When Toronto-based spoken word poet Rupi Kaur uploaded a picture on Instagram recently, showing her lying in bed with a blood stain between her legs and on her sheets — part of a photo series titled ‘Period’ for her visual rhetoric course at the University of Waterloo — she unleashed a storm on social media. Especially after Instagram took the image down twice as it didn’t follow their “community guidelines”.
“The photos are understated, grainy, totally non-graphic; their purpose, Kaur says in an artist’s statement, is to demystify and destigmatise the female body — to make viewers ‘realise these are just regular, normal processes’, nothing to reject or shame or shun,” wrote Caitlin Dewey for The Washington Post.
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Other supporters of Kaur pointed out that Instagram regularly displays women in bikinis and “sexy selfies”, yet decides to remove images of women going through what they do every month.
The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti highlighted the hypocrisy of the situation: “Breasts in barely-there bikinis are good, but breasts with babies attached to them are questionable. Women wearing next to nothing is commonplace, but if you’re over a size 10, your account may be banned.”
Since periods are natural and normal, questioned Clem Bastow for Daily Life in Australia, why shouldn’t they be out and proud? “Anything, whether art or advertising, that reduces the shame that surrounds menstruation is ostensibly a good thing; it’s worth remembering that plenty of ‘feminine hygiene’ products until recently didn’t even use the term ‘period’ or ‘blood’ on their package copy. The ‘blue liquid’ era isn’t exactly a distant memory from the bad old days.”
Kaur “is entirely right that Instagram’s response — and any response of opposition to her visually innocuous image — is symptomatic of incredible subconscious misogyny,” wrote Jia Tolentino for Jezebel.
However, talking of how she believes in equality for men and women, Lauren Campbell wrote on Quora that “it doesn’t mean that not wanting to look at someone’s period is a sign of male chauvinism. Many people, girls included, find looking at period blood slightly uncomfortable at best, gross at worst”.
Instagram eventually reinstated Kaur’s photo and apologised.