Kiran Gandhi And Breaking The Period Stigma.

Historically, people’s periods have been blamed for curdling milk, spoiling beer and wine, drying rivers and wells, and killing off plants. The patriarchal society that we live in has managed to make anyone who menstruates feel ashamed and uncomfortable with their own body. Very few people feel able to opening discuss periods but that might be about to change.

M.I.A’s drummer, Kiran Gandhi, decided the best way to make a statement against the stigma surrounding menstruation was to run a marathon without a tampon and found the experience “empowering”. In the last year Rupi Kaur posted a series of photos portraying periods which were taken down by Instagram and Soofiya Andry has created a ‘zine with the aim of informing people about menstruation and breaking down social taboo. Perhaps we are finally starting to see the beginnings of the disintegration of society’s contradictory prejudice against the vagina.

Getting your period just before going to the gym, doing yoga or swimming, let alone running a marathon is most people’s nightmare but this woman saw it as a positive. In that situation our panic tends to stem from not just the discomfort but also a strong fear of having it leak and God forbid, people knowing that you are on your period. We are incredibly conscious of the fact that society deems natural bodily processes, especially menstruation, disgusting, impure and inappropriate. So it’s particularly interesting that a lot of us cringe at the idea of doing what Gandhi did, but for reasons that are created by the same ridiculous stigmas that she was attempting to crush.

She summarised this sentiment perfectly with the statement “By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50 percent of us in the human population share monthly.”

The 26-year-old feminist actually ran 26.2 miles as the blood stained her leggings and ran down her legs. She explained that she put up with the mess and discomfort “for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend it doesn’t exist”.

“I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race.”

She added, “It would have been difficult to worry about a tampon for that many miles” and felt that “if there is anyone society won’t fuck with it’s a marathon runner”.

When speaking to Cosmopolitan, she also explained that she was actually worried about the effect a tampon would have on her body when running so far and doing so with “a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd”. She mentioned that there is little information available on the consequences or health risks especially considering that tampons pose health risks even in normal everyday use. This reinforces how sparse discussion of menstruation really is and how tough it is to seek out advice when you’re faced with the combination of your period and an unfamiliar experience.

“I didn’t really have good information about what happens when you run on your period,” she said.

As if that wasn’t amazing though, Gandhi managed to finish the race in 49 minutes and 11 seconds and raise $6,000 (£3,877) for Breast Cancer Care with the help of her friends and claims that this “greater cause” is what helped her make it to the finish line. She was proud to have done something that she considered “a stretch”, for the sake of raising money and feminism.

Responses to Gandhi’s marathon have varied and it’s clear that period activists still have a lot of work to do in order to completely break down the taboo nature of menstruation. Across social media platforms comments have varied immensely, as per usual on such a ‘contraversial’ topic. One user, Demiurgic, wrote: ‘you are one AWESOME woman! Thanks for boosting my confidence and clearing my equivocal mind.’ Nilima Achwal echoed her sentiments, writing: ‘Whoa – kudos your courage and resilience.’ However, Bellyrina wrote: ‘I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this feminist. Just unsanitary,’ whilst Mark Byron added: ‘I think people are already aware of periods and I think she is a vulgar capital V.’

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The executive editor of HuffPost UK, Poorna Bell described the event as “nonsense” and the Daily Mail completely contradicted themselves by writing an article on a woman who attempted to break down the social stigma surrounding periods in which they censored out her blood stains. This reaction is far from unusual considering the historic taboo and oppression of periods, as recently reinforced by everyone’s favourite patriarch, Donald Trump. On the back of Instagram banning Rupi Kaur’s photography, people appear to have had enough. When Trump recently decided to do as many men have done before him and blame menstruation, following particularly tough questions asked by female reporter Megyn Kelly, the “period revolution” seemingly began.

People have taken to twitter to ‘live-tweet’ their periods at Donald Trump, possibly the best protest in the history of social media. The politician has had to fend off an onslaught of detailed updates on the periods of the public and despite trying to claim he was referencing a metaphoric blood flow from the “ears” of the reporter, he has not succeeded. Out of this glorious rebellion a hashtag has even emerged – #periodsarenotinsults which perfectly summarises how periods have been used against women for centuries to portray them as irrational, disgusting or weak.

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Considering the pain, discomfort, emotion and general side effects of menstruating, let alone the inconvenience of large quantities of blood running down your legs, it makes so little sense that we are also forced to hide them away and feel embarrassed. Can we dare to believe that between Soofiya’s ‘zine, Rupi’s Instagram photos, #periodsarenotinsults and now Kiran’s marathon, the taboo is beginning to be broken down?

Kiran Gandhi pointed out that coping with a period once a month is tough enough, so running a marathon on hers felt like an immense achievement and making it through the anxiety and cramps was what really empowered her. This is what we should be celebrating, the difficulties that people with vaginas face. Soofiya Andry has created her ‘zine to do exactly this, celebrate and inform people about menstruation by opening people’s minds to the fact that not only women menstruate and the people that do should be supported and find it easy to converse on the subject.

More material and open discussion is required considering as Gandhi commented more than 50% of the world’s population have periods and they should not be made to feel ashamed. She added, “it is intelligently oppressive to not have language to talk about it and call it out and engage with it. I really can’t think of anything that’s the equivalent for men, and for this reason, I believe it’s a sexist situation” and described the running course as somewhere “where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose.”

Soofiya has extended her support to Kiran following the marathon and commented “Kiran is so fucking badass! I think it was a great example of what I call ‘period activism’. The whole thing was really empowering, her autonomy and strength as someone who menstruates was further reinforced by her statement of solidarity. Not only did this action challenge taboo but brought the discussion into the wider public consciousness; which is vital to helping shift the ‘shaming’ narrative which surrounds menstruation.”

Pages from Soofiya's 'zine.
Pages from Soofiya’s ‘zine.

Given that many people don’t even have access to the products they need to cope with menstruating and this needs to chance, as well as the myths and insults that arise about periods, it is absolutely crucial that we begin to talk openly about the subject. Hopefully, after the media attention it has received in the last year, things are about to start changing and we can maintain the conversation that has begun online and encourage people to break the taboo.

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Why Kim Kardashian Is Good For Feminism

Whether or not Kim Kardashian calls herself a feminist has been a hotly debated topic for a long time now. Half of the people commenting online are frustrated that she refuses to actively say ‘I am a feminist’ and the other half are confused as to why those people care so much. It seems to me like a lot of them are entirely missing the point, I do find myself getting irritated by powerful women who avoid the term but then I stop to think it’s not up to me to push people out of their comfort zone and label themselves. To be honest can you really blame them with all of the false negative connotations the movement has become shrouded in? When someone does choose to call themselves a feminist it acts as a tiny step towards removing those connotations. However when a person of a marginalised gender demands equality with men (even if they still refuse to refer to themselves as a feminist) it is a step towards smashing the patriarchy. This is what stands out most to me, the first is positive but the second is more important. If feminism continues to be stereotyped and criticised but also continues to (however slowly) break down patriarchal standards, it’s still achieving its goal. Six months ago, I would never imagine I’d be able to tie these ideals to Kim Kardashian, I was just as judgemental as the next person and firmly believed she was simply superficial and irrelevant, but when my sister persuaded me to watch her TV show I found my views began to change.

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Kim is the perfect example of a figure with an enormous amount of power, possibly the most influential celebrity of our generation, who doesn’t necessarily identify as a feminist but is definitely a good influence for the movement. What many people don’t realise or refuse to say in such frank terms is that Kim Kardashian is a victim of revenge porn. Her sex tape was posted online without her consent and she had to deal with that situation and the associated trauma in exactly the same way other victims have. Overcoming this violation and finding the confidence to move forward with your life is incredibly impressive in its own right, so turning it around completely and using the unwanted attention to help you create a multi-million dollar empire is mind-blowing. Kim is now one of the most successful business women on the earth with two clothing lines, nine seasons of a television series, a book, a chain of boutique stores, her own mobile game and a hair-care range, amongst other achievements. In addition to this, although it may seem surprising, she has branched out into industries that are massively male dominated. The game/app that she created may be about fashion, hairstyles and Hollywood but it’s still an app and people don’t tend to realise that she was present for its design, creation and programming. It also allowed her to speak at tech conferences, which she described on her television show as one of the scariest experiences of her life. She explained how it felt more terrifying than any other appearance she had made because it was an environment where people aren’t used to hearing from women, let alone a woman who is constantly deemed unintelligent or superficial by strangers who don’t know her. When she did speak at these conferences however, social media was buzzing with comments on how “surprisingly clever” she came across as it suddenly dawned on people that she’s a perfectly intelligent human being.

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People love to judge and slut-shame the Kardashians, Kim in particular given how easy the public always find it to castigate someone who has had nude photos or videos leaked. How it’s possible to victim blame like that is beyond me, whether they are intimidated by the success of a woman or are simply snobby, draconian misogynists who like to degrade women for exposing their bodies whether accidental or deliberate. Every day people complain that it’s not acceptable that she “gained an entire career from getting her ass out” or “received billions of dollars for being a whore”. And those people need to accept that firstly, she did not choose to have her trust and privacy violated in such a brutal manner. Secondly even if she had released nude images of her own accord or decided to make a career directly using her body, for example through pornography or sex work, that is her prerogative and it’s her body to do with whatever she likes. Finally, in this specific case, Kim does not have an incredibly successful career and a net worth of $85million because she’s attractive or because her sex tape was released. Her success is down to the fact that she made the best of an impossible and traumatic situation and because she is creative, intelligent, hardworking and likeable. Careers don’t spring from nowhere just because people see your naked body. She turned it around to her advantage and few people are lucky enough to have such success come out of their hard work and determination so it deserves a lot more respect than people tend to give.

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When the Kardashians are branded superficial and self absorbed, they’re also ‘blamed’ for the rise of the ‘selfie’ which people believe perpetuates a ‘self absorbed generation’ of teens and young people. Let’s be honest it’s easy to see that Kim Kardashian can be held mostly responsible for encouraging more people to take up a habit of photographing themselves. But the question is, how negative is this trend really, in its influence on society? When people take a photo of themselves and post it online, they are deciding how they want to be seen or perceived as well as who they want to see it and when, therefore maintaining personal control. This is the exact opposite of having images or video material uploaded against your will that allows the world to judge you. It’s not just fighting back against the specific case of revenge porn that Kim faced, but against slut-shaming or superficial judgement in general. People seem desperate to tell you that liking how you look, being confident about your body and enjoying sharing that are bad things and vanity is a problem. But how much is really wrong with being content and confident? Through taking ‘selfies’ people can reject the idea that being vain or loving your appearance is a negative thing and move away from the fact that society expects women to be filled with self loathing and constantly striving to improve their appearance.

Kim, as well as all other people who enjoy sharing photos of themselves, is reclaiming the rights to her own body and her own confidence that were not only stripped away from her when her video was leaked but risk being crushed every day by ignorant people who pick out her flaws. This is a fantastic influence on young people, especially considering that between the age of about thirteen and twenty five, people are often more insecure than ever and are bombarded every day with images of perfection and how you “should’ look. Eating disorders and body dismorphia are particularly common around this age and especially in women. There is a strong possibility that people of varying appearances sharing their confidence and how beautiful they feel can really help and inspire people who aren’t lucky enough to feel that way at a certain point in their life. This statement and influence is also made all the more powerful by how Kim captions her photos with comments like “first they say I’m too skinny so I have to be faking it…Now they say I’m too big so I have to be faking it…” or “no matter what rumours or comments you throw my way this time they truly don’t affect me”.

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Body positivity is a major topic for the Kardashians and the foundation of some strong messages that come out of their TV show, as much as people tend to see it as superficial rubbish. In the latest series an entire episode focuses on the criticism that (then) seventeen-year-old Kylie Jenner received for using lip fillers. Kylie was condemned for adjusting her appearance in this way at such a young age and understandably for a long time she didn’t feel comfortable admitting to it, being aware of the inevitable abuse. The ridiculous contradiction is that the media makes people incredibly insecure and then criticises them for trying to tackle their insecurities. Within this episode, when her younger sister is seeking her advice, Kim, as well as the other siblings explains to Kylie that there is no reason to feel insecure about her appearance but assures her that it’s just something you often can’t help. She adds that there is also no reason to feel ashamed of altering your appearance because it’s your body and your decision. This isn’t an unusual message for the show, it’s similar to many of the themes that run through it and although to older people it may seem like drivel, these points are not drilled into young people enough and they need to be equipped for the judgement and misogyny that is unfortunately still present in modern society.

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The women of the Kardashian/Jenner family not only promote confidence and happiness but also through supporting each other promote an ideal unity. This has only become clearer through their unified encouragement of Caitlyn Jenner. Their mother acts as their manager, allowing more trust and personal support than most client/manager relationships and they survive the criticism they face by being there for each other as successful women. When each of the sisters were disrespected by their partners at various points, the others were there to respect their decisions but protect them. As some of the most influential people in our culture, whether we like it or not, these women are powerful and automatically become role models for the teenage girls of our generation. Considering that Kim is the most followed woman on Instagram and she and her family have monopolised the media so enormously, shouldn’t we be glad that of all the people to achieve this, these are the messages young people are receiving from the Kardashians?

