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War on period shaming goes mainstream



Libra's new ad campaign #bloodnormal shows, for the first time, period blood in an advertisement. This stands in direct contrast to previous advertising which never mentioned blood or only alluded to 'liquid', with a medical-looking blue dye that would be poured onto a pad.

A hand pours blood onto a sanitary pad. Libra #bloodnormalIn feminist circles, topics like period shaming and the pros and cons of alternative menstrual products are well-trodden. Activists have successfully advocated against the tampon tax in Australia. There has been an Oscar-winning documentary on periods, and a period emoji. I've seen people posting pictures of period blood and bloody sheets online. Organisations like One Girl and Bloody Good Period have been working to reduce period poverty. So when I watched the ad, I saw it for what it was: a mainstream response to a movement that had been going on for years.

In fact, the blood may not even be the most progressive part of the ad. In one scene, a man is seen buying pads. The audience is left to infer — and, given Libra's history, I think it is intended to convey — that this is a man getting pads for his partner. But it can also be read as a man buying pads for himself.

This would be a great step forward, for the only company making menstrual products in Australia to acknowledge that not all menstruators are women. Trans and nonbinary activists have been calling for more inclusive language in discussions around menstruation and for gender neutral products for periods for a while now. It's been a gap in the market that only in the last few years has started to be addressed.

So when I was tagged in the ad on Facebook a few days ago and I scrolled through the comments I was surprised, even knowing how deep period shaming runs, at how vehement the comments were. The ad was called 'revolting' and 'disgusting', and a trickle of blood deemed 'gory'. Some complained it was insensitive to run an ad that would force parents to explain menstruation to their children, or young women (menstruators) to watch ads about menstruation with (cis) male members of their family — as if to address menstrual bleeding would be something terrible.

What's interesting to me is that while a few of the comments said that the ad was 'unnecessary', the volume and content of the complaints actually highlight the need for ads like these. That people can watch a still pretty aestheticised version of a period in an ad and call it 'disgusting' shows how widespread and internalised period shaming still is.

Period shaming has real consequences. The UN has linked period shaming to human rights concerns like access to water, lost wages and health problems. Menstruators who don't have access to menstrual products can miss school time and use unsafe methods to deal with periods. Period shaming also put menstruators' bodies into the realm of the abject, which can lead menstruators to feel detached from and embarrassed by their own bodies.


"I've always thought it was ridiculous that we expect menstruators as young as eight to have to deal with the reality of their own periods, but feel the need to protect cisgender men from that same reality."


So comments that ask whether we would show urine or faeces on TV miss the point. Those are bodily functions that everyone has and which are normalised within the media. Whereas periods are only experienced by people from marginalised genders, and are still stigmatised, which has real medical consequences for menstruators. For example, endometriosis usually takes years to diagnose, can only be discovered laparoscopically, and while it affects a significant number of menstruators, it is expensive to treat and there is limited public awareness and funding for research.

It's also worth noting that I didn't see much outrage about Libra's previous ad that also featured women bleeding from sports injuries. But as writer Rosanna Stevens says in her essay for The Lifted Brow, in that ad they were portraying 'the right kind of blood, and the right kind of blood is any blood that isn't coming from the vagina'.

I honestly don't care who knows that I have periods, but I still can feel a tension whenever something period-related comes up in my own life. Do I lie and preserve the comfort of those around me, or do I tell the truth and risk adverse reactions from other people? I've always thought it was ridiculous that we expect menstruators as young as eight to have to deal with the reality of their own periods, but feel the need to protect cisgender men from that same reality.

Periods are traditionally associated with femininity and are supposedly a 'woman's time' and so relegated to the same 'we don't talk about that' category as childbirth. But not talking about it reinforces a culture of shame. That shame leads to misunderstandings and ignorance that are not just embarrassing, but perpetuate gender-based discrimination.

It might make you squirm, but the #bloodnormal campaign isn't revolutionary. It is, however, still necessary, as the continued existence of period shaming shows.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street and a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, menstruation, periods, women's health, sexism



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Existing comments

I recall seeing "I got that flow" on the ABC comedy series "Wham Bam Thank you Ma'am" a few years back and thought it was awesome so I agree it's hardly revolutionary. Yet the brands now supporting the sentiment want nothing more than to portray themselves as being "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary" though. Comedy (and the arts) pushes the boundaries and brands jump on board as soon as it's safe enough for a profit to be made. This is reminiscent of what happened with the backlash when brands started to try and commercialise Gay Pride symbols.

Matt | 02 September 2019  

Male fear of female blood has a long history in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Scholars tell us of rituals to 'control' female power by isolating women during their menstrual periods, sometimes for long periods around the actual menstrual flow. Women required 'purifying' after childbirth. too - it's not just menstrual blood, it's female blood. We don't do that today - instead we use shaming to isolate and 'other' women. Same, though. It's about female power, and male fear of it. (And guys - you're right - we are powerful and you should be, if not afraid, at least a lot more careful around us. You wouldn't like us if we got angry.....).

Joan Seymour | 02 September 2019  

Neve, I now married to my wife for 37 year today (Wednesday). We have two grown up women so "Periods" have been a part of my experience for a long time. As Joan mentions, the issue has deep seated roots in our religious culture. Men remain very coy about it, and particularly so back in my youth, when my mates and the boys at school had some quite offensive terms for what is a very natural event. I have to say though that I have not seen the Ad. on our local commercial TV Channels. Bit sad that commercial gain was the trigger!

Gavin A. O'Brien | 04 September 2019  

Yesterday there was an interesting discussion on RN about business opportunism: in that case it was focussed on the idea of 'beauty' - how it's defined and by whom; how that definition can cause people to reflect on their own 'imperfections' and purchase products and treatments which might help them achieve a look that is more aligned with what is considered beautiful. Wrinkles, sagging jawlines and boobs, crooked teeth, spots, etc. can be defined as imperfections that be remedied if you spend some money to get them 'fixed'. It seems as though Libra might be jumping on the marketing bandwagon and starting to advertise its products from a contemporary feminist perspective. I note with interest the way manufacturers and advertisers still use terms such as 'sanitary' and ‘hygiene’ - words which continue to present the 'unclean' image of menstruation. There has been an ebb and flow (pardon the pun) in public and private references to menstruation over time. The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health - see the www.mum.org site - presents a wide range of commercial and cultural perspectives. Exploring the site can be a mind-blowing experience, and provides an opportunity to consider one’s own perceptions and how they might have been influenced over the decades.

Paddy Byers | 09 September 2019  

I would've thought by now...there's a new syndrome too,PSSD or something with 4 letters. Sure this is not all a beat up? A red herring? A distraction?

Jillian | 09 September 2019