VERVE Think Tank: Tenebris Vulnus
Tenebris Vulnus: The Dark Wound. This is exactly how I feel about my period. It brings a dark cloud on everything. I feel tired and gross and unattractive and often have cramps that stop me in my tracks. I feel wounded. I also have a nonsensical feeling of shame about my period. I don’t want to tell people I’m bleeding, especially men, as if it is something unnatural or wrong. I have a lot of sympathy for the antiquated customs of girl and women isolating from the rest of society while they are menstruating. That sounds great to me. The strangest part of all these feelings for me is that they feel at odds with my personality. Incongruent. Being a woman is powerful. Our bodies are magical. We shouldn’t adjust our behaviors to make men more comfortable. So why do I want to go live in the woods for a week every month?
These were the kinds of questions we tackled in the Philadelphia VERVE Think Tank. Fifteen women gathered in the lounge of my building to discuss menstruation and the stigma around it. We were fundraising for the independent film Tenebris Vulnus: The Dark Wound. The writer and director, Anais Blondet joined us along with her producer Maria Santos. Anais shared her inspiration for the film and talked about why she was undertaking a generally unpopular topic. Because of her own experiences with menstruation she made a sorter film about it for her thesis. She described the reaction of an audience in Germany to seeing it. She knew that their disgust, confusion, and almost anger at her for creating art about such a topic was a sign that she was on to something important. Years later she began work on the full length film, Tenebris Vulnus.
Although all genders were welcome, there were no men present at the Think Tank—no surprise. Those who attended were from a variety of backgrounds. Despite the varied cultures represented there were themes that ran through the conversation, mostly around secrecy and education. Most of us had stories of either being taught to hide our periods, especially from the men in our family, or stories of not being taught what we needed to know. One woman shared a story about her family learning about how tampons worked. More than one woman had a story about the rituals of hiding evidence of their period from their fathers or brothers. My only memory of my father and brother related to my period was hearing my father tell my brother that under no circumstance was he ever to tell a woman, even his sister, that she was acting a certain way because it was that time of the month. He very seriously instructed that men are not allowed to tease women about their periods. Ever.
The conversation the turned to the mood changes around our periods. We all agreed there was a discernable difference but the manifestation varied by woman. Some women were more irritable, some less patient, some better able to tap into their true feelings without the oppression of “being nice.” I get tearful and depressed. That’s my first warning that I’m about to start bleeding: I find myself crying at my desk because a webpage wouldn’t load fast enough. It’s like my body is using all its energy to continue this incredible cycle and it neglects other things like the ability to manage minute frustrations. I dread it every month and see it as an assault on my life. One woman pointed out that a healthier way to think about a week of bleeding: it is a sign that your body is in good shape and doing precisely what it was made to do. A monthly period (when not on a birth control that disrupts it) is a sign of health and vitality.
Despite the heavy flow of the conversation most of the day was spent laughing. Laughing at the ridiculous expectations of society: that women hide their tampons on their way to the bathroom at work. Laughing at our own ignorance: don’t leave the plastic part of a tampon in. Laughing at the unsuspecting mother who was touring my building looking for suitable housing for her college aged child and stumbled into our Think Tank. “What kind of party is this?” she enthusiastically asked. There was a brief silence as we all considered whether to risk making her uncomfortable before we said in unison, “it’s a menstruation party!” She loved it. We offered her a vagina cupcake but she just wanted to take a picture of them to send her to her husband.
The event ended with a few significant take homes: The stigma about menstruation has got to end. We can help that happen in a few ways. The first is that we have to stop hiding it. I made a point to talk about this event with my father and the man I’m seeing at dinner, their comfort be damned. We should walk with pride holding our tampons out for everyone at the office to see because it is a sign that our bodies are operating as they should. We should educating our daughters early on about the normalcy of periods so that when she gets hers it isn’t scary or confusing. We should call out sick when we have cramps because suffering through it shouldn’t be necessary. And most importantly, when something feels wrong, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk to our doctors or NPs about it.
Our Think Tank was able to raise $543 at the event with an additional $500 from VERVE to support the artistic integrity of the film Tenebris Vulnus. We know that many investors will be turned off by this topic and that is a major reason to support it. As the Oscar-winning short, Period. End of Sentence. showed, the world is ready for films about menstruation. If you want to help get the next one made donate here: http://paypal.me/tenebrisvulnus.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist