• Katyayni Sharma

Menstruators Beyond Feminism: Body Politics and Menstruation

Updated: Jan 12

How do I cite this article ?

Sharma, K (2020, November 1). Menstruators Beyond Feminism: Body Politics and Menstruation

The aim of this article is to present the view of menstruation as discussed amongst gender theorists. The article will focus on dismantling the present theories about queer menstruation and understanding the menstruating body. The article will also aim to place menstruation and related experiences in the broader narrative of the Queer Theory and body politics. It will try to blend in different narratives about the experiences of menstruation, and add to the larger understanding of menstruation.

Menstruation and Body Politics: A History

Over the last few decades, American artist Vanessa Tiegs (menstrala.blogspot) and German artist Petra Paul (mum.org) have created a unique ripple in both the feminist and the artistic worlds. They have used collections of their own menstrual blood as their preferred painting medium. The final canvas art, displayed on white backdrops, ranges from intricate patterns of red swirls complete with feathered brush strokes. While a small number of bold admirers have praised the ingenuity and crude representation of these paintings, a larger majority of people have expressed indignation and disgust toward this visual display of bodily art. Some have gone as far as denouncing the works as ‘tasteless excuses for artwork’ and have labelled them as medical biohazards. Through a radical menstrual lens, such negative responses raise essential questions as to why menstrual blood evokes such passionate social judgments rooted in aversion, disgust, and fear.

Menstruation, historically associated and understood as a female biological process, has been ceaselessly connected to the body politics for power. The radical menstrual consciousness calls for redefining the way menstruation has been termed as a taboo, often seen as a weakness that “women” passively endure with no agency. Menstruation is not only a marker of the menstruator’s difference from non-menstruators, but it has been inscribed as a weakness upon the former that cannot be manipulated or controlled in the same ways as other bodily fluids. The menstruating body has largely been constructed negatively and passively in all dominant cultures. The corridors of social power are structured to accommodate the associated characteristics of male, heterosexual bodies of dominant racial and ethnic groups.

This is even more obvious for menstruators who do not identify as ‘women’ per se, or who do not fit neatly in the gender binaries. The power structures in the society are neatly constructed in a way that places the non-menstruating male body at a pedestal while simultaneously creating a notion that all who menstruate are “feminine” and “impure”. Specific narratives of queer menstruation often get lost in such a binary understanding. Advancement in such a society requires assimilation to the norms associated with powerful bodies: women must dress like men and warehouse their babies far from the breasts at which they feed, and everyone must menstruate in private, away from the public conscious. While the emerging discourse on menstruation is trying to be more inclusive and queer affirmative than its feminist predecessors, there is a dynamic history of body politics that played a catalytic role for that change.

The ‘Political’ Narratives of Menstruation

Much of the contemporary literature on menstruation has limited its scope to the female body, understanding it through the traditional categories of tradition, modernization, and patriarchy, all through an inherently male lens. This is true especially for the feminist literature on menarche and menstruation, which still functions in the binaries created by patriarchy. The rituals, taboos, and cultural beliefs, albeit dynamically changing with the onslaught of modernization in the world, have given a structural form to our understanding of menstruation, but it has done little to free it from the narrow binaries of gender it has been stuck in for generations. While exploring the many narratives of menstruation, many writers have examined the interrelation between menstruator’s body and sexuality. What is missing from these, however, is the understanding of how menstruators are increasingly using their bodies in their social interactions, how the body might be a potential resource for power, and how non-menstruators respond to this power. Studying adolescents’ menstrual talk and experiences can shed light on these complex power dynamics.

The most dynamic narrative of menstruation u