Ms. Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon 2015 without any sanitary device while publicly bleeding. She said she did it for feminism. I think that is bull. I think it is 0% feminism and 100% publicity stunt. In addition, her story seemed a bit fake too. Perhaps it was an accident and the whole ‘I did it for feminism‘ spin was an afterthought. I mean, she was planning for this marathon for years, but she didn’t know her period dates were clashing with the marathon dates until the night before?

“I got my flow the night before and it was a total disaster but I didn’t want to clean it up. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles.” She wrote in her blog

But let me not be a bitch and pull down the efforts of a fellow feminist. Glory be to universal sisterhood, I stand with her and her cause and efforts. It’s just that I find her understanding of ‘how to fight period taboo and raise awareness about lack of sanitary products by millions of women’ appalling. Allow me to explain.

Are periods a real hindrance for women achievers?

By mentioning that it would have been uncomfortable to run with tampon she reinforced the idea that women are in fact incapable of performing certain acts because of their natural bodily conditions. PT Usha ran, Kalpana Chwala went to space, Saina Nehwal, Serena Williams and hundreds of sports women perform and achieve all the time we don’t hear them complaining about their periods.

Because the fact is, women are capable of accomplishing any physical task even with periods. And no they don’t have to bleed in public for that. But Ms. Gandhi sort of undermined the hard work, endurance and stamina of these women by worrying over her periods and then even brilliantly deciding to not use any sanitary device and bleed in public. As if these women never had periods in their important days of performance which they had to overcome without making a show of their blood.

If menstruation in public is ok, why not open defecation and public urination?

Pooping and peeing are also natural biological process and signs of a healthy body, then why do we have a problem with open defecation and public urination? Why do we need toilets at all? People can go about pooping in public while attending to their daily activities like going to work or movies in celebration of their natural pure healthy digestive system. Because really, why should ovulation and menstruation blood be treated any differently than digestive system and poop or kidney function and urine? All are bodily wastes.

Isn’t there a hypocrisy if women claim that menstruation is beautiful and healthy while people generally pooping is dirty?

Some of the women on the forums where I was debating this issue argued, “Poop and pee are unhygienic and carry germs while menstruation blood is not.” Really? If that was true then why do we feel dirty if we see sanitary pads and blood scattered in a public toilet that has not been cleaned? Period blood is a bodily waste just like poop and piss are, it is a residue of an internal process. It has no utility once outside the body, so why shouldn’t it be treated in the same way as other bodily wastes?   

Shock activism or tokenism? How far does it go?

I am given to understand that this is actually a style of shock activism. A few other women in Spain also did something similar, they wore white pants with blood all over, to raise awareness against period shaming and taboo. PETA activists posing topless to raise awareness about animal rights is another kind of shock activism.

I am not sure about the impact of this kind of activism. Perhaps some of them work, some don’t. But sometimes, if it is stretched a bit too much, it leaves people confused about what the hell are the feminists trying to do.

So what is Kiran Gandhi trying to do? Is she saying all women should give up using sanitary products and whenever wherever period start they need not fret about finding a pad or tampon, just bleed to glory in full public view? Or is she calling out women of the world to start a mass movement where all of us do what she did, run a marathon without tampon?

No, that’s not what she is saying. She wrote,

“I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist.”

pink chaddi campaignShe did it as a tokenism. It is neither possible nor desirable to replicate her action and turn it into a mass movement. But activism shouldn’t be about tokenism. It should be something that can be taken up by more and more people giving rise to a movement. When the revolutionary gave the slogan ‘do or die’ it was actually a call for every person to literally do or die.

Many women I argued with in the feminist forums said, ‘I wouldn’t do it’ or ‘she isn’t’ asking everybody to do it‘ but it started a conversation. That is perhaps true, but one wonders couldn’t there be another way to start a conversation without taking things to such extremes.

Some great examples of activism that turned into mass movement were the Pink Chaddi Campaign or Slut Walks (Besharmi Morcha in India). These movements inspired millions of women to take some action instead of just cheering for someone else.

Let’s compare public menstruation with public masturbation by men shall we?

When we make extreme statements in the name of feminism, we should be ready to accept the same from men. If we cannot then we are guilty of double standards in feminism. Are we feminist ready to extend the same standards of rights to men? When we say, “It’s my body my right so I can do whatever with my body for my comfort and I don’t care how the society feels about it” should not the same apply to men?

To make my point, I am going to compare the act of women bleeding in public with that of men masturbating in public (since men do not menstruate) and ask the question – Is the society in a position to accept both?

I know, the comparison is a weak one, one is an involuntary act and the other is voluntary, one is sexual the other is just a bodily process. But if you interpret both as a person’s decision about their body without caring about how public would feel about it then they are same:

She decided to not wear any sanitary device and show her blood to thousands of people without caring how they feel about it. He decided to masturbate in public and show his penis and semen (not particularly at someone) without caring how people feel about it.

The two seem same to me. Either accept both or shun both. How can we claim that while one is feminism the other is sexual harassment? History of oppression cannot be a justification for double standards.

But of course we are not going to accept public masturbation. That is not my point. The point is don’t go public bleeding either. And if at all you want to run without tampon by all means, go ahead that’s your choice, but don’t claim that it is for a cause, or that it is going to be a milestone in feminist movement.

To conclude what Kiran Gandhi did was not about feminism, (I wish she didn’t claim so in her blog), it was about remarkable sportswomanship, a sign of her courage and determination to not be deterred by periods and still run. It would have been the same if she cut herself or sprained her ankle and still ran.

A round of applause for the real winner please

during the Virgin Money London Marathon on April 26, 2015 in London, England.
during the Virgin Money London Marathon on April 26, 2015 in London, England.

So all my respect to her for the tenacity but let’s also for a moment celebrate the real winner of the London Marathon 2015, a round of applause for Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia please. Performance artist Clara Morris echoes my thoughts in a satirical piece bringing attention to the fact that in the age of sensationalism and shock and awe stories, that make for great virals, media have forgotten the woman who actually finished the marathon in half the time that Kiran took.

“…do you know what fights sexism in an extremely tangible way? Running 26.2 miles faster than hundreds of men,” writes Clara Morris impersonating Tigist Tufa.

Even if all my arguments against Ms. Gandhi’s style of feminism fails this alone makes for a good reason why her brand of shock activism is not healthy as it robs off hundreds of real achievers the celebration they deserve and dilutes the real cause. It’s exactly what gives feminism a bad name.

PS. The title of this post was shock journalism.