Shark Week

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Firstly thank you all so much for coming along and making our first (of hopefully many) collaborations with the awesome Cha Cha Cha Vintage such a success. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. As I mentioned at the start of that evening at some point I’ll have put together a manifesto or mission statement just to kind of clarify what our aims and ideas are but in the meantime I feel it’s been fairly evident!

So we dived right in with talking about Periods and what amazing and interesting conversations are had. Thinking about the thing that unites all women regardless of social, economical, sexual or political beliefs and experiences we can all relate to one another over this looming crimson presence or lack thereof in our lives. As discussed of course it’s important to remember that this common experience for women isn’t what makes us women. To say that a young girl becomes a woman once her periods start is an extremely narrow and limiting definition of womanhood. Not only does it exclude trans kids and adults but also those who have trouble conceiving in the first place. As a child or pre-teen you are not emotionally equipped with even a small percentage of what you’ll need to know and understand about the world.

With “Shark Week” being a clear favourite of the evening’s euphemisms there was a collective agreement that the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding Periods and female reproductive health were at the heart of it’s taboo. We need to remove the stigma and degradation surrounding menstruation and from the idea that female bodies are polluting or dangerous in some way and that periods are a ‘waste product’ sanitised, blue and talked about only in hushed whispers. The idea that this subject falls under the heading of “Women’s Issues” because it is a woman’s ‘problem’ is entrenched further into the argument that within our society and wider culture anything female is weaker, less appealing and often more stupid than it’s male counterpart. We have been taught that anything female and by proxy feminine is secondary to masculinity. That girls are pink and frivolous and idiotic. We only like shopping and cupcakes and can’t understand equations or nuanced politics… oh and we love kittens. Lots of kittens. This is a conversation that can extend to almost any part of collective culture today and we have discussed a few times at previous Meet-Ups within the context of princessification, gender stereotyping and even the construct of shame.

With this in mind we see our body’s natural function as something very unnatural, an inconvenience and sometimes literally a pain. In evolutionary terms humans have come to associate blood with a negative reaction, it’s generally something that should be avoided and can signal something pretty bad. This could be part of the reason men often find periods to be a gross, squeam-inducing mystery that they actually know very little about in a real sense. Many of us have partners who are very unwilling to hear or learn about our dear Aunt Flo’s and they certainly aren’t alone in the world as a whole. This collective period deafness we concluded was due to both a lack of open honest education but also a global culture of shame and silence surrounding women’s bodies, and sadly this isn’t limited to menstruation alone. Reminding me of a piece of graffiti seen recently that said “Menstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it’s the one that disgusts you the most.”

Millions of girls around the world miss school because they cannot attend whilst riding the crimson wave, this leads to much higher rates of dropping out all together as well. They are ostracised from their homes and societies whilst living in cramped huts or tents for the duration of their periods, said to be bringing bad luck upon their families and turning food or drink rotten with just the touch of a hand. The mythical power of a woman’s body is an uncontrollable mystery to societies (ie: men) of history and it’s connection to tides, moons and nature reveals a power that cannot be harnessed or controlled and is therefore a threat. Some would argue that this is a power and potency that Man has been raping and pillaging from Woman throughout the ages. Religion, a science before real science was invented, also tarnishes us with sin for having ‘the curse’, we are ritually unclean, untrustworthy and a catalyst for evil. This dismissive intolerance isn’t uniquely aimed at us when we have the painters in but covers all manner of female bodily functions from menopause, childbirth, breastfeeding and fertility.

This conversation on the mystery of our bodies led to some thoughts about the resulting medicalisation of our experiences – hormones, PMT or frankly just raising an opinion were treated as hysteria and insanity in the not too distant past. The patriarchal war on women’s bodies is alive and well in the United States (not to mention the rest of the world), where teachers are fired for saying the word “vagina’ in class (in the context of Art history not even biology!), elected representatives are experts in female reproductive health with Missouri’s Todd Akin claiming “if it’s a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” and a mid-western chiropractor who has kindly invented a lipstick-glue to conveniently stick your “crusty and smelly” labia together when you’re on the rag. Whilst the world is happy to see us as sex objects the reality of female biology is gross and unimaginable, this is never more relevant than when we talk about breastfeeding in public. We also had an interesting talk about the risks involved when women are not informed about what will be happening to their bodies be it through abortion, contraception or childbirth. When people (and sadly yes it’s a predominantly men in male dominated fields) don’t use real language and skirt around the facts in order to “protect” women (from ourselves?!) you really achieve the opposite as well as continuing the dangerous culture of misinformation.

Menstruation doesn’t really have anything to do with sexuality but it shares all the same taboos and it’s disappearance, menopause, is met with equal distain. Here we considered societies attitudes to women ageing, aside from the obvious lack of older women (and their stories) in film and media. We concluded that the only discourse around their experiences being about home-decorating or how to dress or apply make-up appropriately for your age was total bullshit. We all vowed not to become beige old ladies who disappear into the background (and maybe start a business making clothes for old ladies that aren’t exclusively beige!).

Next we tackled the infuriating tampon tax, lamenting the £5 million quid a year the government makes on taxing feminine hygiene products (on which we spend our already lower paid salaries). They pledged (or should that be placate) that money to “women’s issues” making it clear that we need to subsidise our own escape and recovery from abuse and violence. 

But it’s not all doom and red gloom, there are a lot of period positive outlets online. Periods and for that matter body hair are a hugely visible (excuse the pun) movement on Instagram and other social media largely as a response to images of period blood being censored and semi-pornographic content not. The writer, director and actor Lena Dunham is an outspoken voice for  those suffering from Endometriosis as well as open and honest dialogue about all aspects of societies’ attitudes to women’s bodies. There’s Lamilly – the realistically average-proportioned doll who comes with her own info book about getting your first period and her own teeny sanitary pads. The movement of ⌗periodpositive is a great initiative and resource started by former comedian Chella Quint to move away from corporate sponsored (who provide schools with ‘teaching materials’ ie: advertising and brand loyalty) education within schools and young people. We all got pretty excited about Mooncups (of which there are a few different brands), a sustainable and reusable alternative to tampons and pads and about Thinx, period proof underwear annoyingly only available from the U.S. at the moment.

This conversation starter was a great beginning to a funny and really interesting Meet-Up about the one universal experience we all have shared. We were able to question our own attitudes and feelings about our periods and really examine how they have been shaped by the expectations and pressures that not only culture and society, but we also, press upon ourselves. And with that we’ll end on the Tina Fey quote we shared!

“Photoshop itself is not evil, just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim, pretending to pull her panties down. Give it up. Retouching is here to stay . Technology doesn’t move backward. No society has ever de-industrialised.”

Tina Fey.








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