Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘menstruation’

The Curse: Womanhood and Horror

While I wasted my obligatory horror film post back in May, I realised that I hadn’t really gone into depth about the underlying theme that links most (if not all) of the films on that list together – the way the horror genre exoticises and demonises puberty, sex and womanhood. Slasher films are particularly guilty of this. In many slasher films, especially in early examples, the “final girl” survives to the end of the film and defeats the killer. Usually, she survives because she is a virgin and the other female characters – normally sexually active women – are punished by the narrative for their promiscuity.

It’s true that women are often the victims in horror films that treat puberty as a cause for alarm, as a step into a world of violence and fear. However, there’s certainly no shortage of women who commit violence within the genre and, equally often, such violence is presented as a coming-of-age ritual for the female protagonist. Either as a victim or as a perpetrator, her experiences with fear and with conflict are integral to her “growing up”.

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“It’s corn syrup, Daddy. Want some?”

Themes that crop up a lot are menarche and menstruation; it’s easy to see why. It’s cyclical, linking it to curses and prophecies within horror – you know the one, “Every 20 years, the great god Cthulhu demands a virgin sacrifice.” It also appears predominantly in films that explore lycanthropy (werewolfism!), which in most myths is dependent on the lunar cycle. Furthermore, menstruation is the only entirely natural process in which blood is excreted from the body. Despite being an absolutely normal and non-threatening experience, it lends itself to narratives that treat menstrual bleeding as equivalent to violent injury like stabbing or mutilation. The point of the horror genre is to unsettle and unnerve us. What better way to scare us than to convince us (at least for roughly 90 minutes) that our own body might turn against us?

A good example is the film Ginger Snaps (2000). In the film, Ginger Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old girl, starts her period. On the same day that she receives “the curse”, as she refers to it, she is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Her younger sister Brigitte must find a way to cure her before Ginger is completely transformed into a monstrous creature. There’s very much a conflict between the girls’ mother’s romanticised idea of menarche, the school nurse’s calm explanations and Ginger’s own experiences. Her transformation is marked by exaggerated indications of puberty – we see her struggling to shave off thick hair, her period seems to go on for weeks and her sexual awakening results in a near-death experience for her boyfriend, who contracts lycanthropy like an STD and has a period of his own. Of course, the film is hyperbolic, but when you go through menarche as a teenager, these new and often painful experiences can feel very much like a nightmare.

At its heart, Ginger Snaps is a film about sisterhood. It explores the complex bond between young women, related by blood or not, by candidly depicting internalised misogyny. The Fitzgerald sisters frequently denounce their arch-enemy Trina Sinclair as a “slut” and she responds in kind, but all the teenage girls in the film are a united front when it comes to boys and their tenuous, uncertain interactions with them. In fact, Trina’s death scene and her conversation with Brigitte prior to her death is particularly fascinating. In reference to seeing Brigitte hanging out with Trina’s ex-boyfriend, Sam (who helps Brigitte find the cure), Trina says to her: “If you’re so f*cking smart, you won’t give him the satisfaction. Somebody, just once, shouldn’t give that f*cker the satisfaction!” That doesn’t strike me as something a nemesis would say. To me, that sounds like Trina trying – if haphazardly – to protect Brigitte from earning a reputation like hers. The girls show awareness of the sexual double standard earlier in the film. Lamenting her bad experience with her boyfriend, Ginger remarks to Brigitte that “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door.”

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Along those same lines, menarche is undoubtedly linked with the onset of fertility and sex. It’s fairly archaic symbolism and bears less relevance in the modern era, as obviously not all women want to or are able to have children. In addition, not everyone who experiences the menstrual cycle identifies as a woman and trans women may not experience it either.

However, I still find it interesting. Take the film  The Company of Wolves (1984), for example, based on the short story of the same name from the anthology The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. All the stories in the anthology deal with womanhood in some way – whether it’s through menarche, marriage or sex. The film is no different. While it is admittedly not an easy film to understand, due to heavy use of surrealism, ambiguous symbolism and a blurred boundary between the real world and the “dream” world, it is essentially a coming-of-age story. It’s a beautiful film, but it does take a few repeat viewings to take in everything. There’s so much symbolism in every frame and it can be a bit perplexing initially. The Company of Wolves also features werewolves, although they are portrayed differently to the lycanthropes of Ginger Snaps. Here, although the film makes it clear that anyone can become a wolf, the werewolves serve primarily as an allegory for men. This stems from the morals of early fairy tales, which Carter extrapolates in The Bloody Chamber. The original tale Red Riding Hood, which inspired several stories in the anthology and also the film, can be interpreted as a treatise on virginity. The wolf is a predator, out to steal away Red Riding Hood’s innocence and “devour” her, but she must be vigilant and stick to the path. Carter’s retelling is far more feminist. At the culmination of the short story and the film, the Red Riding Hood character – named Rosaleen in the film – chooses to stay with the wolf who has tricked her and eaten her grandmother. Leaving behind her parents, the village and the expectations that they had for her life, she transforms into a wolf herself and they flee into the forest together.

