I remember well when I happened to get a brief glimpse of menstruation a long time ago. It was around 1992, and I noticed a piece of toilet paper smeared with blood in a bathroom not long after my calligraphy lesson teacher used the bathroom. At that time, as a 9-year-old kid, I was not that curious about which orifice she bled from, and it was only after I had some sex education during my middle school years that I came to see that my calligraphy lesson teacher had just had menstruation at that time.
While taking me back to that interesting memory of my childhood years, South Korean documentary film “For Vagina’s Sake” enlightened me more on menstruation. As a biology major, I certainly know well about the biological aspects of menstruation, but, thorough its distinctive female perspective, the documentary showed me why it is still an issue which needs to be discussed more in public, and it surely reminded me that I still need to learn more for more understanding of female issues.
In the beginning, the documentary opens with a little humorous episode involved with director Kim Bo-ram and her Dutch friend. When she was going to give a gift to her Dutch friend, Kim looked for anything special, and then she came upon a really interesting stuff: a ‘menstruation pouch’ which was made by her dear grandmother. As looking at this practical object, Kim became interested in delving more into menstruation and items associated with it, and that was the start of her feministic exploration shown in the documentary.
Exploring further into her subject, Kim shows us the prevalent negative images of menstruation throughout the human history. During the ancient time, menstruation was viewed as something distinctively female but also quite unwholesome, and we come to learn that unfair view on menstruation existed in not only Western cultures but also Eastern cultures. While Christians during the middle age regarded menstruation as the symbol of the Original Sin committed by Eve, Chinese people around that time also had a very negative view on menstruation, and we see a couple of old Chinese illustrations showing women condemned to hell suffering in a pool full of menstrual blood they have ever bled during their lifetime
And we see how menstruation has still been regarded as something unnatural and unpleasant even during our modern era. A few years ago, some rude male student in South Korea posted a photography on the Internet, which shows a subway seat smeared a lot with menstrual blood. As that photography went viral, lots of people blamed and ridiculed that unknown girl who unfortunately happened to have menstruation at that time and hurriedly left the scene out of humiliation, and that certainly tells us a lot about the rather low gender sensitivity of the South Korean society.
Of course, there are tampon and other different means to take care of menstrual blood, and we get to know more about those useful items for women. If they are not that comfortable with tampon or menstrual pad, they can use menstrual cup instead, and there is an amusing part explaining a bit about this relatively unknown item. As some of you know, it can be conveniently inserted into vagina once it is appropriately folded, and it is a shame that an American woman who concocted this very useful item did not receive much attention despite her hard efforts for women’s health.
Mainly thanks to the Internet, women can share the knowledge on menstruation more easily than before, and that is exemplified well by a young British girl who became a minor YouTube celebrity thanks to her honest and informative video clips on many different kinds of commercial menstrual cups. As she admits at one point, she had a difficult time for a while when her schoolmates came to know about her online activity, but she kept going on as before, and you may come to admire her plucky spirit.
However, as shown later in the documentary, there are still lots of women with low income who often cannot easily buy menstrual items, and we observe some good efforts for solving that problem. In New York City, a legislation on the mandatory provision of tampons in public bathrooms was passed a few years ago, and that was surely a significant forward step for women’s welfare and rights. In South Korea, we see a minor party female candidate for parliament election emphasizing a lot on providing tampons to women for free in public, though she did not get many votes in the end.
As handling her subject with lots of care and attention, Kim sometimes shares her personal experiences and thoughts with us. While never drawing too much attention to herself, she always steps asides for other interviewees in the documentary, and the most heartfelt moment in the documentary comes from the scene where her grandmother has a conversation with Kim’s mother and aunts. As the camera closely observes them, we can sense the strong female/familial bond among them, and their frank conversation certainly accentuates the feministic message of the documentary.
Overall, “For Vagina’s Sake”, which I regrettably missed when it was released at South Korean theaters early in this year, is a small but admirable documentary which does its job as well as intended, and I appreciated Kim’s sensitive and thoughtful approach to her timely subject. There are still many things to be done for women’s welfare and rights, and I hope you will be more aware of that after watching this enlightening documentary.