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Expected Women’s History Museum Unveiled As Tribute To Jack The Ripper (For Parallel Magazine)

Earlier this week, feminist societies and women’s groups but also, understandably, the general public, were outraged to find that a proposed museum celebrating the historical women of East London and the suffragette movement was opened as an establishment dedicated to the life and crimes of Jack the Ripper. Not only were Londoners disappointed at the failure to celebrate the work of women, who are so rarely represented historically, but this “sick joke” actually replaced those plans with a venue commemorating a man who serial murdered female sex workers.

The site, just a few hundred metres from the Tower of London, was referenced in planning permission paperwork as “the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history” and approved by Tower Hamlets council earlier this year. So local residents were clueless about the change of plan until the second the front of the building was unveiled. Details of planning documents created last July actually included pictures of suffragettes and 1970s Asian women campaigning against racial murders around Brick Lane. Contracts stated “The museum will recognise and celebrate the women of the East End who have shaped history, telling the story of how they have been instrumental in changing society. It will analyse the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period to the present day.” The fact that this drastic change was not even mentioned up until the point of unveiling, suggests that even the owner and contractors were aware of firstly the controversy of their turnaround and secondly, the inevitable backlash that would develop. People have taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their anger and it has been reported that the Tower Hamlets mayor will boycott the museum from when it opens next Tuesday.

Film maker and Cable Street resident Julian Cole was quoted by The Guardian summarising the situation; “You propose a museum celebrating the achievements of women and then it turns out to be a museum celebrating London’s most notorious murderer of women. I don’t have any objections to a Jack the Ripper museum, it’s a commercial enterprise like the London Dungeon and Jack the Ripper walking tours, but what I’m miffed about is the fact that we seem to have been completely deceived, in a way that is rather unpleasant.” And his final comment, describing the development as “unpleasant” is particularly poignant, not only is it unpleasant to replace a much needed celebration of female lives with the celebration of violence against female sex workers, but it actually insults and degrades women.

Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, a former diversity chief at Google and the man behind this venture, is blatantly telling women that the brutal murder of female sex workers is far more relevant and interesting than their stories and successes. London is packed with walks, tours, exhibitions, museums and general references to Jack the Ripper, Google alone can tell you his victims have provided half of the city’s tourist attractions. But if you wish to find an attraction celebrating or informing tourists on the female history of London, you may have your work cut out. An entire museum, small as it may have been, dedicated to the lives of East London women and the suffragette movement would have been the first of its kind. Considering how forcefully women have been pushed out of history, their stories left unrecorded and their feats quashed and deemed insignificant, it would have been a significant and necessary step forward into a present day that is beginning to understand the concerns and needs of marginalised genders.

Jemima Broadbridge, a London campaigner, pointed out that the Cable Street area is actually home to many activist groups and if anything “is known for Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens not Jack the Ripper.” Resident Jenni Boswell-Jones added “I don’t think anybody in the area is against enterprise and somebody doing something new and exciting, but Jack the Ripper has nothing to do with Cable Street. Cable Street was the home of the anti-fascist march in 1936, that’s what it’s known for. The Ripper murders took place on Batty Street and the Spitalfields area.” We live in an era when activists are trying more than ever to reduce the encouragement of male violence. The media, including video games and films but also general misogynistic portrayal of women, is working against these groups and the continuous rise of lad culture has only added to a twisted perception of women. Women who are associated with sex work, or even those who are simply more sexually active than others and considered ‘easy’ or slut-shamed, are somehow perceived by patriarchal standards and rape culture as subhuman. People are led to believe that these women are inviting violence and degradation by the distortion of their portrayal within our society. So it follows that the least a London businessman can do is not clutch desperately at straws in the tourism industry and drag an unpleasant and exhausted piece of history from its geographical origins to an entirely irrelevant location for the sake of capital.

To make matters worse, Palmer-Edgecumbe attempted to excuse himself by claiming the museum would operate from the perspective of Jack the Ripper’s victims, explaining “It is absolutely not celebrating the crimes of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.” He basically decided against plans to celebrate the massively unrepresented history of London women, replaced these plans with a celebration of gender and sex based violence before trying to justify it with the ultimate example of victim blaming. The fascination with crimes like this and the profit they allow creates a celebration of the most unpleasant parts of our history and gives longevity to misogyny and gender based violence. This is made even worse by the fact that victims of crimes like this are considered wholly or even partially to blame when that is never a valid point. The people who are working to modernise our society in such a way that women and sex workers in particular are no longer degraded in this way, are being held back by this focus on capitalism and androcentrism rather than historical representation.

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jul/29/museum-billed-as-celebration-of-london-women-opens-as-jack-the-ripper-exhibit – For more information on the proceedings of the museum.

Girlcon 2015 (for Parallel Magazine)

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Last weekend (25th-26th July) London’s first Girlcon took place. It’s organisers (Anna Hill and Kara Stanton) aimed to create a space for positive discussion surrounding gender-based issues and arranged a programme of events from panels to film screenings. The event was aimed at ‘young women, teenage girls and non-binary folk’ with the intent of ‘building a supportive community and having fun’ and took place at the May Day Rooms on Fleet Street. Girlcon included workshops on poetry and self-care and talks from amazing people like Soofiya Andry who recently launched a ‘zine on periods with the goal of breaking taboo and educating people. Panel topics ranged from girls in literature and black feminism to Youtube and ‘selfies’.

Considering how much people of marginalised genders are pushed aside, it’s incredibly important that spaces like this are provided from which people can empower and inspire each other whilst working to eradicate social injustice through activism. This is particularly true for the younger generation, who in not yet being at university or in work and their own space, may find it even more difficult to seek a community in which they can feel comfortable. Aiming Girlcon at younger girls and non-binary people and providing panels which cover topics that are acutely relevant to this demographic, just increases its value even further.

The values and goals of the event, as listed on their website, certainly encompass this ethos, pointing out that ‘as girls we are often pitted against each other’ creating competition, when in reality we need to support each other against pressing feminist issues. Providing a specific code of conduct for attendees to read beforehand allowed the organisers to create a space for ‘frank and informative discussion’ about issues that affect our everyday lives, in a non-academic format. Girlcon promoted inclusion and encouragement of creativity, with female fronted music performances each evening as well as craft based workshops to help young people express themselves and relax.

The event has been mentioned all over social media in the last week with people reporting that it was a roaring success. It seems to have had the desired effect of encouraging young girls and non-binary people to feel comfortable with their gender and sexuality, whilst providing a friendly and supportive community where people made friends for life. Twitter users have described the weekend as ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘an insanely happy, mutually supportive place’, asking friends they made there to add them on Tumblr and Snapchat.

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H Beverley of Royal Holloway’s Feminism Society and subsequent #Uglygirlsclub member, was invited to speak on the activism panel and selfies panel as well as taking part in the ‘Big Sisters’ event to offer advice on sexuality and sex. As I was so disappointed to be unable to attend Girlcon, they were kind enough to let me quiz them on the event in order to get a proper idea of what sort of space it was.

H at Girlcon
H at Girlcon

How much did you enjoy Girlcon and did it act as a good space to meet a variety of interesting people?

 It was brilliant! GirlCon was one of the loveliest and safest spaces I have ever been in. I met so many kind and interesting people, along with seeing lots of friends. The space was so comfortable that everybody quickly felt like they were old friends.

 Can you give a brief explanation of the event and its aim?

GirlCon was an event that was about celebrating young women and non-binary people and building a safe and supportive community. The idea for the event came from the novel Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Do you think the organisers will hold it again next year?

I hope they do and I would certainly be willing to help them to try and make this event be possible again.

Can you give some examples of the panels they run? Which panels did you speak on?

There were panels on Self-Care, Poetry, Black Feminism, Make-up, Zines, Witches, Fangirls, Religion and Body Positivity. I spoke on the panels about Activism and Selfies and I was also one of the “Big Sisters” that gave advice on sex and sexuality.

Can you give a brief summary of the topics covered on each one?

On the Activism panel we talked about what it is like to be a young woman in activist spaces and the perception that online activism is “slacktivism” which of course we all thought was rubbish. On the Selfies panel we talked about how selfies had shaped our perceptions of identities and our relationships with our bodies.

Would you recommend the event to people, who would you recommend it to most and why?

 It was a really fulfilling experience. I definitely would recommend this event to anybody that had the chance to go to this or something like it. There was so much love and solidarity from everybody there it was beautiful.

Contact at http://g1rlcon.tumblr.com/ or grrrlcon@gmail.com