May 8, 2013
WARNING: This piece is about menstruation in an effort to expose public opinion on discussing the biological phenomenon. My colleague Jaqueline Gonzalez prefers to use the term “bodies that menstruate” to point out the complexities of how gender identity is affected by the menstrual shame narrative that plagues society, and this informs my use of the term “menstruating-bodies” throughout this piece.
Menstruation is a part of life for most menstruating-bodies from the time they hit puberty until menopause. Menstruation marks a menstruating-bodied person’s reproductive maturity, tells a menstruating body when they are or are not pregnant, and can be a critical indicator of the health of an individual. The word menstruation itself is something we do not hear very often. Much more often we hear this aspect of the reproductive cycle referred to as a “period”, “aunt flow”, or “that time of the month”. The word “menstruation” itself conjures up a more realistic, and therefore fearful, image because we avoid using it. Menstruating-bodies are taught to dread and fear this time of the month. Our bodies are constructed as something that is messy, leaky, dirty, and in need of some seriously secret management.
I could not think of a better way to both get more in touch and comfortable with my menstruating-body and gauge the public’s reaction to being confronted with menstruation than to collect my menstrual blood and make art with it. I use a Diva Cup to collect my menstruation each month, which made this process really quite simple. My February and March menstrual flows for this year, 2013, were collected in an old, glass milk bottle and stored in the fridge prior to creating my painting.
I wanted to really expose the reality of menstruation with the piece of art that I made, and hence I painted a menstruating vagina. Working with nature’s pigment was very interesting and presented its challenges; the first of which was the lack of my canvas’s permeability to the watery nature of menstrual blood. It was necessary for me to mix by menstrual blood with white gauche in order for it to stay on the canvas. This allowed me to paint the entire body figure of my painting using menstrual blood as my only pigment. Included in this blog are many photos of the painting process. It is amazing how different my menstrual blood looks from the time I put it on canvas to the point at which it becomes dry to the touch. Menstrual blood eventually turns to a dull brown, reminiscent of what’s left on the insides of my thighs and on the body of my partner after a bout of good ol’ menstrual sex, but more on that is for a future blog entry…
WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY MY MENSTRUATING VAGINA?
Every first Friday of the month there is an Art-walk in downtown Phoenix where local artists have the opportunity to sell their creations to the public on the streets. My initial idea was to focus on selling my menstrual art piece and creating conversation that way, but I realized it was a much more effective tool for pure menstrual activism.
While attempting to sell my menstrual art, the first reaction I received was from a male-bodied person of, “That’s awesome! Is that real blood?” I responded with, “Yes, it is my menstrual blood,” and then asked him if he would like to buy it. He responded with, “If that question was instead, “Am I terrified?” then the answer would be ‘yes’.” I found this reaction really interesting, and perhaps telling of the male psyche when confronted with menstruation. He was very excited and “terrified” at the same time of both the image itself and the fact that it was created with real menstrual blood. Menstruating bodies are simultaneously exciting and terrifying to those whose bodies do not menstruate. There is a fear of the unknown, the uncontrollable that dominates discourses of female-bodied people throughout the dominant culture, and this man’s reaction speaks so clearly to this androcentric construction of menstruating bodies.
My second response was from an 8-year-old girl and her father. The father responded to my art with lots of laughter, motioning two ‘thumbs up’, and saying, “That’s awesome!”. I found this reaction to be very positive, even though the laughter probably came from a place of slight embarrassment, because he was very enthusiastic and only expressed positivity. The 8-year-old girl said, “She looks like she’s in a forest! I like the green,” probably not fully aware of what this was an image of.
The last response I received from the time I spent standing next to my painting attempting to sell it was but an, “Okay…” from a family who walked away just after realizing what was going on in the image.
The location that I was set up at to sell my menstrual art was lacking a sizable crowd in order to receive a variety of reactions. My colleague, Jacqueline, and I decided to take my art to Roosevelt (the main road of pedestrian traffic along the First Friday art-walk) and camp out on a corner, holding my painting high while saying, “Would you like to talk about menstruation?”. I was not surprised to see the majority of people walking by avoiding making eye-contact with us, though of course I found it amusing. Done-up in fancy Friday attire, socializing, and having fun does not usually go hand-in-hand with the discussion of menstruation, as it is the exact opposite of this due to its construction as “messy” and “in need of secret management”. Here too I received three notable reactions.
