So right before we left on vacation my Facebook feed blew up with stories about a college student whose art project was removed from Instagram for violating its terms and services. Because it showed a woman on her period.
It was a picture of a fully clothed woman asleep on her side with a blood leak stain on her pants and on her sheets. Instagram said, "NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!" Then when the backlash started said, "Oh wait, sorry, that was a mistake here have it back."
It was interesting to read the articles. It was interesting to get the take from the artist as to what she was trying to portray and accomplish with her pieces. I'll link one of them here in case you missed the conversation and are lost. But what was more interesting to me were two things, first my reaction to the first picture, and the wider stance of what art is and then the comments I read about the pictures and the wider stance of what that means to me.
When I first saw the picture my initial reaction was sadness. I didn't read what the artist was trying to convey, I didn't see it as a bigger political statement which was her intention. I saw something that related more to my life than hers. I saw a woman curled on her side in bed whose period had started. It struck me as a woman who hadn't wanted her period. Who maybe had thought she was pregnant, or had been pregnant. It was the body posture of her, with her back to the camera. The curl in on herself. The unexpected bleeding. To me it was a moment of sadness, of loss. A lot of us have been there. Then I read what the artist was doing and it didn't fit my perception of her picture.
Which is what happens with art all of the time. As the creator you have a vision. You have a message that you are trying to get out there but once it's released it becomes part of something else. I see it happen with stories I have written. When I leave the message a little more vague there are times when people who read it take away something completely different than what I intended. It's interesting sometimes how different it is.
I remember fighting with my Honors English teacher junior year in high school about a poem. She wanted me to see that it CLEARLY was about parental abuse and I didn't see it that way at all. I could see how she did, but I didn't. And my point was that even if the author meant it that way, that was his life experience, not mine, with my life experience it meant something else and once the poem was out in the wild it became its own thing. The artist only had control of it up until the point that he published it. Art is supposed to make you feel, but doesn't have to make you feel what everyone else does. She did not agree and I did not get a good grade on that paper.
But I also never changed my mind.
So yes, the photographer was trying to make a political statement with her pieces, and what I got out of it was a grieving mom image. But either way her art moved me.
So then on to the commentary around the pieces. And it boiled down mostly to two camps one camp that was saying "Look, this is a natural part of the human reproductive process and there should be no more shame around it." and the other in the, "GROSS!! THIS IS GROSS!!" camp.
The level of vitriol that started slinging back and forth between these two was amazing. Now I will give you that blood is a hard thing for a lot of people to look at and the other pictures in her series were more focused on the blood. But the reality is that for most women for a large chunk of their lives this is the reality. We bleed. I've written about it before. It's not a fun few days. It can be painful. It can wipe you out. But it also is natural and normal and shouldn't make you feel shame.
You know the shame. The shame that makes you hide your pads when company comes over, even though right by the toilet is the most convenient place for them to be. The shame where you palm the tampon on the way to the bathroom because god forbid anyone know you are menstruating right now. The utter humiliation if you bleed through and have a stain on a sheet or on your clothes. We are taught at a young age not to discuss our periods, not to mention them, not to even give a hint as to what is happening. White pants and BLUE liquid in the commercials. Ugh.
And I saw this shame reinforced through the comments. People were insulted that she showed her blood. Like it was a personal affront to them. The men and women that were horrified that she dare show that side of her. Though if she had taken a picture showing her boobs they would have been fine. Naked is cool, clothed with a period stain? Not so much. Sex is great, reproduction is shameful.
How does that even make sense? But it's true.
Walking in to a store to buy pads is torture when you are a teenager. Especially if the only check out line has a male cashier. Hell, forget teenager, I know grown women who won't do it. They will fill a cart with other items so they can hide the box under them. Because they are embarrassed. Because society has taught them that it's embarrassing. Religions have reinforce this message throughout time as well. Unclean. And we have kept it up. We teach our daughters to hide and to be embarrassed. We tell them that they shouldn't say that they feel like crap today because their period started but maybe say, "Aunty Flo is here so I need to stay home." To not be able to walk in to a store and buy what you need without a moment of hesitation.
And there is something really wrong with that.
And her art did a great job highlighting that.
I think she deserves an A in that class.