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The title itself should be a giveaway, but yes this was a piece about menstruation. It promised to showcase the magic of human cyclical renewal to uncover the last unmentionable taboo of menstruation. Before the show, Carnesky said:
‘Our show has a lot of magic in it but in a very feminist way. It was some nudity and some blood, but it’s all for a good cause.’
I was interested to see what this unusual and experimental piece had in store, even if they didn’t warn the audience about the use of jelly beforehand.
This show has to be commended on its topic alone, as I think it’s fair to say that not many artists would go for the subject of menstruation. I admire Carnesky’s subject matter choice, and I fully supported the inclusion topics like miscarriages and menstruation for transgender females that are usually more taboo than most. Carnesky’s menstruation topic is needed in today’s society, there is a need to talk about menstruation, and there is a need to educate women on issues like contraception and the natural cycles that occur within their own bodies.
Sadly, the praise stops here, and this is where the commendation falls short of success. As a feminist and as a woman, I had some issues with this show.
Firstly, as I’ve already said, I agree that there is a need to talk about menstruation so that it is not a taboo topic, but I disagree with this shows a method of doing so. The use of nudity and the fake blood seemed more of a shock factor than a genuine exploration of the issues at hand. It sensationalised, and on occasion made comic, the images of woman and blood. Nudity was made nothing more than nudity, and blood nothing more than blood. I suppose in some sense this is good, but at the same time, I didn’t come away from this experimental piece thinking about its subject matter in a new light. It didn’t hit those hard questions but rather danced around their edges and made them entertainment.
Secondly, I disagree with some of the principles in this piece as a feminist. I believe that men and women, all people of all genders, should be treated equally. In the same way, I think that topics like menstruation are still taboo for women and that there is a need to talk about them. However, when Dr Carnesky said ‘What if I told you that all magic came from menstruation?’, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Yes, throughout history and folklore there have been connections to menstruating women and magic through witches and all manner of supernatural creatures. What failed to be mentioned here is that women were burned and killed for this connection, and by continuing to link the supernatural with the natural menstruation process we continue to sensationalise and make other of what should be considered an entirely normal occurrence. I respect that these women, on stage, were sharing their personal rituals around their menstrual cycles, but I can’t help but think that by making menstruation a performance we lose the ability for a woman’s period to simply be. Also, I found Carnesky’s suggestion, even if made in jest, that if all women were to sync up, we could take down the government, inherently un-feminist. No amount of girl power or mensural blood should make women better than men, rather there equals.
The Incredible Bleeding Women, or Menstronauts as they go by, should be praised for their activism and willingness to share such personal stories with an audience. However, I question the approach toward the subject matter because there is a danger in sensationalising and sexualising what should be considered normal and natural.