Category Archives: Gender

Hiding from Red: Men’s approach to menstruation

Crimson Smoke

‘Crimson Smoke’ by blary54

I wasn’t surprised by the reaction I got from talking to people about this blog post, but what surprised me was the number of times it happened. The first thing people did when I told them was ask, “Why would a man want to write a blog post on periods?” The easiest way to answer that question is to simply say, “…Because you asked that question.” Both in the media and everyday interaction periods are constructed as a taboo subject, regulated to women* and hidden from men.

My first memory of anything period related came from when I was 9 years old and running around the school playground; I noticed that three of my friends were all huddling together and excluding themselves from the other kids. I approached them with curiosity only to find that I wasn’t welcome, “Go away Luke, we can’t talk to boys right now.” They put a protective arm around my friend Kerry and only with some persistence did one of the girls break away to tell me to leave them alone as “Kerry has had her first period.” I let out a sympathetic “Ahh,” although I really had no idea what it all meant, only that I should understand this is something girls need to ‘deal with’ and boys need to stay well away from.

As I got older I came to understand that not only was this something that boys weren’t to be a part of, but that it was something that people were definitely not ‘proud of’ or spoke about freely. My religious upbringing reified this belief with the bible story of “The Woman” who had a constant period for 12 years. 1 Having exhausted all medical cures, “the woman” decided to find a cure for her “embarrassing and humiliating ailment” through Jesus Christ; she did this by inconspicuously making her way through crowds of people so that she could touch his garment. Both the moral of the story and the fact that the authors didn’t even give her a name demonstrate that in Mosaic law, and just about every other culture since, menstruation has been constructed as something ‘unclean’ and to be kept secret.

I’m sure that everyone has a memory or two which demonstrates this point, whether it’s girls being separated at school to receive a ‘period talk,’ or buying tampons which look like sweets in an effort to avoid any man from being aware that you have a completely normal functioning body. I’d like to now turn my focus however to the way in which periods are constructed around men.

Hiding from red: periods and men

The inspiration for this blog came as a reaction to a viral video from a tampon company’s advertisement, you can find the link at the bottom of the blog2.

The company’s reaction to Richard’s Facebook post is funny only because everyone can briefly share a moment where we all recognise the inconsistencies in tampon adverts, just so long as we can rest assured that it will all go back to normal after the commercial is finished. That is to say, the advert provides a brief comic relief to the perceived trauma of menstrual cycles.

What’s really upsetting about this advert is that they missed an opportunity to create a healthy debate about the misrepresentation in period ads by refocusing the issue completely around men. The blue liquid and montages of women playing sport are all a façade to protect men from a ‘horrifying’ reality. It never ceases to amaze me that in a society which socialises men with all the brute strength and emotional detachment that comes with masculinity they would be reduced to tears at the sight of period blood, the cleanest type of blood there is, and yet happily sit through a two hour action film where body parts are spewed all over.

The criticism that I’ve had for this argument from various friends has been that we can’t expect all men to want to have sex with women on their periods and that the reaction of those in the video are justified, “Some people can’t even look at blood!” Whilst there is some truth in this, I want to make it clear that historically menstruation has been seen as a barrier used either consciously or subconsciously by women to prevent men from fulfilling their innate sexual responsibilities3. I believe there’s a fine line between acknowledging people’s genuine fear of blood and creating an argument which reduces women to an object dedicated to men’s ‘natural urges.’ There is a lot more to periods than just sex.

What I hoped to achieve with this blog is to not only vent my frustration about society’s view on periods, but also to encourage more men to be confident enough to not only talk freely about periods, but reject the idea that they are something to be afraid of. I want young women to be free to express themselves without being made to feel unclean, weak or emotionally stunted. I want couples, friends and employers to openly discuss the issue without it being treated as a taboo. And finally, I hope biology lessons on periods can be shared with both boys and girls so that we can not only embrace the differences between genders, but more importantly look for similarities.

There is so much to say on this topic which I couldn’t fit in here but my hope is to just start a conversation about something that is too often remained silenced.

*In this blog I refer to periods being regulated to women, but want to acknowledge that not all cis-gendered women experience menstruation, nor that all women are cis-gendered. My intention is to highlight the construction of gender norms on an abstract level.

References

1Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (1987) ‘She Touched His Garment’ in Watchtower, 1 June, New York: WTBTS.

2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpy75q2DDow

3Laws, S (1990) Issues of Blood: Politics of Menstruation, Hampshire: Macmillan.

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Where are all the women?

The other week I came across Empire’s list of the Top 100 Greatest Movie Character’s of all time. At first I thought nothing of it, but the other day I went back to perform a little experiment. The test was simply this: how many women made the list?

…Any guesses?

Twelve… Twelve, out of a possible 100. Out of those twelve, only three made it into the top 50. Out of those twelve, only five managed to score higher than Wall-E, the cartoon robot which has about 17 lines of dialogue in the whole movie! I mean, come on. Are film makers so bad that they cannot make a woman’s character better than an animated robot? …Because I know plenty of women who would be a lot more interesting without any words.

All this reminded me of what I should have blogged about a long time ago, the “Bechdel Test.” For those of you who haven’t come across it, I will briefly explain. The test comes from Alison Bechdel who created three simple criteria to see whether movies have adequate female representation. The criteria are as follows:

  1. The movie has at least two female characters, with names,
  2. Those two females talk to each other,
  3. The conversation is not about a man.

The test seems simple enough, right? Well, surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – a huge number of movies fail the test. For instance, at the last academy awards only 2 out of the 9 best picture nominees past this test; although one of those only passed due to a 5 second exchange between two women. But, why is this such a huge problem?

Well, I am sure that we would all agree that most films are designed to portray a part of human life. Most genres, except perhaps some fantasy/sci-fi are set in a time or place where the events could actually happen. Taking this into account, as well as the fact that just over half of the population is made up of women; wouldn’t it be okay to assume that just over half of the characters in movies would also be women? Well, I know that’s unrealistic – many parts of society are made up of just men, a film about politics, or corporate business(men) for example? Therefore a representation of the real world would in fact be mostly men, although in my opinion that just reflects the systematic sexism that we have in the world.

Nevertheless, aren’t most movies actually fictional? Whether or not they are based on true events, most writers and directors have the poetic license to add, remove or modify the story’s characters; couldn’t they decide to make some of them female roles? After all, we are supposed to identify with these characters, right? As it stands, young and adult women who watch these movies aren’t exactly spoilt for choice in terms of cinematic role models.

What is more, you’d be surprised at how many movies really abuse their female characters just to move a male character’s plot along. These are called ‘tropes,’ similar to a cliché – where the female character is usually portrayed in a negative light such as the classic ‘I’m going to use my dangerous sexuality to lure you in and then kill you’ type.

It’s not like I want every movie to be full of women, but I also don’t want every movie to be full of men. From the people that I’ve spoken to about this, most of their reactions are of surprise. They find it hard to believe they’ve been watching movies for so long without realising. I just hope that we can continue to raise people’s awareness of how women are portrayed in the media, and this goes just as easily for other marginalised groups too!

If this resonates with you in any way, please take a look at www.feministfrequency.com for really great videos and info on women in popular culture.

Also, to see if your favourite movies pass the Bechdel test, you can find out here: http://bechdeltest.com.

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