Bleeding Monsters

Got Misogyny?

One of the Everything I Do Is Wrong ads

Last yeast, the California Milk Processor Board launched an ad campaign “everything I do is wrong,” that focused on apologetic men buying copious amounts of milk because they believe that calcium reduces PMS symptoms. The campaign had two issues. Heterosexism was one. Implying that everyone capable of childbearing becomes a rage-filled, irrational monster before menstruating was another. The second bit got their ads pulled before long.

PMS—or just the possibility of PMS, regardless of the state of someone’s menstrual cycle or whether they ever suffer from PMS—is a common target. It’s the butt of jokes. It’s such a popular excuse for a villain’s behavior that TVTropes has a page titled Menstrual Menace, about supernaturally bad periods and pre-periods.

Fiction impacts reality. No insistence that ‘it was just a joke’ erases the hatred of female bodies behind a comment about menstruating monsters. When somebody asks me if “it’s that time of the month,” they are stating that my emotions are not valid. I am not allowed to be angry because of something I experienced; that’s just my uterus talking. Hillary Clinton is disregarded by sexists nationwide for her status of Uterus Wielder. All the PMS jokes impact how citizens—voters—view her.

All this talk of wombs leading to unrestrained, irrational behavior reminds me of something else. Hysteria. Uteri may have stopped wandering around people’s bodies, but apparently they’re still liabilities and we should never hold positions of power.

Sexists are so assured of the power of PMS that they have invented, and use, an app for tracking the periods of people around them. Why? Societal views on PMS, the ones that fuel ad campaigns and thousands of jokes, impact the people (assumed to have) functional uteri. These people are, at times, frightening. They are irrational and beastly. They are physically marked as Other. They inspire stories of supernatural terrors.

Photo by absolutxman

All the makings of a monster.

In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Monster Theory,” he states: “Through the body of the monster fantasies of aggression, domination, and inversion are allowed safe expression… Escapist delight gives way to horror only when the monster threatens to… destroy or deconstruct the thin walls of category and culture.” A monster upon which the viewer’s own aggression and domineering desires can be projected: sounds like the PMSing significant others of the men in the “everything I do is wrong” campaign.

Periods are not pleasant. I don’t expect anyone to enjoy their periods on a physical level, though some might enjoy the mark of fertility or mark of not-pregnant. But, periods are natural, and they inconvenience nobody more than the person having one. Why are people ashamed of their periods, if not because they believe themselves monsters?

Surveillance Culture and (Not So) Digital Harrassment

Cyberspace is a place of visibility where producers lose control of their content at an viral rate. It is the stage of mass exhibitionism and mass voyeurism, a surveillance culture like those explored in We Live in Public, and that openness has given birth to cyberstalking.

Image by Paintedrose13

How easily can internet users separate their digital presences from “real life?” The web seems like the perfect place to escape from the oppression of a person’s physicality. It is a place where anyone can adopt any identity, regardless of their offline appearance—except that the digital and physical worlds often play off each other. We use email and Facebook to augment our IRL relationships, and friendships (and romances) formed online frequently lead to physical meetings. Even when we separate our online personas from our offline identities, we often talk about our lives: annoying coworkers or customers, family difficulties, funny stories about friends. Maybe we discuss romances and school, or mention the current weather or a local store offhand.

Our anonymous accounts begin to describe us. References to being female on Reddit are oft-met with comments announcing whether or not the woman has posted nude pictures on the site, and pictures of “attractive” (slim, White, clear-skinned, apparently close to the age of consent but on which side is dubious) women are met with sexually harassing private message and photographs of penises (“unattractive” women are harassed publicly and violently). Implicating oneself as female in FPSs inspires enemies and teammates alike to abandon strategy in favor of (team)killing the trespassing woman.

The digital realm, allegedly an escape from the inequality and danger that women face offline, is transformed into a minefield, where a single misstep can permanently destroy a persona. A single instance of revealed (or mistaken) identity results in days-weeks-months of harassment, depending on the victim’s continued use of a given persona and the location in cyberspace that the victim identified as: a woman/person of Color/ transgendered person/non-heteronormative/having a mental disorder or physical disability/a combination of any of these.

The harassment does not always end with the deletion of a given online persona. Woe betide the person who utilizes the same username for different webspaces. And if a harasser locates a victim’s Facebook, workplace, real name, telephone number, or address, the rest is relatively easy to discover. If the victim is unfortunate enough, isolated harassment becomes full-blown stalking, complete with cyberbullying across multiple websites, defacement and take-downs of their personal sites, and threatening phonecalls. Reddit is fond of financial attack by “pizza bomb.”

The digital is inextricably connected to the physical, because it is produced by people who exist offline. The internet enables instantaneous global communication, and can thus provide a safe space for people living in homogeneous environments, but also provides a record of its users’ activities and opens users to the threats of harassment and stalking. Prosumers do place not only their content, but also themselves, before the eyes of the online world—and all its offline users.

