Writing by Elli Efird. Artwork by Berenika Murray.
“I think I’ve made a mistake…with my body,” she says, dripping red onto the green forest floor beneath. Over a sea of grating industrial instrumentals, her voice joins others in a chorus of apologies – externalisation of internalised shame. Sharp howling pierces through the alpine air, interrupting the wonted verses of period horror stories with a wild, unabashed rallying cry:
“Cover it up. Conceal it in the shadows:
the blood that trickles from full moons into wild oceans.
Bury us in dirt; in leaves; in shadows;
in all the wild things you cannot tame.
Make us one with Mother Earth, for you cannot tame this BEAST…”
In a recent collaborative short film entitled WILDTHINGS, Glasgow artists Yas Mower, Holly Warton and Sinead PG disrupt menstruation’s history of stigmatisation and taboos by reclaiming the ‘wild’ and ‘untamed’ labels used to shame women for this monthly form of bodily catharsis. In the wild, which is where the film occurs, there exists no flowery ‘noiseless’ tampon wrappers, no heavily-fragranced Summer’s Eve wipes, no looks of disgust at stained garments – just blood. Splattered on leaves. Running down legs. Smeared across skin. The trickling of the flow as natural as that of the creek the artists film themselves standing in, defying a centuries-old current of misinformation and suppression which continues to run its course, which continues to carve into the terrain of half the world’s life experience.
During an era in which abrasively violent media such as James Cameron’s Avatar is celebrated (though the film attempts anti-military-and-imperialism themes) and sports as brutal as rugby and MMA have become million-dollar entertainment industries, is it not rather odd that the one form of bloodshed which is not caused by internal or external harm is associated with secrecy and embarrassment? The bodily fluid which fosters the creation of new life should be anything but an object of repulsion – it should be revered. Yet, still held by the ramshackle of apologism and privacy in the name of prescribed ‘ladylike’ decency and peacekeeping, we keep all things menstrual concealed, as if they never existed in the first place.
As many unnecessary and undesirable facets of modern life do, the hushed and denaturalized status of menstruation has roots in phallocentric ideas and institutions, one of which is the Medieval and Early Modern Churches. Anyone who took the Popular Religion, Women, and Witchcraft course is familiar with the use of the story of original sin in the subjugation of laywomen. In the shadow of their biblical ancestor Eve, women during this time period were widely believed to be mistresses of the Devil, and monthly bleeding and painful childbirth served as acceptable evidence for such. If this religiously motivated ignominy wasn’t enough, early modern medicine chalked menstruation up to a symptom of imbalance. Bloodletting was a medically accepted curative practice, as blood was one of the four humours – bodily fluids which remained balanced in a healthy specimen. Vaginal bleeding, then, was thought to be a natural form of bloodletting which indicated an imbalance or impurity within women. Thus, folk healers were burned at the stake while doctors who prescribed dozens of leeches at a time had thriving medical careers.
Conditions did not improve as medicine advanced and the bloodletting theory was rejected. Male doctors began to replace midwives in the delivery process in the late 1700s, though not putting in much effort to familiarise themselves with the distinctive medical needs of their female patients. Only in the mid 1800s did gynaecology emerge as a medical specialisation, originating ironically with the ‘father’ of the new profession, a Montgomery plantation physician named J. Marion Sims. Sims was heralded in his time for developing a surgical procedure for vesicovaginal fistula, a dire childbirth complication, and for establishing the first recorded women’s hospital; however, his hands were bloodied by the nonconsensual, unanesthetized manner in which his experimentation was conducted on the vulnerable, enslaved women whom he ‘treated’.
As menstruation became known and accepted as a natural process of the female reproductive system, the climate surrounding it simply shifted from one of fear to one of revulsion. Health in the House, an 1879 publication of compiled medical lectures sent to the wives of labouring men in Leeds and Saltaire, states the following: “It is completely disgusting to bleed in your chemise” – not “pretty disgusting,” just plain “disgusting,” or even “really disgusting,” but completely disgusting! With the first patented tampon still fifty years in the future, I don’t see how it was fair for this unnamed male doctor to bring harmful, unproductive rhetoric into the medical realm with no alternative solution for his target audience. Yet his hateful words were published, and it was far from the last time “disgusting” or a synonymous insult would be used to describe periods to a vast audience.
This *brief* and *limited* Western-centric historical context attempts to paint the backdrop against which menstruation has become a modern feminist concern, which could help explain why statements such as those made in WILDTHINGS seem so radical to the average viewer. For instance, the short film challenges the typical handling of period products in public (shout out to Scotland for being the first country to provide them for free – at least we’ve done something right), nudging a shift from discretion to indifference, or even pride. Instead of concealing any sign of the cotton corks and quietly slipping into the nearest toilet (especially if there are *men* present), we can try “holding it…like it was a fucking wand,” as Yas, Holly and Sinead would suggest. We can continue to fight against the tampon tax and fight for menopausal leave. We can re-naturalize period talk in conversations outside of those with our gynaecologist, mother, or closest friends. We can reclaim the naturalness of our own body and, by extension, our own nature.
->We are EXPLOSIVE<-
->We are VOLATILE<-
->We are NATURE<-
So can everyone bloody get over it already?
To watch the video, visit: