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‘Free-bleeding’ at the London Marathon – worth the dry cleaning?

Image credit: The Independent
Image credit: The Independent
Image credit: The Independent

Last year, musician and Harvard graduate Kiran Gandi made the conscious choice to run the London marathon whilst on her period – without wearing any sanitary products. Was this a powerful, feminist statement which challenged our social norms, or was it unnecessary and disgusting?

Gandi, who was twenty-six at the time, ran whilst bleeding to raise awareness for ‘sisters who don’t have tampons’, as she she later revealed on Twitter. Her choice to for-go a tampon was, for her, about transcending oppression. She told the Daily Mail,

I got my flow the night before and it was a total disaster but I didn’t want to clean it up. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles. I  thought, if there’s one person society won’t f*** with, it’s a marathon runner. If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want.

Her actions caused a stir on social media sites such as Twitter, as many people rushed to congratulate and thank her for her empowering them. She also received negative comments, such as a tweet from @MrMarkByron which stated,

I think people are already aware of periods and I think she is vulgar with a capital V.

Of course the issue here isn’t that people aren’t aware that periods exist. The problem is the stigma that’s attached to them. It’s not hard to see why people get uncomfortable about periods, whether they be male or female.

Periods just aren’t great. There’s nothing nice about a period. But it’s as normal as any other bodily function, it’s involuntary and it’s universal (provided you have functioning ovaries). The most interesting thing about this whole thing for me is the realisation that, socially, periods are hushed up to the point where it’s almost embarrassing to buy tampons and sanitary pads. Girls are taught to be discreet and painstakingly private when dealing with their periods, but to the benefit of whom? Why does Mark Byron, and others who took offence to Gandi’s personal choice, think that periods are vulgar? Where does this awkwardness come from?

For one of the most deep-rooted reasons as to why periods are a subject that you don’t bring up at the dinner table, you have to look to religion. It is, according to the Bible, a heinous sin to sleep with a woman who is on her period – the word used is ‘unclean’. Putting that into context, any female who is happening to have a period is dirty in the eyes of God. It almost sounds like it’s a sin to have a period in itself. Other religions take a similar approach. Islam, for instance, forbids a menstruating female from reading and even touching certain parts of the Qur’an. She is also excused from prayer, and in fact prohibited from entering a mosque at all.

These rules are again based on impurity and uncleanliness. Because a woman is enduring her natural period, she is effectively shut out from the usual practises of her faith. The reasoning is the same for Islam as it is for traditional Christianity – she doesn’t meet the standards. In other words, she’s dirty. Even Japanese Buddhism forbids women from entering temples when they’re on their period. Of course this is not a suggestion that everybody who follows these religions in particular shares these (frankly ridiculous) views. If anything, it’s a reference point for why society still carries such unease about periods.

What Gandi decided to do was incredibly brave; however it’s hard to agree with her when she says,

I really can’t think of anything that’s the equivalent for men, and for this reason, I believe it’s a sexist situation.

Having a period is not what I would consider to be a sexist situation, however the language that can result from it can definitely be classed as discriminatory. For anybody, male or female, to tell a woman that she ‘must be on her period’ is discriminating against that woman for a bodily function she can’t help. I would argue that it stems from the idea that a woman has to be docile and well-behaved. By blaming somebody’s mood on their period, this makes the female’s mental state practically illegitimate. Think that’s total rubbish? Let’s take a look at the beginning of the twentieth century. A woman’s supposed hysteria and mental imbalances caused by natural, monthly bleeding was viewed as a totally sound reason for denying her the right to vote.

The Telegraph’s Emma Bartlett summed up the situation nicely in an article of last year,

It’s quite extraordinary that a woman’s natural cycle, even in 2015, is still the subject of such embarrassment among men and women. P.S. Can we please stop using blue liquid in tampon adverts? It ain’t blue.

Gandi’s marathon run wasn’t just about raising awareness for a cause, and she was well aware of that. It was about making us ask ourselves, why do I feel so disgusted by this?  To challenge fundamental social norms on that level… well, it’s worth the dry cleaning.