Free-bleeding is the practice of abstaining from using sanitary products during one’s period.
In 2014, the infamous imageboard website, 4Chan (which is basically Reddit for awful people*) thought it would be a funny hoax to pretend free bleeding is something radical feminists do to protest sanitary products and the patriarchy.
As is so often the case with ignorant misogynists, the “joke” turned out to be on them.
Not only have activists been discussing and practicing free bleeding to protest the stigma associated with periods since the early 2000s, but the reality is that millions of women the world over have no choice but to “free bleed” since they don’t have access to sanitary products.
It is estimated that 7 million girls in SA miss school every month because they don’t have pads or tampons because these products are so expensive.
Suddenly the idea of women bleeding freely as an act of protest against the shaming of menstruating women and the tax on sanitary products isn’t so gross or so laughable anymore, is it?
I first became aware of this movement when photographer and poet, Rupi Kaur’s picture of a woman with a blood stain on her clothes and sheets was deleted by Instagram. According to Instagram, it went against their community guidelines.
As quoted in The Telegraph, Kaur responded: “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
She explained that she took the photos around menstruation in order to “demystify the period and make something that is innate, normal again.”
Instagram responded by apologising and restored the content. Kudos.
Another woman who made international headlines recently is Harvard MBA graduate Kiran Gandhi, who ran the London Marathon last year using nothing to stem her flow. Gandhi explained that it was a much more comfortable and environmentally friendly alternative.
According to Hello Giggles around 700 million pounds of sanitary products are being discarded in America alone. Gandhi spoke out about her environmental concerns: “Women’s bodies have never been burdensome to the Earth, and the products we use to care for ourselves should not be either.”
While free bleeding is probably not the most practical solution for many, I don’t think it should be dismissed out of hand. While I do believe tampons and pads make life much easier, I don’t think it’s fair that the average woman will have to spend thousands of rands on these products in her lifetime.
And I think it’s high time that we get over the antiquated thought that periods are somehow dirty or shameful. Menstruation forms part of the very cycle of life - every single person alive relied on this uterine lining for support and sustenance.
Forcing women to have to hide, sanitise and be ashamed of their period is unnatural and aggressive.
*Of course there are decent people on 4Chan too, but since posts aren’t voted up or down you get exposed to a lot of hateful stuff.