Mehar Gujral

I hemorrhage every month to make it possible for humanity to exist. The supernatural resides in my womb. our species' source of existence. whether or not I decide to make. but that is only rarely the case. This blood was revered in earlier societies as sacred. It still is in some. However, the bulk of individuals, societies, and communities reject this organic process. Some people feel more at ease when women are pornographic. Women are more subject to abuse, degradation, and sexualization than this. They will be enraged and troubled by this but cannot be bothered to voice their disgust about all that. We menstruate and they see it as dirty. attention seeking. sick. a burden. as if this process is less natural than breathing. as if it is not a bridge between this universe and the last. as if this process is not love. labour. life. selfless and strikingly beautiful.

‘period.’ is a photo series developed by rupi for a visual rhetoric course in her final year at university. the goal was to challenge a taboo, tell a story without the use of words.


The Taboo of Menstruation in Contemporary Media Discourse

In March 2015, Canadian artist Rupi Kaur posted a photo featuring a fully-clothed woman lying in bed with blood on her sweatpants and sheets to her personal Instagram account. Within 24 hours of posting the image, Instagram, the largest image-sharing social media platform in the world, removed the photo for allegedly violating the platform’s community guidelines. Instagram’s community guidelines prohibit

The image is a part of Kaur’s photo series titled “period.” which showcases the intimate experience many women share with their period. The photography project, as stated in Kaur’s artist statement, aimed to “demystify and destigmatize the female body” by exploring the social stigma surrounding menstruation. Kaur re-posted the image only to have it removed again, confirming that this was no simple mistake on Instagram’s part but a deliberate act of censorship and control. Following the removals, Kaur posted the image on Instagram for a third time with an open letter condemning the platform for perpetuating the taboo of menstruation and censoring women’s bodies. The photo posted by Kaur did not contain nudity, violence, pornography, or infringing imagery that glorifies harm, all prohibited by Instagram’s community guidelines. The guidelines also notably did not preclude images of blood or menstruation. This leads to the question: How could Instagram justify removing Kaur’s photo?

Kaur’s photo series and her response to Instagram’s censorship proceeded to go viral in the following weeks, featured in leading news outlets such as the New York Times, BBC, and The Washington Post. The censorship of the low-key, quotidian images served as a catalyst to renew the conversation on what is and is not appropriate to discuss about menstruation in the public sphere. This paper uses Rupi Kaur’s Instagram controversy to analyze the discourse about menstruation and how this discourse empowers and disempowers women. Using online media articles, this paper analyzes the construction of menstruation as a social stigma and the patriarchal censorship of women’s bodies through Foucault’s theory on discourse and power.

Michel Foucault’s theory on the integral relationship between power and discourse explains this construction of menstruation as a social stigma in modern times. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault argued that the scientific and medical discourses which emerged in modernity served as forms of social control and discipline that led to the production of “docile bodies” (25). These discourses of control did not only restrict human behavior but also became the method by which the subjects learned to police themselves. As the largest image-sharing online platform in the world, Instagram has discursive power.

The construction of menstruation as a social stigma

It can be acknowledged that issue of menstruation has been a major source of stigma across the world. It can be acknowledged that a majority of cultures across the world view a menstruating lady as impure. A good example of this is among the Hindu. The Hindu have a menstrual tradition referred to as chhaupadi which prevents menstruating ladies from participating in the normal and daily activities in the society as they are usually perceived as impure. These ladies are locked out of the homestead, thus, are forced to sleep in the cattle shed or makeshifts until their periods come to an end. In this particular scenario, it can be acknowledged that the ladies not only suffer from stigma, but they are forced to brace extreme circumstances which might threaten their health or even result to death.

It is true to state that menstruation is a basic human function and should not be taken as a reason to deny women their basic human rights, as well as, peace of mind. It should no longer be taken as a barrier to the access to education, bodily integrity, independent reproductive health, and freedom. It can be acknowledged that there are various strategies that can be incorporated to make sure that social stigma directed towards women in relation to menstruation are addressed. This is possible because human beings can choose to put their focus on the health related taboos and stigmas. By doing this, they can spread adequate education to other people regarding the very same issue. By giving this information to various members of the society and this includes those of the opposite sex, the options of managing this stigma can effectively be understood and incorporated across the society. The government can also work with non-governmental organizations to make sure that the menstrual health products are available in the market. It is finally important that the entire human race notes that menstrual periods are a crucial part of a woman’s life, thus, it is important not to make it a source of stigma.

The patriarchal censorship of women’s bodies

The censorship of women’s bodies to a larger extent looks at how their bodies are sexualized and silenced by the media. It can be acknowledged that a majority of feminist artists refer to the act of censoring women’s bodies as feminine grotesque which implies to the act of transforming a woman’s body into something that is obscene, abnormal, and monstrous. According to Ellie Hunter, a feminist artist, the world is constantly morphing, hence, creating new systems of power along the way. It can therefore be understood that why removal of Rupi Kaur’s menstrual photo by instagram took place. However, despite the fact she managed to rally enough feminist activists on her side to make instagram to restore her photo, it can still be acknowledged that the censorship of women’s bodies in entrenched in society beyond the patriarchal level and its now vividly evident in media. According to Katya Grokhovsky, another well renowned feminist artist, the concept of the censorship of women’s bodies is too much to the point that it makes an individual angry. The artist continues to argue that the relentless, frightening, and persistent removal of images, stories, and videos depicting women’s bodies is a form of misogynistic oppression. A majority of women acknowledged the fact that they do love to have a mutual understanding with their fellow women. It makes them have a connection with the world, thus, understand why their bodies shed blood every single month. It is important to acknowledge the fact that content depicting information about a woman’s body serve to remind women that they have a voice.

