Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture and the Politics of Gender may have crossed your path as The Moon Inside You (its original title prior to 2010 its current distribution through Media Education Foundation). It is a film that has enjoyed wide release, with exhibition on French television and inclusion in an EU showcase of films that circulated last year. The broad exhibition strategy of Red Moon is fitting; it has a casual, heartfelt and humorous style that should appeal to many.
The purpose of Red Moon, as articulated by the filmmaker Diana Fabianova in voice over, is to answer this question: “At any given time, 25% of the female population is menstruating. Invisible. Discreet. Why is this normal, biological function taboo? There must be some deeper meaning.” There are problems with this statistical framing device – 25% is an over inflated number that eliminates girls and post-menopausal women as “females”. It also glosses over females that do not menstruate because of gender transformations and amenorrhea. Outside of this statistical malfunction, there are a few other facts provided through voice over which are not supported by specific research or attributed directly to any menstrual researchers. However, beyond these slights, Red Moon has great potential to make a taboo subject approachable.
As it begins with man-on-the-street interviews, the film seems to have interest in addressing men as equally as women. Through interviews with researchers who have written about menstruation in the 80’s and 90’s, the film attends to menstrual taboo historically and highlights menstrual suppression as an issue to address within patriarchy. There is a fantastically creepy interview with Elsimar Couthino, famous for inventing Depo Provera, Norplant and for writing Is Menstruation Obsolete (the book that launched millions of suppressed periods.) In his interview Couthino believes that women should have no more than one period in her lifetime and he likens menstruation to pending death: “First of all, menstruation is incompatible with life and nature, because an animal cannot survive bleeding longer than a few minutes in the forest. Blood, the smell of blood (he sniffs) attracts the predators. This one is bleeding. She is going to die.” Fabianova comically cuts to a hooting owl, waiting for your blood.
Fabianova is critical of pill-popping mentality and finds it better to challenge the negative view of menstruation, and silence around it, rather than do away with the period altogether. While she provides some examples of solutions to painful PMS (a belly dancing class delights, for example) the film does not directly address dysmenorrhea and severe menstrual challenges which have become justification for suppression in the first place. It does however, remind menstruators on hormonal birth control that the blood you see is a fake-period.
In fellow Re:Cycling blogger Chris Bobel’s recently released book New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, she focuses on the type of menstrual activist stylings akin to Red Moon. In short, feminist spiritualism, according to Bobel, is a narrowly focused mode of menstrual positivism that essentializes the idea of womanhood through menstruation. The movement typically appeals to middle class white women and identifies menstrual change through the self. In feminist spiritualism, political action is limited to the individual menstruator or to the girls the menstruator is encouraged to educate. Red Moon treads in this territory throughout as interviewees speak to menstrual energy, the preciousness of menstruation, and the spiritualism in bleeding. The film ends with this logic as a nude woman walks through city streets, dropping red blobs that spring new trees to life through CGI effects. In voice over we hear about the filmmaker’s changed subject position: “I no longer fight with my hormonal clock, because it is she that reminds me once a month that I have a personal, intimate connection to nature and the universe.” It’s too bad the film narrows its final message to the individual, rather than reflecting on some of the broader work done throughout, like connecting negative menstrual associations to patriarchy, and demonstrating how certain menstrual practices harm the environment and our wallets. Overall, Red Moon is a conversation starter that requires additional reading to supplement its message.