Last week, University of Otago staff dumped an estimated 2000 copies of Critic, a student-run magazine, in skips around campus. Why? The cover depicted a person, with a vagina, menstruating. There was blood and a tampon. The illustration was graphic but it didn’t objectify. Importantly, it was realistic. The cover made my friends and I think “Yeah, we’ve all been there.”
The artwork, by Saskia Rushton-Greene, was a free and frank portrayal of a person on their period. Nothing was held back, and people found that shocking. Good. That shock represents everything we need to change about female representation. We need to see more, not less, confronting images. Realistic depictions of people with vaginas are empowering, regardless of the shock we might feel.
I’m not the only one disappointed by the university’s reaction. Critic focused on menstruation at the suggestion of the Otago Womens+ Club, to raise awareness and destigmatise the issue for all genders. Rather than educating students and members of the public, the university sent the message that menstruation is wrong and female anatomy is offensive. The willingness of staff to dispose of the magazines shows that as a society, many are still unable to accept that vaginas exist and people with vaginas do some things that aren’t pretty to look at. Showing someone menstruating on the cover of a student magazine is a first step, but the university’s reaction shows how far we have to go.
This is not an isolated issue. Social media has given us all extensive guidelines around what parts of our bodies are appropriate for others to see (don’t even ask about nipples). Rupi Kaur famously had a photograph depicting fully-clothed, totally normal menstruation removed from her Instagram. Likewise, Australian magazine Sticks and Stones had an image removed for showing female public hair. Sites like Instagram and YouTube seem to have a particular problem with images of plus-size women, censoring them for wearing swimsuits or underwear.
These images are not offensive. They’re not degrading or objectifying, while many approved images are. The images were removed because they challenge society’s idea of what a woman should be. The ideal woman, according to these censored images, doesn’t menstruate or have pubic hair or cellulite.
But guess what? Being a woman often involves blood and periods. It involves not having trimmed pubic hair all the time, and having dimples on your thighs and fat rolls. Those things are normal, but they’re not normalised. They should be.
What women experience every day cannot be presented as a sanitised, pretty picture. We need to get used to seeing images of real women and real experiences. Until everyone accepts that women are a diverse group of individual people, some groups will be offended by women who break the barriers. Exposure to empowering, challenging images of women is the only way to eliminate that stigma around female experiences.
Realistic depictions of women, and people with vaginas, are empowering. I want to see artists depicting how I feel on my period without having to worry about censorship. The female body is not dirty or obscene and it shouldn’t be censored. Deciding which parts of the female anatomy belong on the cover of a magazine is not a choice that needs to be made in 2018. Women are not always easy to look at – get over it.Support Villainesse