Pre-script: I actually had no intentions of writing about menstruation any time soon on my blog, although I’ve thought about doing so, as I discussed here. But being disgusted with the way that Instagram responded to Rupi Kaur’s photo of a menstruating woman, I decided to do this. If anyone’s disgusted by it, shame on them.
Take a look at this quote by Nizar Qabbani, the amazing Arab (male) poet who died in 1988: “Woman does not emerge from a man’s rib, not ever; it’s he who emerges from her womb.” I saw it on a friend’s wall on Facebook with this commentary at the bottom: “One of the greatest lies of patriarchy is claiming[/]framing the father as the lifegiver.” Image on the right.
Then a while later, I saw this quote attributed to Betty White, the amazing 93-year-old actress: “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina.” (I’d add, “That’s where the entirety of humanity comes from” (as most can/do) instead of the original “those things take a pounding.”)
The purpose of the following post is to point out how patriarchy attempts to elevate men, manhood, masculinity, and male private parts, and (because none of this elevation holds any real value or truth,) it does so by devaluing women, femininity, womanhood, and female private parts. Specifically, it devalues female private parts when 1) they don’t appeal to expected and perceived (heterosexual) male sexual fantasies of women, and 2) we women use our private parts for their biological function(s). The examples I’ll give are of menstruation, when men and the public are reminded that (most) women actually menstruate, and of public breastfeeding, which the public condemns and demands that we “cover up” while posters and photos of women’s breasts are all around them as they express this condemnation. This is another classic moment of patriarchy in action. And another reason to kill patriarchy as soon as possible. And another reason we need feminism.
So, before I came across these quotes, I’d never thought about either of the points. But I’ve got my own problems with the whole “grow some balls” piece of crap, and it’s always bothered me that women and even men are told to grow some balls, and the metaphor is supposed to indicate bravery, strength, etc. And just generally any suggestion that men are better than women, or even stronger than women, and so if you wanna be taken seriously or be valued or be considered good enough, try to be like a man. No, thank you. I’m a woman, and I will not allow anyone and anything — especially men and patriarchy — to link femininity and/or womanhood with weakness. Think about Betty’s quote: why would I, a woman, at all be wanting to grow some balls when balls are so sensitive whereas the vagina is literally the vehicle through which humanity is born. (And don’t be petty and say, “But the vagina wouldn’t be able to give birth if it weren’t for the sperm in the balls!” Oh, please. Like that’s all there is to birth. Like creating sperm requires strength. (P.S. This is not at all to make a mockery of men who are unable to produce sperm. I’m pointing to the patriarchy of popular claims that have devalued the worth of women’s bodies.) If childbirth and pregnancy are not (physical, mental, emotional) strength, I don’t know what is. And why would I, a woman who will/may/might be giving birth one day and contributing to the continuation of humanity, believe this very obviously false claim that I came from a man’s rib when he came from me? (Not to digress too much here, but there’s no evidence in Islam that Hawa, Adam’s wife, came from Adam’s ribs. The Qur’an doesn’t support this claim at all, as it says that all humans, with no exception and including Adam and Hawa, were created from “the same / a single nafs (‘soul’),” in verse 4:1.)
Menstruation as something ugly, dirty, “inappropriate”
Now, plenty of women on social media have been working to reclaim their period and remind humanity that their period or menstruation in general is not something dirty, something ugly, something shameful. But given the misogynist history of menstruation, this view of menstruation as something ugly and dirty and disgusting isn’t going to away any time soon. I might eventually write more on menstruation from religious and patriarchal cultural standpoints, especially the Islamic feminist standpoint, but for now, you can read something by my friend Metis that I’ve enjoyed here. (I reject its use of the word “primitive,” but other than that, the information is great.) Here’s another one, by another friend of mine, The Fatal Feminist.
The latest case of menstruation’s being viewed as something disgusting and inappropriate (LOL @ this – seriously, LOL!!!) was this: Rupi Kaur, a college senior and a poet, posted the photo you see on your left to Instagram, and Instagram removed it, claiming it violates their policy (?!). She posted it again because she argued that it does not violate any of Instagram policies. Instagram removed it again, despite, as she says, the incredible amount of support she was receiving from social media users and they condemned Instagram for their misogyny of viewing the blood of menstruation as something filthy and inappropriate for popular viewing. Instagram apologized claiming that it was all a mistake (again, LOL). You can read about all this, including Rupi’s messages to Instagram, here – and everywhere else on the internet.
When patriarchy is hit with the fact that women aren’t the objects it pretends we are and attempts to mold us into – and that most of us bleed once a month
It is beyond shameful that Instagram initially removed Rupi’s photo TWICE – only because of the most natural thing most women go through. Because patriarchy imagines women as dolls and objects, when it’s reminded that most of us actually menstruate, it’s disgusted and angered because this reminder, this more real image of (most – or many) women as actual humans disrupts the false image they’ve formulated of women. Women would rather been seen as these objects, a creation of and for men’s fantasies as something that would rather not produce fluids at all but if it absolutely must, those fluids must be to advantage men — and apparently, menstruation does not benefit men at all.
Anything that has to do with women’s private parts *when it doesn’t objectify their private parts, doesn’t display them as a source of sexual pleasure for men* is simply disgusting. Especially when it’s to do with childbirth. And I think the comment below emphasizes this point beautifully:
“Not to mention, if I were to post a photo of me having fallen off a motorcycle with blood all over my jeans, no one would care, because that blood didn’t come out of (gasp) a vagina.”
Exactly! Because the photo of a menstruating woman has to do with the woman’s private parts in a way that does not recognize, advance, or respond to men’s sexual fantasies, to this false image that women are objects created solely for men’s pleasure. In other words, it intervenes in the patriarchal effort to dehumanize women as much as possible, and menstruation reminds them that, oh shit, the menstruating woman is a human after all; what do we do with her now, goddamnit?!
Also, just FYI: Patriarchy also sensationalizes rape, especially in movies; to it, rape is not disgusting, but childbirth and menstruation? Ew, grrrross! (You can read about the sensationalization of rape in the media here; there are books on this subject as well. Google “sensationalizing rape” to find several stuff on it.)
Public breastfeeding and hypocritical expectations of women
We see the same thing with breastfeeding: If a woman chooses to, or has to, breastfeed in public, she faces shame and condemnation. What’s inconsistent here, by the way, is that it’s usually the nipple that’s supposed to be covered, even in public nude photos of women; the whole breast can show, but the nipple shouldn’t. (Speaking of which, did you know that in the DVD version of the movie The Notebook, the film producers and directors discuss how they had to cover Rachel McAdams’s breasts with plastic, people, plastic in the sex scene between her and Ryan Gosling? What’s the point?) Yet, as the image on the right shows, when a woman’s breastfeeding and her nipple is obviously covered by the baby’s face, women are still told to cover while breastfeeding. What the hell for?! But, of course, it’s absolutely all right, completely acceptable to see women’s breasts in public posters, ads, commercials, magazines, and so on. Why? Again, because in such contexts, they’re entirely catering to male pleasure. In other words, men are so important, women, that you’re not allowed to use your breasts for the biological functions they serve; if their function is anything other than servicing (heterosexual) men, satisfying male ego, male desire, patriarchy, then you’re not using your breasts, or your whole body, right.
Note to myself
Trust no business, no individual, no community, no religion, no culture, no civilization,no enterprise, no nation and anything else that tells you that menstruation is something dirty, disgusting, a source of shame for women, and that it makes you unclean, impure, untouchable. (This actually includes deities, too, okay? Trust none of them if they want you to keep away from them and sacred spaces while you’re menstruating; they don’t deserve your worship and devotion ever, if they can’t welcome you while you’re going through something as natural as menstruation.) Especially when such comments come from hypocrites who are perfectly okay with the sexualization of women in the media, who enjoy porn, who view women’s bodies (especially sexual parts) as a site of entertainment.
Next time someone attempts to shame you by telling you to grow some balls, tell them to grow a vagina (and a uterus and everything else (most) women have) because why would you wish something as sensitive and weak as balls on yourself when you can wish for the strength of the vagina?
P.S. I say all of the above, including the part about the hypocrisy of shaming women into covering up while nursing, without disregarding women’s choice to show or cover as much skin as they’d like or as they believe is important. The misogyny of the porn and entertainment industries aside, when I condemn patriarchy’s hypocrisy of telling women to cover up in public when nursing while women’s naked breasts are flashing left and right on posters for men to enjoy, I’m not at all saying that I have no respect for the women in those images or the women whose breasts are not covered. This entire post is about misogynistic and unreal expectations of women, not about women’s choice to reveal or cover as much or as little skin as they’d like.