I am an advocate for menstrual justice, and I work with an organization called Period: The Menstrual Movement in order to break down the stigma surrounding menstruation through education, service, and advocacy. We also work to take down the luxury tax on menstrual products and help menstruators receive equitable access to the products they deserve.
During the year in which I have been involved with this organization, I have contributed to the planning of a rally, helped to host a nationwide product drive, and helped educate menstruators at homeless shelters. I have also offered education to my peers and been involved with a campaign to take down the tampon tax. All of these projects taught me about how to be an effective advocate and educator, but I learned the most important lessons about activism in a place I would have never expected it: Peter Boskey’s Color on Cloth class this past semester.
Coming into this class, I expected to learn about different binding techniques, color, and the dying process. I did discover quite a bit about all of these things, but Peter taught me an even more important lesson about the most effective ways in which activism can intersect with art. Towards the end of the semester, Peter introduced our final project, which was to be a quilt or tapestry that told a story, essentially serving as a narrative.
During a brainstorming session, Peter asked us to think of something we were passionate about, and my mind immediately went to the Period Movement. That night, I went home and created a sketch of a female from the waist down, who was wearing bloody underwear. I shared it with Peter over email, and he said that my idea to combine my menstrual activism with my artwork was a very powerful one and that he loved my candid depiction of menstruation. He also suggested that I abstract menstruation in this piece, in order to allow more people to relate to it and to help get rid of the assumption that all menstruators have the same experience.
Peter’s feedback helped me to think about how inclusive I was making my menstrual activism. In my work with Period, I always tried to use gender-neutral pronouns and clung to the phrase “not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators are women.” I was, therefore, including all people who menstruate in my fight for menstrual justice.
However, looking at my drawing, I found myself asking: am I being fully inclusive of the experiences of all menstruators? I soon found the answer to be no. I had not allowed myself to be aware of menstruators whose experiences may have been different than mine and had not made an effort to interact with them and hear their stories.
I decided to make my artwork more inclusive of the experiences of menstruators unlike myself, as well as shift the way I talk and think about menstruation to encompass the realities of as many people as possible. I began to partner with organizations that provide services to LGBTQ people and to talk with people who suffer from heavy periods or disorders like endometriosis and uterine fibroids, as well as those who are unable to menstruate for a variety of reasons.
I am now able to say that my menstrual activism is now not only fully inclusive of all people but of their experiences and struggles as well. This shift would not have been possible without Peter Boskey’s class. I want to thank Peter for his helpful feedback, but also art, for all that it has taught me about the importance of inclusion in the process of becoming an effective activist.