do and this is why it has been stuck and embedded for so long.

As women, we need to build a relationship with our sacredness and the power that resides within us. Our menstrual cycle is an in-built feedback mechanism to support us with this. We do not need to be ‘equal’ to men where it means we are the same. Equal yes, we are all equal of course. But the same, no. Our cycle reminds us, month after month, that we need to honour our body, honour the ebb and flow, the in-breath and out-breath that magnificently and unrelentingly communicates in every moment. Splashing menstrual blood around the place is not the answer; over-riding our body to do everything whilst bleeding is not the answer; fighting to be like men is not the answer...but rather going within, deeply connecting to and honouring the cycle in its entirety and therefore all it has to offer, will be what brings this topic to the fore and out of the lies that have suppressed us for so long.

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