"I got my period in the store!"
"I got my period on the car seat!"
"My mom talked about my period in front of a cute guy!"
These headlines from Seventeen Magazine's "Embarrassing Moments" feature reveal the humiliation many women grow up associating with menstruation. From a very young age we're taught that our periods should be covered, hidden and cleaned up. Now, a new VICE photo series by photographer Emma Arvida Bystrom, "There Will Be Blood," is challenging the taboo. (Click over to VICE to see the complete series.)
The series depicts women going about various everyday activities, like jogging, reading, texting and waiting for the bus. The photographs aren't sexual, they're nearly mundane ... except that each woman is bleeding through her clothing -- something that has probably happened to most women -- some more than once. Although I'd like to say that I was indifferent to these photos or immediately appreciated them for the dialogue they could potentially provoke, I didn't. I had an instant visceral reaction and had to step back and think a little bit harder before I could really enjoy them. My feelings somewhat mirrored those of Buzzfeed's Donna D.:
I'm woman enough to admit it. They got me. A friend sent me the link and we had a moment of outrage and giggling and disgust and moved on. But my brain didn't. It percolated over those images with niggling sense that I was being hoodwinked. And finally, like the veritable light bulb moment, it hit me. There's nothing wrong or gross with any of those photos.
It's telling that even though we're bombarded daily with graphic photographs of war and other violence -- often involving quite a bit of blood -- VICE's series still shocks. Period blood is so verboten in the public eye that the first "feminine hygiene" ad to use the color red when illustrating what actually ends up on those products was released just last summer (the ad shows a single, prim red dot), and we've come up with an insane amount of euphemisms to allude to our menstrual cycles. (Some of those are priceless, by the way -- see Cher Horowitz telling her high school teacher about how she was "surfing the crimson wave" and had to "haul a** to the ladies'.") And even when we do see menstruation discussed openly, women are often shown being emotionally and physically incapacitated by it. The 2011 film "No Strings Attached" includes a scene in which Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling are all incapacitated in the living room, moaning in pain and binging on cupcakes.
This media squeamishness about periods spills over into our everyday interactions. I'm still in the habit of tucking a tampon into my sleeve when heading to the bathroom at my office or when I'm out to dinner, and I've lost count of the number of times that a female co-worker has come over to my desk and whispered to me, "Do you have a tampon?" We may not be consciously ashamed of our ability to shed our uterine walls, and we've certainly made progress since 1981, when a study conducted by Tampax revealed that 35 percent of Americans believed that "menstruation affected a woman's ability to think," but our discomfort with the subject is still apparent.
So maybe that's why we're suprised by "There Will Be Blood." The women in these photographs aren't having a raging episode of PMS and hiding their tampons, nor are they depicted in a way that's titillating or fetishized. They're just going to have to invest in some really good laundry detergent.
LOOK: Movie Euphemisms For Menstruation