Compulsory Heterosexuality: the War on Lesbians

Trigger Warning: Rape

Photo by Pierre Nel

“Compulsory heterosexuality:” the idea, proposed by Adrienne Rich in 1980, that society requires women to hold heterosexual lives, and that is primarily enforced through violence against women. Contemporary society is less discriminatory toward LGBT+ persons than 1980s America, but queer women are still marginalized, alternately brushed off and attacked.

Lesbianism is culturally treated as if it does not exist. Porn featuring lesbians, but targeted toward men, fetishizes the sexual unavailability of gay women. Search “lesbians” on Google and the second and fourth results are porn. Lesbianism and bi- pan- and polysexuality are often brushed off as “just a phase” or “experimenting.” Asexuality is treated as a disease or grab for attention. This heteronormative culture is demeaning and hurtful, but not dangerous, right?

Photo by Greg L.

Wrong. Some current cultures–including American subcultures–force or coerce adolescents and adults into heterosexual arranged marriages. A few days ago, a Hong Kong billionaire put out a $65m award for the first man to marry his daughter—in response to her marriage to another woman. Then there’s the violence of “corrective rape.”

“Corrective” rape is the rape of lesbians by men, with the alleged intention of “curing” them of their lesbianism and thus making them sexually available to men. It is a result of a culture that denies the legitimacy of lesbianism and refuses to protect queer women from hate crimes. South Africa, where gay women are afraid to walk the streets and are harassed by police, has recently come under international scrutiny for its institutionalized violence against gay women. And South Africa is not the only country with “corrective” rape. Gay women are raped in Kenya and India. They are raped in the United States.

American lesbians live in a society that refuses to protect them. When they are raped, their attackers are unlikely to be arrested, let alone convicted. This past February, a bill to finally extend protection against domestic violence to same-sex relationships passed the Senate Judiciary Committee—after being voted against by every Republican.

And how does the internet impact compulsory heterosexuality? As seems to be the usual, the web empowers both the oppressing institution and the factions that combat it. Porn fetishizes lesbians, propagating the idea that gay women exist to satisfy male sexuality and denying the legitimacy of lesbian relationships. Blogs, forums, and other web 2.0 sites provide spaces for the safe discussion of sexual orientation, and give rise to empowerment movements like Hollaback and Project Unbreakable. The internet spreads media that eroticizes violence against women, but also helps people unite to fight against it.

Contemporary society recognizes the existence of non-heterosexual women more than the society of 1980s America, but feminists have a lot of work left before gay women are safe.

Clinic Proposition: Or “Why I Am Now Obsessed With Periods”

Elizabeth, Eduardo and I recently created a video proposing a potential women’s health clinic:

Our focus on menstruation was initially conceptualized as a response to the second-wave feminism described in Morgen’s Into Our Own Hands. The gynecological self-awareness of Our Bodies, Ourselves and Carol Downer’s cervical self-examination movement struck us most powerfully, and we saw parallels between the ignorance of and shaming of women’s genitals in the 70s and the ignorance and shaming of menstruation today. We initially wanted our clinic to be broader in scope, providing information about birth control and counseling for eating disorders, but as we became more excited about removing the taboo on periods, the other issues fell by the wayside, to be picked up by other clinics.

Anyone who has seen Carrie know how traumatic a person’s first period (menarche) can be. We wanted our information to reach children before they began menstruating. Because we have known children who began menstruating as young as nine years old, we decided to start educating eight year olds. We could not rely on anyone that young coming to our clinic, so to educate children and preteens, we needed to design an outreach program. We also knew that we would be working with limited resources, so we limited the scope of our clinic to pubescent, who experience the most dramatic bodily changes and have not yet accepted menstruation as mundane. We selected twenty-one as the tail-end of puberty, based on how late in life we noticed puberty-related changes in our own bodies, and had our target demographic’s age. We decided to include all genders and sexes in order to choke off the ignorance and superstitions surrounding menstruation before it transformed into silencing and harassment of menstruating individuals.

What really caught our attention, as you can probably see in the video, was the unavailability of feminine hygiene products. Menstruation is a part of daily life, the products for managing it should be part of the daily landscape. However, we only ever see bathrooms with empty lack tampon dispensers or lack them entirely. Legislation seemed like the best way to unilaterally fix this problem, and we started working on the beginnings of a lobbying campaign.

The funding/payment part of the clinic was the trickiest bit. We didn’t want to be a publicly funded clinic because of the risk of being shut down. Knowing that government funded programs are at the mercy of bureaucracy, we preferred to be funded through private donations, and being paid on a sliding scale. This would eventually lead to getting sponsored by companies that sell products related to the menstrual cycle, like Tampax, Kotex, Midol, and Always. Being privately funded we would give us a better chance of lasting longer.