The first reaction was from a man who engaged in some menstrual conversation with us briefly, but suggested that next time we draw a “penis to appeal to women” and better engage with them in conversation. Of course a man would suggest that an image of a penis would flood women towards me to engage in conversation about menstruation, because that makes a lot of sense.
The second notable reaction was from a woman who came up real close to my painting, and said while smacking her lips, “she looks loose”. Of course an image of a vagina must be sexualized and judgement placed on a woman’s behavior based on the condition of her genitalia. The vagina in my painting is intentionally exaggerated to highlight its visibility, not to portray some sort of sexual meaning.
The night ended on a high note. A mother and her, maybe, 13-year-old daughter came up to us ready and willing to engage in conversation about menstruation. We told them that we were there for menstrual activism in order to increase the visibility of menstruation, and engage people in discussion about healthy alternatives to mainstream menstrual products. The mother expressed how happy she was to encounter some young women talking about menstruation in a positive light and expressed that that is how she has always approached the subject with her daughter, even if her views are outweighed by her daughter’s socialization into the menstrual shame narrative. The daughter looked nervous and embarrassed by her mother’s expression of gratitude, but there was a twinge of hope I saw in her face that perhaps we made a small impact. The mother graciously took a handout form us about menstrual activism and alternative products, which she was very excited to hear about.
The reactions I received to my menstrual art reminded me just how deeply entrenched within the dominant culture are narratives of shame and fear surrounding menstruation. However, the enthusiasm of the men I encountered (even if paired with fear or embarrassment) gives me some hope that one day all menstruating-bodies will engage with their own menstruation with the same enthusiasm, but paired without any fear or shame. Perhaps these reactions came from a place of baring witness the classically forbidden parts of the opposite sex, and/or are eroticized because of this. Perhaps more menstruating-bodies would be able to similarly view this monthly magic within them as such if the dominant culture did not tell them how “messy, leaky, dirty, and in need of some seriously secret management” their menstruation is. Changing the perceptions of the public concerning menstruation lies first in changing our personal relationship with menstruating-bodies. Learn to own and love your menstruation today, and the menstruation of those around you.
November 11, 2012
I was wearing this outfit a few months back at a co-op in Albuquerque, NM while shopping with my male partner. I was shocked when I approached the cashier and the following interaction took place…
“Next time you come in here, could you try to cover up a little?”
Completely stunned, I replied “I’m sorry, what?”
“Well, it’s just that I can see through your shirt and there are kids running around here.”
Embarrassed, angry, and not really knowing what I should do, I just said something along the lines of
and buttoned up my sweater.
My partner and I got out of there with our groceries as quickly as possible. I felt so embarrassed, angry, and upset that a man was telling me that I needed to cover up my body. I was so frustrated with myself for not having the words at the moment to scold him for doing so. When we sat down in the car, my emotions surfaced and I found myself crying. We were both so shocked at what happened that we didn’t even know what to say (see NOTE below for what happened next).
I am so sick of men telling women what to do with their bodies. Whether it’s that they need to cover them up, or that they shouldn’t be the ones in charge of their reproductive decisions, they have been getting away with this for far too long.
Women should not be made to feel ashamed of their bodies. Our bodies should not be innately sexualized entities. If a man was wearing a sheer shirt such as mine (my breasts are not visible, as you can see) I highly doubt that man would have said anything. However, in American culture (one of the few cultures that do this to such an extent) female breasts are highly sexualized rather than respected for their biological function as an infant’s food source.
The man brought up the fact that there were children in the store (below the age of 10). If anything, children this age would have been the least offended if you could even see my breasts, which you couldn’t. Children this age have had the least amount of indoctrination into the thought paradigm of the female body as a sexual object. The knowledge of female breasts as sustainers of life for infant children is much closer in their memory than the man who told me I need to cover up my non-visible breasts.
I’m not saying that women should let their breasts free for the world to see. What I am saying is that men need to stop sexualizing the female body and telling us we need to cover ourselves up. The unquestioned sexualization of the female body only perpetuates rape culture.
