Category Archives: Laurie and Debbie’s blog

Menstrual Stains: Transgressive Around the World

Kenyan senator Gloria Orwoba in a white suit and green blouse, with a very visible red stain at her crotch, and a briefcase slung over one arm

Laurie and Debbie say:

Carolyn Kimeu’s article in The Guardian, “Kenyan senator targeted by online threats after period poverty protest,” tells a story we might like to make out as a third-world cautionary tale. Senator Gloria Orwoba came to a Kenyan senate meeting wearing white pants with a fake menstrual stain very clearly visible at the crotch. After about half the meeting, she was asked to leave, and she has been “targeted by severe cyberbullying and threats of sexual violence” since that time.

Kenya has, of course, its own specific issues regarding menstruation. Menstrual products are not taxed, but they are too expensive for “more than half” of the women and girls in the country, and a 2017 law to make them free has been thwarted by insufficient budgets and corruption.

In 2019, a 14-year-old girl killed herself after a teacher reportedly shamed her when she stained her uniform on her first period. Stigma pushes many girls to skip school when menstruating.

So Senator Orwoba’s action is extremely relevant to her constituents.

Despite the Kenyan specifics, this is a global issue. It’s hard to imagine any country where a woman lawmaker could show up dressed like Senator Orwoba and not face severe consequences. Menstruation may be somewhat more acceptable to talk about than it used to be (at least in the U.S. and Europe). In the United States, the country we know best, showing it is completely out of the question. Women are both blamed and shamed a visible drop of blood shows anywhere around their crotch. In a country where some states forbid women legislators from wearing short sleeves, it’s far too easy to imagine what would happen to women intentionally wearing stained pants. Cyberbullying and online threats would be inevitable. Similar reactions are predictable in most of the world.

We salute Senator Orwoba for both her creativity and her courage. The article says she didn’t expect this incident to reach beyond the senate, but we hazard a guess that she knew exactly what she was doing, and how far it would travel (even if she underestimated the viciousness of the online response).

Menstrual products should not only be tax-free in the United States (a case where we are less enlightened than Kenya), and free to every woman and girl in the world who needs them. As activists who have devoted a great deal of work to making the invisible visible, we applaud the senator for such a stunningly visual action. We stand by her as she …

stands by her stunt, saying that to bring change, “it is important to dare to be shameless”. But being on the frontline of the backlash, she said, showed her that there is a lot more to be done to eradicate stigma.

“The biggest impact is that we got men talking about periods – and that breaks cultural barriers to some level,” she said. “Period shaming starts with the man and the boy, because they have been brought up to believe that if a woman happens to have a stain, it’s an appropriate response to laugh at, or castigate her – and then the woman has been taught that they need to go into hiding. That’s the unlearning that we need to do.”


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Rich Women’s Pregnancies, Spotlighted on TikTok

@amanda.steele24 pov: you bought *the* maternity dress (in my am@z0n) ???????????? #maternityfashion #pregnantootd #33weekspregant #youngmom #pregnancyfashion ♬ If We Ever Broke Up – Mae Stephens

Debbie says:

Kelsey Shelton’s article at Women’s Media Center, “How Young Influencers are Commodifying Pregnancy” is right on point … except that Shelton doesn’t say that influencers have been commodifying pregnancy since long before “influencer” was a word.

We live in capitalism, which commodifies everything: Sarah Lindig has an article at Marie Claire on maternity fashion history, going back several centuries and showing actual ads in newspapers and magazines as early as 1909.  Each generation uses the media of its time turn pregnancy into a profit source, along with parenting, children’s clothes, children’s toys, and and and ….  And by definition, turning something into a commodity means encouraging people to spend the most possible money, and thus shaming people who have less. Shelton almost certainly knows this, and I wish she had put it into her article.

With or without a historical context, her concerns are well-taken and well-expressed. And the concept of celebrity pregnancy centered for its own sake is probably mostly new to this century. After beginning the article with a list of pregnant influencers, few of whom are familiar to me, and says:

Their pregnancy announcements were usually followed by a photo shoot accentuating their swollen bellies and fun TikToks that document their pregnancies. Once their baby is born, followers can expect a photo dump on Instagram spotlighting the newborn or even an engagement or wedding announcement.

But the campaign doesn’t always end with the pregnancy. Several influencers made motherhood part of their brands by launching baby skin care lines in the case of Kylie Jenner, managing baby-centered TikTok accounts like Jenna Marie Greer’s, or creating a pregnancy-themed YouTube series….

She identifies these young affluent TikTok influencers as a trend, a substantial number of highly visible young women getting pregnant around or before age 25, and documenting their pregnancies in very slick and fashionable real time.

The prospect of pregnancy as a trend is concerning for a number of reasons. There’s the way influencers’ babies are seen in promotions and ads for their moms’ businesses, like props. There’s also the fact that these young women are having a very unique experience with motherhood thanks to their wealth. For example, in one pregnancy vlog in which Amanda “gets real” with her followers about becoming a mother, she says, “It just feels right, you know? In no way is this something I’m dealing with…This is something that I truly, like, am so so excited for.”

“Deal” is a distinct and deliberate verb choice; dealing with something requires handling, it requires coping, it requires strategy. If you’re rich, pregnancy might not be something you have to deal with. You can pay people to support you, you can afford the best doctors (you can afford health care in general), you can afford time off work.

Not to mention the post-pregnancy costs of the baby once they arrive.

I’m all in favor of women celebrating their pregnancies, though I hope they know that there are real risks of miscarriage, and death of baby and/or mother in childbirth, so I hope they are prepared for how to handle that with their avid TikTok followers.

Mostly, however, my concerns are Shelton’s concerns:

But I know one thing to be true: Influencers do have influence. There is certainly a relationship between social media consumption and eating disorders, for example. It saddens me that some girls might become pregnant despite their lack of resources and in spite of the abortion rights that are quickly fading away, because of these influencers.

And because they imagine themselves pregnant in fashionable outfits, twirling for large Internet audiences, building not just a family and a new life, but also perhaps a business, or a brand, or an imaginary life in which they won’t have to “deal” with the child who is the desired, delightful result of the pregnancy, because everything will be smooth and taken care of — just like it is for Amanda Steele and her ilk.


Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon .

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.