The idea of menstruation as inherently dirty

It is true to state this idea should be completely shunned away. This is mainly because it doesn’t make sense as to why a natural process that is vital for reproductive health and the continuity of the human species should be viewed in such a manner. The fact that blood comes out of a woman every man should not be deemed as disgusting. To a very great extent a lot of women are forced to conceal the products they have that are meant to help them regulate their menstruation, for example, the tampons and the pads, due to the fear that if those products are seen, they will be viewed as unclean members of the society. It is true to state that some of these ideas have been borrowed from the bible, for example, it was being considered that women during menstruation were unclean, thus, anyone who had relations with them was unclean, as well. However, this is still not a valid reason why such ideas should persist in the contemporary world. The bodies of human beings go through a lot of processes each and every single day, thus, there is no particular reason to label this process as unclean.

Sandra Lee Bartky in Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power in which the oppressed learned to police themselves.This, Foucault claims, is ‘the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power’ (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 201).

Throughout this essay, I have used the term “woman” or “women” to signify a level of collectivity, however it is important to note that this is only inclusive of “women” who are cis-gendered and menstruate. An essentialist understanding of menstruation, as in the idea that menstruation is an integral component of a universal “women’s” experience, is a fallacy. There is no one definition of womanhood and menstruation as a biological process and experience should not serve as a defining factor. This analysis has also not delved into the intersectionality of race, class, and sexual orientation as they pertain to the discourse on menstruation.

Rather, the image breached society’s standard of “femininity.”

The immediate negative response to this form of art by the social media website raises an important question: why does menstrual blood evokes such passionate social judgments rooted in aversion, disgust, and fear

Women’s’ menstrual cycles has been used throughout history as a tool to argue male superiority, from Aristotle to Freud (Roberts & Waters, 2004).

The censorship of Kaur’s image speaks to the larger issue of a cultural fear of menstruation.

Rupi Kaur responded by posting, “Thank you @instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique… when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. Pornified. And treated less than human” (cite).

“Menstruation communication is often discrete or invisible in dominant discourse and focuses of medicalization rather than the social norms of “performing menstruation. This paper explores menstruation communication in public media discourse and examines how it empowers and disempowers the female body. Theme include the patriarchal censorship of women’s bodies, shame and stigma in menstruation discourse, and medical ideology and essentialization.”

"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes," Trump told CNN's Don Lemon on Friday night. "Blood coming out of her wherever."

Menstruation or the “period” in common discourse is highly debatable.

-Menstruation as a way of shaming and disciplining female bodies.

“In puberty, girls become increasingly focused on regulating, managing, and controlling their bodies to meet an internalized ideal” (Rice 127).

Carla Rice’s “Beauty, Ability, and Growing Up Female” explains how the body serves as instrument of femininity. During the period of adolescence, a girl is taught to abide by the rules of femininity such as managing her period and removing body hair, through complex social forces including adults, peers, popular media and society at large (Rice 154).

Exceptions-Native American Example

There is a culture of shame surrounding menstruation. It is estimated that more than 800 million girls around the world miss school for one week every month – which adds up to 12 weeks per year.

A notable is exception is several Native American cultures that consider menstruation to be an experience that should be honored. The Navajo tribes mark a girl’s first period with an elaborate four-day celebration titled the “Kinaalda,” which literally translates to “puberty ceremony” (Amrani, “The Kinaalda Ceremony”). Filled with festivities such as symbolic dances and cleansing rituals, the Kinaalda does not only express menstruation as a physical and spiritual transformation for a girl, but serves as an “acknowledgement and acceptance of her as a woman and beneficial part of society” (Amrani, “The Kinaalda Ceremony”). If menstruation was celebrated rather than stigmatized by most societies, how different would be the relationship between a woman and her body?

Nov. 3. Disciplined Bodies

discursive power, disciplinary practices, docile bodies, panopticon

Word Count:


Amrani, Estelle Nora Harwit. ""The Kinaalda Ceremony: A Dance into Womanhood"" (1988).


Bobel, Chris. New Blood: Third-wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. New

Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2010. Web.

Bartky, Sandra Lee. "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power." Ed.

Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. Feminism & Foucault: Reflections on Resistance.

Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. Print.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence

against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 6, 1991, p. 1241.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1979.


Rice, Carla. "Chapter 5. Between Body and Culture: Beauty, Ability, and Growing Up

Female." Gender, Race, and Nation (2002). Web.

Wilchins, Riki Anne. “Foucault and the Disciplinary Society.” Queer Theory, Gender Theory: an

Instant Primer, Alyson Books, Los Angeles, 2004.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Mehar Gujral


GSFS 200

Professor Mary Bunch

TA Alex Ketchum


Research Question: How does the taboo of menstruation affect women’s lives?

Search Terms for WorldCat:



feminist theory



menstruation taboo

Sources & Citations:

Bartky, Sandra Lee. "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power." Ed.

Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. Feminism & Foucault: Reflections on Resistance.

Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. Print.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence

against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 6, 1991, p. 1241.

Rice, Carla. "Chapter 5. Between Body and Culture: Beauty, Ability, and Growing Up

Female." Gender, Race, and Nation (2002).

Wilchins, Riki Anne. “Foucault and the Disciplinary Society.” Queer Theory, Gender Theory: an

Instant Primer, Alyson Books, Los Angeles, 2004.

Lese, Kathryn M., "Padded Assumptions: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Patriarchal

Menstruation Discourse" (2016). Masters Theses. Paper 103.

Magdalena Olszanowski (2014) Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing

Sensorship, Visual Communication Quarterly, 21:2, 83-95


A 100- 150-word (half page) rationale that positions your own work in relation to this body of literature, and that explains why you selected the articles you used.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the representation of menstruation in modern media discourse. As a young cis-gender woman, the period has played a key role in my life.

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