Did you know that tampons were just another brutal expression of the oppressive patriarchy? I must confess that I didn’t either, until the story broke this week about an unfortunate woman who decided to run the London marathon during her time of the month without any panty pads, in ostentatious protest against the alleged male practice of ‘period-shaming’.
I’ll come to the ‘unfortunate’ part in a moment. But first, the background. Her name is Kiran Gandhi (a Harvard MBA and former drummer of the agit-rock collective MIA) and four months ago, she chose to run the London marathon, unencumbered by the ‘absurd’ presence of a chaffing ‘wad of cotton’ wedged between her legs, and blog about her triumph for the delectation of her sisters in the third-wave feminist movement.
‘Someone came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period … I was like … wow, I had NO idea!’ recounted Kiran in her blog, wittily titled ‘A Modern Period Piece’.
Kiran, however, was certainly not going to be fazed by such antediluvian finger-wagging. Well, only a bit. ‘I was going through all these crazy thoughts and analyzing whether I was … a crazy chick who needs just to calm down and reach for an effing tampon,’ she confesses. Perhaps, though she doesn’t say this, she might have been better off doing it dressed as a menstruating rhino, or the bottom half of a donkey, or a seven-foot high Tampax bearing the red-painted legend: ‘MEN! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT’.
Overall, Kiran couldn’t have been happier with the generally enthusiastic response she received. (From those who noticed her statement, anyway. Her decision to wear orange leggings rather than white ones may have detracted from the full effect). ‘The female body is incredible,’ she gasp as she races towards the finish line to the arms of her supportive and not at all embarrassed family.
This week, the story broke in a media starved of anything else to write in the silly season. Most outlets had nothing but praise for Kiran’s principled stance against panty pad-related oppression. ‘Bring on the menstruation revolution: “Donald Trump is going to bloody love it”’, crowed the Guardian. ‘26-year-old woman bleeds proudly through her first marathon,’ exulted Cosmo, having apparently mistaken her for someone who’d climbed Everest blindfolded, with a shark strapped to her back. Better still, perhaps, from Kiran’s point of view, the right-wing media wrinkled its nose in typical phallocentric disgust. ‘Latest feminist craze: free bleeding’, thundered the US website Infowars.
But the readers of these publications — not even the righteous, socially conscious ones — weren’t quite so sure. ‘I’m a girl and even I find that what this woman did is just gross,’ said one. ‘Get a grip love,’ said another. ‘I’m going to do a marathon on Viagra to highlight the fact that some people with penile dysfunction don’t have access to the diamond blue wonder drug,’ quipped an unhelpful male.
Then the sorry truth emerged. Poor Kiran, and the liberal outlets which had applauded her gesture, were the victims of a cruel hoax. It originated last year on a mildly notorious website called 4chan — an internet chatroom favoured by the kind of irreverent pranksters and cynical youths who take unseemly delight in countering the pieties of the ‘social justice warriors’ of the earnest new left.
Already, these hoaxers had enjoyed some success with an earlier campaign, designed to cause division within the new feminist movement by trying to pit girls with skinny, attractive fit bodies against less conventionally beautiful diehards. They invented a concept called ‘bikini bridge’ — the phenomenon where bikini bottoms are suspended between a slim woman’s hipbones causing a dangerously revealing gap. ‘If your girlfriend doesn’t have a bikini bridge, why are you with her?’ asked the caption to a fake advert showing a seductive skinny model. Sure enough, this major new threat to the sensitivities of women worried about their bodies received widespread coverage from the Sydney Morning Herald to the New York Daily News.
So in 2014 — inspired by some crazy idea they’d read somewhere on the internet — the pranksters decided to fake an even more ludicrous trend designed to discredit the radical feminist movement. ‘What is free bleeding? It consists of us womyn bleeding with no restriction … Being able to menstruate is something that is a [sic] undeniably female characteristic. How DARE they try and oppress it,’ read their working notes.
A few helpful tweets later from fake Twitter accounts and ‘free bleeding’ had become an urgent new cause of radical feminism. Eventually word got out among some women’s interest websites that they’d all been had: ‘Free bleeding is not a thing,’ warned one. But it appears the memo didn’t get through to everyone. Hence Kiran Gandhi’s marathon protest.
Does this mean we should all feel terribly outraged on behalf of Kiran? Well up to a point, I’d say. Stripped of its broader social context, her humiliation — even though it wasn’t deliberately inflicted on her personally — does seem a bit ugly and callous and deserving of our pity. But then you ask yourself: ‘Hang on, this girl has got a Harvard MBA, so she’s not exactly thick. Can she really not work out the logic of why it is that over the years we’ve developed certain conventions about the public display of bodily fluids and functions? Has she not considered that these might have been designed at least as much for the comfort of women as men?’
The bigger problem is this: even at Ivy League universities — indeed, perhaps especially at Ivy League universities, not to mention Oxford and Cambridge — the lunatic preoccupations of the radical feminists and social justice warriors, from ‘rape culture’ to ‘intersectionality’, have become so fashion-able and all-consuming that stupid has become the new clever.