After moving back to New Zealand I decided to acquaint myself with the period activists of the nation. There are people here who are pushing New Zealand to embrace menstruation. Their work is inspiring.

“When I was a young woman I hated my periods, and felt embarrassed and burdened by them.”

This was the first thing Jane Catherine – the creator of Luna House in Christchurch – said to me when I asked her how her work began. After she discovered that her menstrual cycles matched the cycle of the moon, she made it her life’s mission to educate herself (and others) about female anatomy and spirituality.

Jane soon discovered that the knowledge was not out there, and that in the absence of knowledge there was hostility around periods. I asked Jane where this stigma comes from. “The taboo around periods,” she said, “has been around for about 5,000 years.

“Withdrawal into seclusion to menstruate was originally a sacred and communal observance, but as patriarchy took over, everything about women that makes them not fit easily into the rational and consistent ways of men became demonised and stigmatised. Over the ages, dislike and distrust of periods has become so normalised that we all automatically comply with it.”

Making the taboo tapu

Sometimes I just want to show off my full menstrual cup and say to people: “See what I have to deal with, people?! Come on!” It turns out that Kiwi artist Hana Tawhai has done just that. Except with art.

“New Zealand is a colonial settler state, dictated by Euro-centric institutions, and tainted with the residue of gender-oppressive Christian and patriarchal technicalities,” she said.

Hana agrees that the taboo of the period in New Zealand is historic and while many people believe that these ideas are of the past, they are systematically still in place today.

“Aotearoa hosts a multi-cultural society that is still yet to claim its unique identity as a multicultural nation. As you know, in Maori, we say tapu instead of taboo, and this implies a sense of sacredness rather than unholiness. Basically, I feel like the European notion of taboo around menstrual blood must be related to the fears of period pain, moodiness, degradation of organic matter, and sanitary waste products. And must be felt by those who are intimidated or embarrassed in some way…”

After feeling intense grief for the treatment of our environment, Hana turned her own “taboo” menstrual blood and made it into something Western culture considers “tapu”: art.

“I wanted to give something sacred of myself to communicate the pain, loss and devastation being suffered by the animals. I had seen an installation where an IV bag filled with oil slowly polluted a vision of rice paddies and wanted to create something similar with blood. I looked into blood art by Jordan Eagles, Vincent Castiglia and Marc Quinn and originally had the idea of withdrawing blood from my veins – I went to donate and during discussion at the blood bank realised that I bleed every month.”

Hana’s show Blood Money featured a series of artworks made with her own menstrual blood. Blood Money sparked a lot of conversation which used ‘feminism’ as a dirty word.
Is feminism doing it wrong?

Jane was deeply saddened by the fact “that feminism has at times been more intent on proving that women are not affected by their menstrual cycles” instead of educating all genders about the menstrual cycle.

She explained that women are a lot more disempowered than we realise. “Awareness of our feminine design has been shut down for so long, we don’t even know it’s missing. Feminism needs to start campaigning for women to be included as we are, not by overriding what is most feminine inside us.”

Hana added that if New Zealand was to fully embrace it’s multi-culturalism, we could better progress as a society, because “we would see the widespread revelation of Mana Wahine, takatapui, and faffafini – which basically means the right of women to exercise their authority in a gender-equal society, the total acceptance of homosexuality, and transgender identities as a social norm.”
Inspired to make change

After hearing these women talk, I came away inspired to educate NZ about periods. If we only show disgust for periods, than that is all there will ever be. The knowledge about periods is out there, so there is no excuse for New Zealand to continue the period stigma.

Hana’s advice for young people is to “stay inspired by the wider world – paid menstrual leave in Japan and North Korea, and the teenage pad and tampon-providing Jose Garcia, who started the movement #realmensupportwomen at high school.

“Don’t be afraid to piss people off or freak people out – the most resistance comes before the biggest transformation. Understand that old taboos belong to the old. You are liberated, gender-sensitive youth that we are raising up today, to be the leaders of tomorrow.”