Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
Nº5 2020 (2)
Women bleeds: relationships between the female body and menstrual blood on screen
Miriam Sánchez Manzano (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
Menstruation has been configured as an impurity symbol for the collective notion of our society. Roux (1990) establishes that the relationship between a woman’s body and her menstrual blood has been marked throughout history by a stigma; an endless number of prejudices that revolve around menstruation, which can found in multiple myths, many of them acquired by our culture. As Pedraza (1991) explains, the female body is a mystery to the human condition, since it is a body that loses blood but does not die. This conception has also been decisive for the creation of our images and their representations on screen.
At the beginning of this research, we found that the main audiovisual productions that refer to menstrual blood have followed two dichotomous ways –although both marked by the stigma of blood–: menstruation as a taboo and menstruation as a cause for horror. In the first place, images that portray it as taboo imply a censorship of blood, even though they treat menstruation as such. This kind of representation can be found in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s American television productions that tried to “educate” girls about menstruation, but without making any reference to blood; just like the commercials for sanitary pads, which show the product while stained by a blue liquid, avoiding any approach to the blood’s actual red color.
In the second place, we found images that conceive menstrual blood as a source of horror. As Creed (2002) explains, it is a vision of menstrual blood as something terrible and impure, supported by the concept of abjection theorized by Kristeva (1982). This fact is crucial for the cultural conception of what we understand as frightening. This notion has been key in horror films: in these movies, horror is linked to the vaginal blood of their protagonists, although menstruation is not always directly mentioned. An example could be found in Psychosis (Hitchcock, 1960) with the stabbing of its protagonist; in Carrie (De Palma, 1976) with menstrual blood; as well as in Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972) or La Pianiste (Haneke, 2001) with genital mutilation.
Fortunately, these two kinds of representation, despite being the most common within the cinematic imaginary, are not the only ones. Ever since the 1970s, feminist artists began to experiment with their own bodies through performance, claiming abjection as the main base for their creations and bringing their fluids and menstrual blood to the image’s forefront. As Mandel (2013: 11) expresses, these artists manage to establish in their works “a political action of resistance through their own body, allowing the ancestral taboo that weighs on women to be deconstructed, revised, made visible and questioned”. The bleeding liquid that makes up the stain is no longer a symbol of the female body’s impurity, but a sign of its internal and combative power.
Therefore, the final goal of this audiovisual essay is to establish a visual journey through menstrual blood on screen, proving how its three different kinds of representation –as a taboo, as a source of horror and as a feminist claim– have portrayed its relationship with the female body.
- Bodel, Chris (2010) New Blood. Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.
- Creed, Barbara (2002) “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine. An imaginary abjection”. In Mark Jancovich (ed.) Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge, 67-76.
- Kristeva, Julia (1982) Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Mandel, Claudia (2013) “Notas sobre la categoría de lo abyecto en las artes visuales contemporáneas”. Revista Exena 36, 72-73.
- Pedraza, Pilar (1991) La bella, enigma y pesadilla. Esfinge, Medusa y Pantera. Barcelona: Tusquets Editores.
- Roux, Jean-Paul (1990) La Sangre. Mitos, símbolos y realidades. Barcelona: Edicions 62.
How to cite this article: Sánchez Manzano, M. (2020) Sangradas: relaciones entre el cuerpo femenino y la sangre menstrual en pantalla / Women bleeds: relationships between the female body and menstrual blood on screen. Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 5(2). ISSN: 2659-4269