THE BLOG

Can We Give Free Bleeding a Rest?

26/01/2016 11:53 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 10:12 GMT

When I made a documentary on menstruation in 2015 (since dubbed 'the year of the period'), I had my fair share of interesting reactions. In my research survey, CEOs of radio stations the world over asked me how much there really was to talk about. In the section for 'additional comments', one man rather ominously (although I'm sure he meant well) simply wrote 'good luck'.

By far the most divisive element of the current menstruation campaign is not environmental worries, and it's not even tampon tax: it's a movement called 'free bleeding'.

Put simply, free bleeding is about parting with traditional ways to stem your flow and just letting things be. It's rumoured to have been a hoax started by 4chan, but I refuse to believe that before the invention of an online bulletin board for teenage boys no menstruating person had ever considered ditching the tampons and just sitting in an empty bath all day instead. It did not take a forum of people posting pornographic gifs and racist jokes for us to realise that when it comes to sanitary protection, we're getting ripped off.

When Kiran Gandhi and, later, Charlie Edge hit the headlines for their free bleeding, they were torn apart on social media. That level of idiocy was to be expected, but what I didn't expect was some other reactions, namely 'I thought I was a feminist, but free bleeding? That's it. Count me out.'

I'm so tired of defending the fight against tampon tax - and, often, the entire foundations of the suffragette movement - based on someone's inability to be exposed to bodily fluids. It's not the be all and end all, it doesn't define what many people have to endure (although it can highlight it) and if people don't like it, they aren't exempt from fighting the good fight.

Let me reiterate: my problem is not with anyone free bleeding as a lifestyle choice, art project or method of protest. My problem is with the skeptics who believe that the entire period positivity campaign is defined by it. To back out of the movement because 'that marathon runner was gross' is stupid; it devalues decades of effort, and it denies 50% of the population your voice.

The reason menstruation is the word on everybody's lips is not as simple as whether or not you would be willing to part with your towels, tampons or menstrual cups. It's about reducing the financial burden on low-income families through outdated taxes. It's about teaching young people that periods are more magical than they are shameful, and redesigning needlessly pink and fluffy packaging so that trans men feel comfortable using them.

Personally, I applaud and respect free bleeders everywhere. I don't care if they're doing it outside Downing Street or if they came on at a bus stop and were simply too tired to feel ashamed. If you're not as keen, I suppose I understand (although maybe that's the whole point?) - but when it comes to matters of the menses, you aren't getting out of it that easily.

Listen to Seeing Red: Exploring Menstrual Stigma