The April 29, 2016 cover of Newsweek declares “THERE WILL BE BLOOD” in bright white letters against an appropriately crimson backdrop and announces that the “crimson tide” is turning. Click on the cover image, and you find yourself looking at Rupi Kaur’s viral photograph of herself in bed with menstrual blood on her pajama pants and sheets. The accompanying article tracks period stigma—and the fight to end it—around the world.
It’s a compelling—and mildly terrifying—article about the sometimes literally toxic effects of pervasive squeamishness around menstruation. The article is overwhelmingly about access to quality, safe, hygienic products. Though the last section of the article shifts beyond the United States with the troubling assertion, “In many countries, periods are like curses,” it still focuses on innovators who have created inexpensive materials that help girls and women manage their periods and remain active in school and work. Menstrual equality seems to be a matter of diva cups and underwear with mesh pockets, 100% organic cotton tampons and terra-cotta incinerators that can “burn used pads discreetly, quickly, and without electricity.” If period stigma is an economic, social, and political problem, its solution appears to lie in the things we use to stem the flow of blood.
And suddenly, the first thing I noticed about the cover photograph becomes all the more telling: Underneath the assertion that “There will be blood” and the admonition “Get over it” lies a clean, white, unused tampon. No mottled, bulging, glossy fullness, not even a trace of blood. Here’s the essential product, yes, but apparently even that reminder that most women bleed once a month is sufficiently risky. Newsweek can’t quite bring itself to actually visualize menstruation front and center. Could I recommend some nice blue fluid?
— Christa Olson
Photo: YASU + JUNKO for Newsweek, April 29, 2016.