Power in the Blood

Human Art by Grace Mateo Used tampons on canvas. 20 x 16 inch. www.gracemateo.com

You Don’t Understand (Do You Now?). 2014.
by Grace Mateo
Used tampons on canvas. 20 x 16 inch.


The above image will make a lot of you uncomfortable? Why? If you are one of those souls who genuinely get physically sick at the site of blood, I am sorry to have made you feel ill, but I do not  apologize.

I’ll admit that I did the rapidly blinking eye thing as I registered exactly what it was I viewed. After all, I am woman who has made it the half-century mark  in life. To put this in a historical  timeline perspective, I am old enough to remember/have used a menstrual belt, but by the time I was living with my partner in the mid-80’s they were already a thing of the distant past, so I have an itsy bit of personal knowledge in the subject. After all this isn’t anything I haven’t seen virtually every month for the past thirty plus years of it, so big deal. Even as I thought the words, I was already countering thinking, but so many other will think it’s just that, a big deal, and I’m forced to ask myself why? Why is this a big deal?

In the artist’s own words…

This is Human Art. The female body is not something to be afraid of, and it is definitely not disgusting. There are things we don’t speak about, that are traditionally held to be private, but silence only leads to fear and death. So, if you don’t like the things I say or make then you do not have to engage in it. This is not shock art. If you find a woman’s period to be shocking then you, my friend, are most definitely living a sheltered life and need to be better informed about your fellow humans.

I’m not here to further roast the old chestnut of What Is Art?. This is more of a query into this particular human behavior. What is it about the female menstrual cycle that makes people, male and fellow females so uncomfortable?

It takes everything I have to not let my eyes roll in the back of my head whenever I hear a grown woman say “I can’t stand the sight of blood”. The older she is and the more emphatic she is in her repulsion the harder the temptation to do so.  Years ago I was handling a stack of manila folders at work and gave my self a nasty paper cut. One that required my stopping everything to tend to it. As I rinsed my finger at the sink and prepared to bandage it, a co-worker went into mini theatrics about the sight of blood and how I was upsetting her. Trust me when I tell you she was no shrinking violet so that was one time I did roll my eyes in annoyance without hesitation. I asked if she menstruates each month, to which she naturally responded in the positive as I expected. I then queried if she had assistance when removing and disposing of her used feminine hygiene products at that time. Naturally,she naturally responded in the negative, as expected. I concluded with if she can stand processing her bloody bodily functions several times a day, for a few days each damn month, then my manila cut on a finger for a minute was nothing and she needed to shut the fuck up, but I digress and return to my original query.

Why is the female menstrual cycle clouded in this veil of mystery? What is with the menstrual taboo that allows commercials to use the proper terminology for erectile dysfunction and incontinence with almost no filter, but when it comes to female our cycles it’s almost always hidden some form of pseudonymThe Gift, That Time of the Month, the ever classic Aunt Flo and of course the only one that actually makes any sense Period. Basically any and everything that will avoid using the word blood and any iteration of  menses. The only time you hear the word menstrual used regularly is in the phrase “premenstrual syndrome”, but even that is usually shortened to the gentler acronym of PMS. Because we can talk circles about the mental and emotional aspects about menstruation, but the actually physically bloody part of it is always hush-hush. And speaking of bloody – unless advertisers believe every single woman who menstruates also turns into a  Vulcan during her period, what is with the mysterious blue stuff they use to demonstrate Product Y’s absorbancy anyway? Because goodness gracious should they use red food coloring so that it might resemble what it is. I am not even going to touch that nonsense of women wearing white anything below the waist when Mother Nature comes to visit. Trust me when I tell you for a majority of us women, the first few days are not anything near as sanitized as it looks in the above art work, yet only other women and our respective doctors will readily understand this.

Nearly all girls are brought up that they should not talk about menstruation with boys, nor was it appropriate to discuss menstruation with their fathers. Most of the single fathers I know learned that their daughters were not quite so little girls anymore via a female friend or relative because of this. Young heterosexual women are almost always embarrassed the first time they misjudge their monthly supply amount and have to ask their significant others to run to the store for their feminine hygiene product/s of choice.  Tip for any men reading this: Please, please pay attention to what brand your woman uses/tells you to get. You do not want to get into that argument – really you just don’t.

Historically, a menstruating woman was considered sacred and powerful. Yet like so many things and stories that extolled the feminine power, it was wrapped up in mythology and dismissed or outright just dismissed, especially in the patriarchy of many religions that view a menstruating woman as “unclean”. The menstrual taboo is more prevalent in most movies and television shows when a woman’s menses is generally mentioned in relation to the thankfulness of unwanted or regret for lack of  pregnancy. Otherwise periods are generally portrayed as something traumatic, embarrassing, offensive, gross and/or for cheap comedic premenstrual syndrome (PMS) makes us evil laughs.  Outside of the rare portrayals of menarche, when a girl experiences her first period, there are very few portrayals of the completely natural act of female nature that it is.

Granted, things are slowly getting better. There are a hilarious couple of commercials by Always, with the “The Gift before The Gift” tagline.  New Moon Party and The Camp Gyno. The HelloFlo campaign takes wonderful pock shots at their behaviors when it comes to menarche. In these commercials not only are the products free of the packaging, all allusions to blood are not done in blue! Parents of prepubescent girls, if you have not already seen these commercials you should. I wish these care packages were around when my mother was explaining it to me. Designed for young girls, the commercial and the ensuing products are made to help demystify the period for those near the onset of puberty. Take the secrecy out of such items from the beginning, it does not turn into such a taboo later.

I am not saying a detailed analysis of whether Kotex is better than Always is discussion to be had at the family dinner.   If your family is that progressive that you can, I saw “Bravo!”, more power to you. Women can talk about the various stages of their pregnancies good and bad without a problem. Parents can show videos of the up close and personal views of the birth of their children without batting an eye. Some will watch such videos voluntarily on PBS type stations in all its bloody glory and it’s just fine. Yet let a woman place a package of feminine hygiene products on the conveyor belt where a young boy is packing, or at the top of her bag where a grown man has to inspect it and watch what happens. The mere thought of a woman’s menstrual cycle is so disturbing to some, that most males will give pause before touching the item and the younger the male, the more likely the revulsion.

Because it is still the presumed norm that menstruation should remain hidden.  And while whether or not  the above image is art is debatable, the subject matter depicted as a discussion point should not be.


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11 thoughts on “Power in the Blood

  1. Like i said when someone posted this on FB a while back, I’m not offended by it at all, and agree that it’s time that menstruation not be treated so squeamishly. I posit that young male clerks may be more rattled by knowing the locale in which we’ll be working with those objects, but probably there is some squick as well. I’m certainly comfortable with menstruation- I started at 8 (yes, when there were belts), and have had extremely heavy cycles since. I’ve tried the cup, and employ reusable cloth pads. My only objection is that I just don’t believe this is art. Not that there is no way to use blood in art- she could have painted with them, and I’d feel differently. But supergluing a handful of tampons seems like a rather unimaginative, listless way to create “art.”

    • Clearly her her intent was less to strike the artistic endeavor, but more to strike the conversation one in this case. In that sense I agree it is one in need of having and don’t mind being lead into it.

      “…seems like a rather unimaginative, listless way to create “art.”” That was my reaction to “Piss Jesus” when it first started making the news way back whenever.

      • The media used in this and Piss Christ, and the elephant dung one, do smack of gimmickry to me, but I didn’t say it was unimaginative because of the media used at all. It’s the display itself. If the point was to start communication, forming used tampons into a ball gag, as building pieces to construct a jail, or as I mentioned, paining with them- all would have some merit. This is like a 3rd grade craft project, akin to gluing macaroni on a paper plate, Just feel the artist is resting very heavily on media, but no real thought or talent. To me: not art.

  2. This is a very interesting post and topic! I remember being terribly mortified as a teenager when my older sister would talk about my menstruation. Now, I view it as a sign of beautiful fertility (though, I still do not like the cramps and bloating), as well as the future of the human race. Raising my young son, I don’t try to hide my menstrual cycle from him. I’m very honest with him when I’m PMSing and let him know mommy might be a little more grumpy in the coming days. When he asks about my period, I answer any questions he has, even the ones about blood. Hopefully, he will grow up to see it as a natural part of a woman’s life.

    • Some older girls really like tormenting younger ones on menstrual cycles. We start out with trepidations before we reach menarche. Is it any wonder so many have hang-ups about it? You however, will have one well-rounded son, at least in that subject.

  3. No big deal to this man. I used to pick up pads for my wives and other previous partners, and have had sex with women during their periods. BTW, I cannot help mentioning that all of this and more is covered in one of millions of documents in the Vatican Library – the Codex Kotex.

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