When runner Kiran Gandhi realized she’d be on her period for her first London Marathon, she decided to go for blood: against sexism and menstrual stigma.
“I ran the whole marathon with my period blood running down my legs,” she wrote on her blog. “It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles. I thought, if there’s one person society won’t f*ck with, it’s a marathon runner.”
Naturally, the Internet is having a bloody heyday with her story. Predictably there are lots of “eww, gross” reactions, and trolls spitting blood, but Gandhi and her supporters have a clear message: periods are a normal part of life for half the world’s population, and asking women to hide them is just another form of shaming. Just like other messy bodily functions, periods can tell us a lot about our overall health and learning how to talk about them is useful.
It’s only been a few years since Jonah Hill gagged over period blood in Superbad, and a few weeks since the Canadian feds removed the tax on menstrual products, but compared to women and girls in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Nepal, we’re doing alright. In these countries, up to a third of girls miss school because they don’t have access to menstrual products and are ashamed to bleed in public, while in many Indian communities, it is taboo to pray, cook, or visit temples while menstruating, and women who can afford pads carry them home in brown paper bags to hide their shame.
The term “free-bleeding”, as Gandhi termed her tampon-free foray, originated with a 4chan hoax designed to discredit feminists, but is now raising awareness for women’s issues. Even if you support Gandhi’s politics, but find the messaging a tad messy, you have to admit it’s got the conversation flowing. It’s probably not going to change the habits of women who can afford pads, tampons, and cups, but it’s about bloody time we gave more thought to those who can’t.