Rape culture tells women that they deserve to be sexually harassed and assaulted. Rape culture tells us that we are “asking for it” by dressing in a particular fashion. Rape culture tells us that if we didn’t want to be treated as a sexual object, we would have covered up our bodies more. Rape culture tells us that by dressing provocatively or being intoxicated we should expect abuse from men. Rape culture turns human beings into sexual objects, erasing consent as the real issue of sexual assault.
No one, male or female, sober or intoxicated, able-bodied or disabled, of color or not of color, upper class or lower class, weak or strong (dichotomies just used for simplification of example not experience), deserves to be sexually assaulted. No one asks to be sexually assaulted based on what they are wearing. Individuals either consent to sexual activity, or they do not. Proper consent can only occur when no blatant power differentials exist between parties. Proper consent can only be given verbally with enthusiasm backing it up. Period.
I’m sure the employee of the co-op did not intentionally sexualize my body in order to perpetuate rape culture. However, all of us need to be more aware of when we are engaging in this type of policing activity. We must not be complacent when people are turned into sexual objects.
* NOTE *
When I started to cry, my partner went back into the store to speak to the cashier…
Partner: “You know, what you said really made my partner uncomfortable and upset her.”
Cashier: “It did?”
C: “Oh…” (a sadness became visible on his face) “I didn’t mean to upset her.”
P: “Well you did. Now, I’m surprised that you even said anything because of the way that you look.”
C: “What do you mean?”
P: “Well, you have two sleeves full of tattoos and two dreads (dreadlocks). I’m sure you have been judged because of the tattoos you display. Many would even consider you unhireable because of them. She was born with her female body. You chose to alter your body with tattoos that have become a part of you. You can see why someone would be sensitive to being told how they should display their body. People have a right to display their bodies however they choose.”
C: “The only reason I said anything was because I looked and felt bad for looking, and thought her shirt was more see-through than it actually was.”
P: “You’re right, her breasts were not visible.”
C: “I didn’t mean to make her uncomfortable. I’m very sorry. I’m glad you two shop here and I hope this has no bearing on your decision to continue shopping here.”
April 11, 2012
Here are two images found in ladies room stalls. I have seen images such as these many times in my life in many a bathroom stall, we all have. As a female-bodied individual who identifies as such, I have not witnessed such things written in men’s restrooms but have been told by peers that images of the like do exist.
These images share a common ground: both attempt to police female sexuality and adherence to acceptable female gender roles. How does this reflect society’s expectations when it comes to acceptable female sexuality? What follows is my short analysis of each photo, but I really want to hear your thoughts.
‘Standard ASU Female’ was found in a ladies room on ASU campus in Tempe, Arizona. The initial defacement to the “How to examine your breasts” instructions was the Girls Gone Wild reference. The first thing that has been accomplished with this “tag” is the turning of something about the health of female bodies (in this case an instruction for how one can examine one’s own breasts for any abnormalities that could be indicative of cancer) into something sexual. This furthers the gaze of the female body as a purely sexual object to be ogled. This is tied perfectly to what Girls Gone Wild represents: uninhibited (often by intoxicative substance) display of female sexuality for male viewing pleasure. This portrayal of female sexuality gets even more bleak with the addition of “Standard ASU Female” and an arrow pointing to the defaced image. This tells the viewer that the typical ASU female employs precisely this mode of female sexuality. This is as deep as female sexuality gets for the standard ASU female.
‘Jail Bait’ was found at a ladies rest stop along the I-40 between Gallup and Albuquerque in New Mexico. I am assuming Sabina did not post this herself. Whoever wrote this is indicating that Sabina is underage and promiscuous. When females call other females “whores” and “sluts”, they are attempting to police sexual behavior that does not conform to the hegemonic narrative of how (good) girls are supposed to behave sexually. Whoever wrote this is personally harassing Sabina for not conforming to her gender’s norm of sexuality while also purposefully opening her up to be verbally and/or physically sexually harassed and solicited based on the writer’s portrayal of her sexuality.
What do you think when you see these images or images like these on male or female bathroom stalls? What messages are the writers trying to get across?What does this tell you about female sexuality? What does this tell you about policing sexuality and gender? Any other thoughts?
If you have any similar images to share, please feel free to send them to me or post them so that I can see/discuss them, along with your thoughts about them.