Halfway through her (ahem) bloody brilliant show about periods, Chella Quint drops an amazing fact that makes the audience gasp. In E. Nesbit’s classic Victorian story The Railway Children, a group of kids alert a train driver to stop by taking off their red flannel petticoats and waving them in the air. The reason they were red, says Quint, is to absorb and disguise the blood from their periods, which were allowed to run freely down their legs.
It’s not the only fascinating fact we learn. For example, it’s a myth that bears and sharks are more likely to attack menstruating women. And touching mayonnaise, tomato sauce or milk while you’ve got the painters in - depending on whether you live in France, Italy or India - won’t lead to culinary disaster. But it is true that Victorian doctors believed that female behaviour was affected by the womb travelling around the body, hence the term ‘hysteria’ from the Greek word hyster, meaning uterus. (Although the idea that the treatment for this condition was stimulation to orgasm with impressively-designed mechanical vibrators is actually a bit of a myth).
Delving through advertising archives dating back to the 1920s, Quint explores the creation of modern myths about menstruation. We can thank the Mad Men of ad-land for the idea that periods are shameful, embarrassing and unhygienic. In her role as an educator, Chella was shocked to discover that many teenagers think that periods are blue, rather than blood red, after years of advertising blue-washing. We’ll all be familiar with blue liquid poured coyly on to pads, sky blue branding and ‘discrete’ floral packaging abound. It wasn’t until 2011 that a sanitary product ad even featured a delicate spot of stylised red, and we had to wait until this year to see real (non-menstrual) blood in a commercial.
I’m not sure every woman is quite ready to wear the red, blobby Stains™ badges and jewellery that Quint has designed (aka ‘leak chic’) aiming to turn embarrassment into a badge of honour. But as she says, periods can be private but they don’t have to be secret. We bloody well need to talk about them. (KA)
Adventures in Menstruating is on at 18:40 in the Banshee Labyrinth on 13th-15th, 17th-22nd and 24th-28th August Audio Description, BSL, Relaxed Performance -

Period Positive website:

Stains™ Leak Chic:

BBC Radio 4 documentary, A Bleeding Shame:

'How I made the first feminine hygiene ad ever to feature blood':

New Bodyform period ad uses actual blood and it’s amazing:

No, no, no! The Victorians didn’t invent the vibrator: