It’s a strange sensation to start something as a joke, expecting that only your friends on Facebook will see it, and then all of a sudden to see it all over the internet. That’s what happened with my decision to report on my menstrual cycle to all of the Virginia legislators (not just the Republicans, contrary to popular news sources) who voted “yes” on HB462, the “mandatory ultrasound” bill.
The idea itself started as a passing snarky comment, at a meeting of the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project- the abortion fund with which I work. It was before the bill even passed- I think we were discussing all of the current legislation that was slated to legally subjugate women – HB1, HB462, etc. I made a comment about how we should keep legislators updated on our bodies, since they are “so concerned” about them. I may have also mentioned sending hand-painted valentines using menstrual blood. Just sayin’.
A few weeks later I was at home, sick in bed, and getting really bored. I was browsing Facebook, and found myself getting angrier and angrier as I read through a frenzy of posts about the newest competitors in the “which state can oppress people the fastest” Olympics. And all of a sudden, something kind of snapped. All of my rage, all of my disgust, my stir-crazedness, culminated into a sarcastic Facebook post. I started with Senator McDougle, the Republican Caucus Chairman, and then made my way down the list of Representatives who had voted in this absurdist, shaming legislation. I went to each one, and I wrote this message:
Hi Senator/Delegate _____________! I just wanted to let you know, since you’re concerned with women’s health, that my period started today! Color looks good, flow not too heavy. Cramps are pretty manageable but don’t worry – I’ll make sure to let you know if that changes! Thanks again for caring so much about women and our bodies!
I took a screenshot of my post on McDougle’s wall, and posted it on my page. My friend Stacey Burns, the Online Communications Coordinator at the National Network of Abortion Funds, asked if she could post it on Twitter, and from there it made its way to the RHRealityCheck tumblr page, and it went on, and on, and on… all of a sudden, in what a friend dubbed “Project TMI”, women all over Virginia were doing the same!
A few folks were critical, calling me “catty,” “bitchy,” and “overly emotional” (is it coincidence that these are all insults frequently used to delegitimize women’s opinions? Probably not); others said that I was “playing into” the idea that menstruation is “icky.” With that I greatly disagree. I’m not ashamed of my body, or the way in which it functions. I think that menstruation is an amazing thing, and I believe that others who posted openly and honestly about their bodies did so without hesitation, without shame. I believe that this was intrinsic to why Project TMI is such a hit – it is a way to fight back against legislators who were attempting to shame us, who were attempting to tell us not to worry our pretty little heads, because they were there to take care of things for us.
So, despite some critiques, most were hugely supportive. It spread like wildfire. Last I heard, there are efforts to do the same in Arizona and Texas and now in Kansas as well. And I think that it SHOULD continue. In this time of desperation, where it has become blindingly apparent that our government doesn’t give a damn about female-bodied people, as well as other historically-marginalized peoples, I think that a touch of humor was sorely needed. People are hanging onto it as a shred of humanity, as a way to call out to our legislators, to demand accountability. These legislators have no problem playing doctor in the GA – so why not have some follow through, and play doctor to your constituents? Because that’s who these people are that are posting these items. We are not mere “protestors”. We can’t be dismissed as “humorless feminists” (because, let’s face it, this is utterly hilarious).
We are constituents. We are the people who are being represented by these legislators. Legislators like Dave Albo, for instance, who voted “yes” on HB462. In a disgusting display of public misogyny disguised as a (pathetic) attempt at humor, Delegate Albo felt it necessary to stand on the House floor and tell an utterly inappropriate story about how his wife wouldn’t have sex with him because of it – but he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “vagina!” Instead, he used the sanitized “trans-v this, trans-v that.” Because apparently, when it comes to vaginas, it is always necessary to retreat to adolescent baby-talk. Legislators need to know that if they can’t bring themselves to say the word “vagina,” they probably shouldn’t be legislating them.
This is a way to show our legislators that misogyny isn’t funny. But rather, that anything they can do? Feminists can do it better.