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.

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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