Rupi Kaur is a 22-year-old student from Ontario who caused a bit of stir last week when she published a series of images from a project she had been working on, depicting the various fallouts of getting your period - the blood splattered loo, changing your sanitary towel, dripping in the shower etc - which women the world over know only too well. So far so good. However, when she shared an image on Instagram, of a girl lying on a bed, fully clothed, but with a bloodstain between her legs, it was promptly deleted. She posted it again. Instagram deleted it again. Which is ironic given the fact that their guidelines only prohibit sexual acts, violence and nudity. Which one of these codes had Rupi supposedly violated? Taking to Facebook, Rupi released the following statement:
"Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. You deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines. I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human. Thank you."
She set out to demystify the period, giving it visibility and so normalising it within popular culture, and instead ended up revealing the patriarchal structures upon which Instagram's community guidelines, and in fact most of its community has been built. However, like a light at the end of a tunnel of oppression, men and women alike took to social media to voice their own opinion about the controversy, prompting Instagram to apologise, tail between its proverbial leg, and even reinstate the "offending" image. A triumph for womankind the world over, all thanks to Rupi Kaur. Here we catch up with the student to talk taboos, trolls, and bodily fluids.
What is it about a woman's menstrual cycle that society finds so offensive?
They see it as dirty. They equate it to faeces, semen, and urine. But the three are incomparable. Male ejaculation is liberally discussed and displayed in pornography, while faeces and urine don't have the same gendered oppression surrounding them. To taint this body function, which can remove young girls all over the world from their classrooms, forcing them to stay inside their house, is unfair. It can leave women out of education. This means they are forced to marry early, and end up in homes where they are more susceptible to abuse. To taint this body function when you've never put in the effort to learn about it, in the larger global context, is a shame.
How did you feel when Instagram took your photo down and why do you think they did it?
I thought it was silly because I see photos of things that actually go against guidelines all the time. The average age of a girl who now goes on her period is about ten, so it's definitely not content that's completely unknown to a 13-year-old. I think they took it down because the amount of flags it probably received. I also think they took it down without thinking about it. They assumed if it was bothering folks, it must be wrong.
Why do you think they reinstated it?
I think when even more people began to contact them about how the photo had been wrongly removed they were eventually forced to re-evaluate their actions. Realising it actually did not go against their guidelines, they reinstated it.
How do you feel about the amount of positive attention you've received?
It's lovely. I mean I never thought or wanted it to be blown up to this level. I think it received as much attention as it did because Instagram removed it. But I'm taking and embracing all the positivity and love.
What about trolls, have you got much abuse?
I have thick skin. So negative comments make me laugh. I got an A on this project and people are talking about it, and that's really all it's about.
Do you follow other online movements such as #FreeTheNipple movement?
I have been following free the nipple movement. I love the coverage it's received on your website.
How do you feel about Facebook and Instagram's continued censorship of women?
Exactly what I wrote under the photo. Through their censorship they provide us with the exact response our work is trying to critique. It's saddening.
How can/should society change its outlook?
I think it starts with one photo. And people will now begin talking, discussing, debating, and then more content is created. All different types: photos, poetry, film, and that's how the psyche of an entire culture can begin to shift.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography courtesy Rupi Kaur