Kiran Gandhi ran a marathon tampon-free, but are there better ways to fight period shaming?

Kiran Gandhi
Photography via Kiran Gandhi

First off, I applaud Kiran Gandhi’s decision to run the London Marathon without a tampon. Her reasoning made sense: it would have been uncomfortable to run with a tampon in, and she could use the opportunity to raise awareness about women without access to sanitary care and fight the stigma against menstruation. That said, I really hope that #freebleeding doesn’t start trending.

It’s not because I think that women should have to hide their periods. When artist Rupi Kaur successfully had Instagram reinstate her banned picture of a period leak, I thought “Good for her.” As she correctly pointed out on her Tumblr, Instagram’s policy had a sexist double standard that allowed pictures of sexualized women but not a bit of period blood. However, the London Marathon has no such rule against one’s period blood showing. Any woman can run a marathon with blood running down their Lululemon leggings–and I’d really rather they didn’t.

Gandhi’s stunt has definitely garnered media attention but I’m not sure it’s doing much to help women who need sanitary products or erase the stigma against menstruation. When presented with the image of her blood-stained pants, the collective response on social media seems to be “Gross.” But I think it’s totally acceptable that a person could think that blood-stained pants are sort of gross without thinking the same about menstruation.

There’s better ways to fight the stigma against menstruation than letting our blood flow freely. Do you hide your tampon nervously in your purse or your hand when you walk to the bathroom? Stop doing that and start acting like tampons are not a big deal (because they’re not). Do you talk openly about your period with your friends, your family, and your partner? If not, maybe you should think about why that is and what you can do to change it. Start a dialogue about the normal thing that happens to every woman every month; make it banal, not verboten.

Most importantly, consider actually making a difference for women without access to sanitary care. Homeless women need donations of pads and tampons desperately, as do women in developing countries. Awareness is important, but only if action follows.

My hope is that the awareness sparked by the media coverage over Gandhi’s tampon-free run will gain momentum and lead to actual results that benefit women. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her decision to run without a tampon, if it inspires you to donate pads to your local shelter or talk frankly with your younger brother or sister about menstruation, then real progress was made. Gandhi may have started the conversation, but it’s up to us to continue it in a meaningful, impactful way.

And if you’re still wondering if there’s any way a woman can run a marathon while menstruating without free-bleeding or being uncomfortable, I have two words for you: menstrual cups. Maybe if Gandhi had one of those this whole thing could have been avoided–but I’m (mostly) glad it wasn’t.

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