The night before she was set to run her very first marathon, Kiran Gandhi got her period. After a year of training, she refused to miss the momentous moment because of biology. She had two choices: She could either run the 26.2 miles with a tampon, or she could bleed freely.
She chose the latter.
Gandhi went without a tampon during the London Marathon in April in an effort to fight period-shaming and to take a stand for women around the globe who don’t have access to menstruation products or who have to “hide [their period] away like it doesn’t exist.”
She wrote about her experience in a Medium blog last month:
As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50% of us in the human population share monthly. By making it difficult to speak about, we don’t have language to express pain in the workplace, and we don’t acknowledge differences between women and men that must be recognized and established as acceptable norms. Because it is all kept quiet, women are socialized not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see it happening. And if you can’t see it, it’s probably “not a big deal.” Why is this an important issue? Because THIS is happening, right now.
Gandhi told Cosmopolitan she thinks the social constructs around periods are based on misogyny.
“I have this vision that if men had their period, because we are in a male-privileging society, that rules would be written into the workplace, rules would be written into the social fabric that enable men to take a moment when they need to or enable people to talk about their periods openly,” she said.
Two of the most important men in Gandhi’s life — her brother and father — were on the sidelines the day she ran the marathon. She was unsure how they would react to her statement, but when she reached them at the nine-mile mark, they only cared about hugging her and taking photos.
“When push comes to shove, all this cleaning that we do, all this shame that women feel, it doesn’t matter,” she told Cosmo. “They were my family, that’s their blood too. On a spiritual level, that’s amazing. That connects men and women in a very amazing way. Instead of men getting grossed out by it or women being grossed out by their own bodies, we should move away from that.”
Gandhi said she wanted to use the marathon to send a message to the world.
“If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want,” she wrote on her personal website. “Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose.”