6:30-8:00pm, Room F44 (First Floor), New Wing, Somerset House, 23/2/17
In November 2015, Irish women began tweeting the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, details of their periods. As part of the (on-going) campaign to legalise abortion, they sought to make public a bodily process that has – for centuries – been veiled in a cloak of shame. The link between taboos around menstruation and attempts to control women’s reproductive rights was not lost on activists. Gráinne Maguire tweeted: “Since we know how much the Irish state cares about our reproductive parts-I call my womb Ireland’s littlest embassy ;-)”, while Tara Flynn added: “There’ll be shrieks of “undignified!” at tweeting @EndaKennyTD about periods. Know what’s undignified? Lack of bodily autonomy”. Others, like Saundra Stephen, played on the association between mensuration and female rage: “I’m bleeding! @EndaKennyTD Bleedin outraged that Irish women in the 21st Century don’t have the right to chose”. What does it mean, to take something – like menstruation – so associated with shame, and refuse to keep it private? How might this put pressure on gender and sexuality norms – particularly the idealised role of women as (domestic-bound) mothers?
In 1971 American artist Judy Chiago produced a photolithograph, Red Flag, which depicts her removing a used tampon from her vagina. At the time the work was first exhibited, some visitors assumed it to be a ‘blooded penis’ – Chicago responded that such confusion was “testament to the damage done to our perceptual powers”. The provocative piece aimed to confront the practice of ‘menstrual denial’. Recently on display in Feminist Avant-Garde at London’s The Photographer’s Gallery, the Gender, Sexuality & Violence (GSV) Research Network uploaded a photo of the artwork to Facebook – which was removed by the social media network for ‘violating community standards’. A subsequent post by us explaining the censorship was also removed. What are these ‘community standards’? What power structures and norms might they represent? Is posting a photograph of a used tampon on Facebook merely exploiting its shock factor, or is it a way of contributing to changing attitudes towards the female body (and women’s autonomy)?
In the second GSV seminar, we will be joined by artists Helena Walsh and Ingrid Berthon-Moine to talk about their engagement with the politics of menstruation and protest. The event is open to all, and refreshments will be provided. Due to limited space, please register for (free) tickets here.
- LABOUR (Michelle Browne, Amanda Coogan, Pauline Cummins, Chrissie Cadman, Ann Maria Healy, Áine O’Dwyer, Áine Phillips, Anne Quail, Elvira Santamaria Torres, Helena Walsh), The LAB (Dublin, 2012), video, https://vimeo.com/65753614.
- Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London and New York: Routledge, 1966). http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/schloesser/HS041-042/fall/w04/resources/DOUGLAS_Purity-Danger.pdf
- Julia Kristeva, ‘Approaching Abjection’, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Leon S. Rougiez trans. (New York: Colombia University Press, 1982), pp.1-31. http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/touchyfeelingsmaliciousobjects/Kristevapowersofhorrorabjection.pdf
- Kira Cochrane, ‘It’s in the blood’, The Guardian (Published 2/10/2009, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/02/menstruation-feminist-activists)
- Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth, The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988). https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=njfQfrMr31EC
- Maria Parsons, ‘Vamping the Woman: Menstrual Pathologies in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 1 (October 2006), pp.66-83. https://irishgothichorror.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/ijghsissue12.pdf