It is January; a new year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bodies, and relationships with one’s own body. And I have a lot of questions.
For example, how often do men see their own blood? When a man bleeds, it isn’t natural. Something else had to pierce his skin and cause him to bleed. An object violated his epidermis and tissue, drawing the blood to the surface. Force. Violence. Yet, for women, it is the key signifier of womanhood to bleed according to the body’s own natural processes. Our lives are sometimes dictated by this cyclical visitor. Irregular bleeding can be an indicator of dis-order in the body. When women speak of blood, we talk about hue, consistency, viscidity, duration, frequency. We bleed for decades.
But the blood seen in film, television, and relayed through novels and memoirs is almost always that which was drawn out by force. Men’s blood is glorified, while women’s blood is merely a means to an end, or a nuisance. The closest thing to a public rendering of menstruation comes in the form of tampon ads, when the tampon is immersed in clear water. When a woman no longer bleeds, she no longer has the capacity for new life. Is she still fully a woman?
If men’s blood is the stuff of legends, what do we make of women’s blood? “Menses” simply means month. Monthly blood. So ordinary. Men’s blood depletes life when it flows. Women’s blood is the signifier of life and, as such, must flow, every month. Which is not to say that women’s blood does not also take its toll. There is a cost: loss of energy, hormonal shifts, vulnerability. For some women, the cost is much greater, and difficult decisions need to be made. But most of us are left to make peace with the fact that our bodies function like a tidal gate, containing and releasing blood with the phases of the moon.
So then, what do we make of the hypermasculinity portrayed in film, television and narrated daily, weekly–sometimes in sermons–that communicates a semiotics of ‘endurance’ through pain, sweat, and blood? Is this truly feeling alive, as many would call it? Is blood taken by force always more significant, more heroic, than that which flows through women regularly? In light of normalized sexual assault and “domestic” abuse, whose blood, sweat, and tears will we continue to valorize?
At the center of the Christian salvation history is the blood of Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew; conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, buried, and resurrected. His blood flowed under a crown of thorns, and from a spear that pierced his side. We remember his blood with every Eucharist, and every Good Friday. Like men’s blood, it was drawn out by force. Like women’s blood, it is the ultimate source of new life and new birth. How we render the passion of Jesus Christ informs our narratives on suffering, abuse, and the non/necessity of shedding blood.
The blood of Jesus is a witness to the cost of corrupt power and fear of those who desire to maintain such power. Suffering is neither necessary nor good when inflicted by another person(s) who wield power through violence. Women, especially, are not offering themselves up to be crucified with Christ simply by existing. The suffering of Jesus was at the hands of political and religious collusion. God turned death on its head, and used his particular suffering for redemption, healing, salvation. To remember his blood is to remember that humanity spills blood to deplete life, while God pours out new life with every menses. And let us not forget, the blood of Mary flows there, too, as she witnesses the death of her firstborn child.