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“They say the Prince of Darkness is gentleman… they’re right, a fine gentleman.”

Perhaps that’s the secret to making a horror film that treats women’s experiences sensitively while still being, well, horrifying. Strip the protagonist of her autonomy, stop her from being the focus of her own narrative, and you’re guaranteed to make a shitty, sexist film. Giving agency and a voice to women in horror doesn’t reduce the terror, but it does stop the film from contributing to real life attitudes and stigma.

Please like and share if you enjoyed this article! This is a subject about which I’m passionate, and I’d really appreciate it.

Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

Before I start: I’m aware that not everyone who menstruates is a woman, and not every woman menstruates. If I have referred to women menstruating in this article, it is because the statistic or scenario I have mentioned specifies that. I’m sorry if that’s uncomfortable or even triggering to anyone, but I wanted to report this accurately and fairly.

Since 2013, people around the world have begun to celebrate MH Day! Last year, 33 countries ran national campaigns, and the movement is growing. The aim of the event is to promote good menstrual hygiene and to reduce stigma surrounding periods. It focuses on menstrual hygiene management (MHM), which is defined by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF as: “the articulation, awareness, information and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using safe hygienic materials, together with adequate water and spaces for washing, bathing and disposal with privacy.” UNESCO later added further factors, including “informed and comfortable professionals”, “referral and access to health services”, “positive social norms” and “advocacy and policy”.

It’s a sad fact that globally there’s a severe deficit in terms of access to menstrual products. In a lot of less economically developed countries, girls often have to miss school during their periods because they simply don’t have the materials to manage it. A study by the international development organisation SNV in 2014 found that girls in rural Uganda missed up to 8 days of school every term, amounting to 11% of their school attendance. This, and similar situations in other places, account for the drastic number of girls who drop out of school. I think it’s awful that anyone should have to forfeit their education for something that could be so easily managed. Even in countries like my own (UK), women from low income backgrounds and especially homeless women face the same struggle. There’s no standard practice of distributing menstrual products in food banks and it’s easy to forget just how expensive these products are until you consider the quantity we buy over our lifetime.

Furthermore, in many places menstruation is surrounded by social stigma. We see some evidence of it here: we whisper about it, we invent new and creative ways to describe it without actually saying the word “period”. Goddess forbid a cis man should ever be made to touch even an unused menstrual product! We really shouldn’t fear or dread periods. I’m not saying we should jump for joy when it arrives, but it’s downright silly to demonise a natural process.

I’d like to share the story of one man – yes, a man! – who set out on a journey to improve menstrual hygiene for the women in his local and national community.

Meet India’s Menstruation Man, Muruga:

^ He’s literally my fave. He sacrificed such a lot and worked so hard in order to make life that little bit easier and less painful every month for the women around him, and that’s truly admirable. Thank you, Muruga.

It’s my firm belief that, frankly, menstrual products ought to be as easily available as condoms. You can get condoms for free at any family planning clinic in the UK, as far as I’m aware, and they’re available discreetly and – again! – for free at my college. Condoms are, of course, wonderful things, but everybody who menstruates is guaranteed to require sanitary products throughout their lifetime. They should be free or at least not have an extra tax attached (which is their current status – it’s called the pink tax). Get on it, MPs.

Thank you for reading! Please like and share this to raise awareness! If you write your own post, make a vlog or otherwise celebrate the day, feel free to link it in a comment – I’d love to see it! To find out more, go to this link (for the official website!). I also adore Period Positive on Tumblr – check them out here.

5 Feminist Horror Films

The horror genre isn’t exactly renowned for its strong female characters. Generally, there’s a lot of running, screaming and dying involved – not exactly empowering.

However, the horror genre is renowned for being subversive, and that lends itself to feminist adaptations of literature, folklore and mythology. I know it’s not horror-movie season just yet, but I watched one earlier (Treehouse, and it was a bit disappointing) and I decided I should write this list now rather than wait for Halloween to roll around!

So here it is – five feminist horror films! (Plus some honourable mentions that only just missed the cut!) I’ve added links to their respective theatrical trailers, if you fancied having a look. Please be aware that the trailers may contain violence or scary scenes.

5. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is a unique psychological horror film. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it tells the story of Amelia and her six-year-old son Sam, who are tormented by an entity that enters their home through a children’s book. As the story progresses and Sam’s behaviour grows more erratic, Amelia finds it a struggle to love her son. I like it as a horror film because it relies on suspense and emotional tension, not on cheap jumpscares, but I also think it’s a beautiful piece of cinema overall. The real “monster” in the film is grief and insecurity. As Kent explained in an interview: “I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

I luuuuurve this film. It follows two teenage sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, who are obsessed with death. In their town, neighbourhood dogs have been killed in a spate of brutal attacks. The girls decide to kidnap the school bully’s dog to scare her, but Ginger starts her period on the way, resulting in her being attacked and bitten by the creature responsible for the dogs’ deaths. As the plot thickens, Brigitte grows more and more concerned for her sister, as Ginger transforms into something otherworldly. Honestly, I adore literature and films that turn normal things – like the menstrual cycle – into something epic and mythical, and Ginger Snaps does it perfectly. It’s also a great teen drama as well, exploring the complex social microcosm in high school.

3. The Witch (2015)

I’ve written A LOT about this film – mostly because I was so excited to see it at the cinema! – and you can find those pieces here and here. However, it still deserves to be on this list, because I just can’t praise it enough. In the film, a Puritan family are excommunicated from the church and forced to leave the community, settling at the edge of a forest. As more and more unsettling phenomena takes place on their farm, often at the hands (hooves?) of their goat Black Phillip, it becomes clear that they are being plagued by a witch. At the centre of the supernatural goings-on is Thomasin, the eldest child, and the film acts as a beautiful (if eerie) allegory for her burgeoning womanhood and her fight for autonomy. The Witch has taught us all that thou canst live deliciously if thou wouldst like to.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski is perhaps not the name that springs to mind when you think “feminism” (and for good reason), but Rosemary’s Baby becomes a surprisingly powerful film if you think about it in context. The first birth control pills became available in the US during the 60s, so women’s reproductive health was a hot topic at the time of the film’s release. The film still feels fresh and relevant, perhaps as a result of the prevalence of pro/anti abortion dialogue in the media recently. In the film, a young couple move into a new apartment, although they’re warned of their home’s unsavoury history. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, the peculiar behaviour of her husband and interfering neighbours makes her increasingly paranoid. Although Rosemary initially felt ready to have a child, she is unable to have the baby on her own terms, and this is a strikingly painful reality even in today’s society.

Honourable mentions:

The Wicker Man (1973) – not the most obvious choice, but hear me out. This film totally subverts the “A Man Is Not A Virgin” and “Virgin Power” tropes, which is brilliant. In the majority of horror films, it’s a pure maiden (sighhh) who is sacrificed; in this, it’s an adult man.

Red Riding Hood (2011) – not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty cool with a great female protagonist. She kills werewolves, man. She’s a badass.

Teeth (2007) – this is more of a black comedy, but it’s still excellent. I won’t reveal too much about it; it sort of needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a weird one, yet it works.

  1. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Based on the works of the undisputed queen of feminist folktales, Angela Carter, this is an intriguing film that perhaps doesn’t necessarily belong to the horror genre. Although it’s far closer to magical realism or a gothic drama, I’ve put it here nonetheless – it’s unsettling enough to qualify as at least fantasy-horror. It (loosely) follows the plot of her short story of the same name; however, it is also partially based on other stories from her anthology The Bloody Chamber. The protagonist, Rosaleen, learns about werewolves from her grandmother, who knits her a bright red shawl as a gift (no prizes for guessing the fairy tale the film is based on!). The red cloak becomes an important symbol towards the end of the film. When she accepts her desire for the huntsman she meets in the forest, she burns the cloak in her grandmother’s fireplace. The whole film serves as an allegory for Rosaleen’s first foray into her own sexuality. While she’s obviously confused and scared, the film clearly prioritises her experiences and there’s never a time when Rosaleen is denied autonomy or control.

Trigger warning for nudity and mild violence:

Here’s a clip of one of my favourite scenes in the film, in which Rosaleen tells the story of the Wolfgirl (copyright: Neil Jordan; Palace Productions. Distributed by ITC and Cannon).


So there you have it! There are plenty more I could mention, and feel free to comment with your own suggestions!

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The Myth of Female Shame

Being a woman often goes hand in hand with being ashamed.

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You know what kind of blog this is.

In an article called “The Feminine Mistake“, which I wrote about last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her own experiences with (what she calls) the rituals of female shame. All the women in her life idolised her Auntie Chinwe. She was an excellent doctor, but her most admired attributes were not to do with her success or her intelligence. Her enviable qualities were that she was the perfect wife, she was dutiful and she was loyal. Her badge of honour was her refusal to cause a stir. She would endure jokes made at her expense, and she had transformed herself in order to fit her husband’s expectations. She was “an ocean of endless nice”.

There is an implicit message in society’s expectations of women. It is: “What you are is something to be ashamed of.” What you have started with – i.e. your own body, your own self, your own feelings – is imperfect and it needs to be rectified. It needs to be suppressed. You don’t get to be angry; you’re a “bitch”. You don’t get to be in control; you’re “bossy”. Present any semblance of rage or uncooperative behaviour, and you’re an embarrassment.

This is not a new idea. For the people of ancient Rome, it manifested as pudicitia, “modesty”. The opposite was impudicitia, “shamelessness”. It was almost entirely an expectation of a woman’s moral code. The only men who were tarred with the impudicitia brush were those who deviated from the masculine sexual norm, usually homosexual men who took the “submissive” role. This was because their sexual preferences feminised them, in the eyes of Roman society. (There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between the treatment of women and gay men in the ancient world, but that’s a story for another day.) Lucretia was considered the epitome of pudicitia; she was beautiful but modest, assuming the traditional role of the loyal wife. According to Livy, it was her chastity that attracted Sextus Tarquinius to her, to the point that he raped her and she committed suicide to preserve her reputation. This was seen as ideal – a woman who cared so much about her honour that she would die to defend it. A common translation or interpretation of the word is “shamefaced(ness)”. It was morally right for a woman to avoid engaging in certain acts in order to prevent bringing shame upon herself.

A later Roman example is that of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi. The Gracchi were two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, who both became tribunes (political officials). She is particularly admired for how she speaks of her relatives. Her husband had passed away when she was still young, and she never remarried. Nine of her eleven children died in infancy, and Tiberius and Gaius were both murdered. Cornelia does not grieve in front of guests, instead telling them of her family’s great achievements. This emotional restraint is specifically referred to: “… she was most admirable because she did not grieve for her sons and talked to her audience without weeping…” Again, mourning among her guests would have been shameful.

But that was over 2000 years ago (Lucretia’s story is dated to circa 510BC and Cornelia’s to the second century BC). Why should you care if a Roman woman was shamed for improper behaviour?

Well… because we see it everyday. In newspapers, on social media, among our friends. We have fostered a culture in which a woman can be criticised for anything and everything, for the most ridiculous things. Women are shamed disproportionately to men. Consider Kim Kardashian, who gained notoriety for an… errrrmmm… interesting video she taped with her then-boyfriend Ray J. For the entirety of her career – despite proving herself to be a savvy businesswoman and engaging in charitable work – she’s been constantly reminded of this incident. She’s the butt (no pun intended) of every related joke imaginable. Is anybody having a go at Ray J for this? No. He’s still joking about it years later. He has literally stated publicly that he once “had to tell her” that her downstairs department smelled terrible. I shit you not.

A celebrity woman who leaves the house in anything less than the latest Vivienne Westwood evening gown is evidently stressed and struggling. She’s not, you know, an actual human being who has to do actual human things. In adverts for shaving products, the actress shaves an ALREADY BALD leg. That’s how taboo female body hair is. Hair, for fuck’s sake. You know, that thing we all have, all over our bodies???

We have created a world in which women – even ordinary women like me – are required to have a public face and a private one. Why do I have to pretend that I don’t urinate or defecate or menstruate? Why am I required to be this ethereal, angelic, pure creature with no bodily functions beyond those I can offer to men?

I’m calling stinking horseshit. I’m not ashamed of anything. If I want to walk to the toilet in college with my sanitary towel in my hand, unconcealed, then I bloody well will. If I want to complain to my friends that my boobs are aching, then I will. I am at liberty to do so.

Fucking destroy this idea that women ought to be ashamed. Destroy the concept that femininity comes with weakness and deceit and original sin attached.

Patsy - annoyed

She’s eating an apple BECAUSE SYMBOLISM

Infinite love, with zero fucks given,

Dolly xxx