American-Apparel-Period-Power-Tee

BREAKING NEWS, LADIES: Your vag is still a disgusting, vile shame hole and your period IS THE GROSSEST.

This week, Toronto artist Petra Collins unveiled her Period Power Washed T-Shirt, a collaboration with American Apparel.

The white crew neck seen ’round the world features a line drawing of a woman, spread eagle, masturbating while menstruating. (She also has a healthy bush.)

Predictably, people are REPULSED by this because ew, gross, periods and pubes. “Has American Apparel Gone Too Far?” wondered the headlines. “OMG WTF GROSS” responded the commenters.

I dunno, guys — as far as images of bleeding vaginas go, this one is pretty tasteful. I mean, the menstrual blood everyone is freaking the fuck out about is MAGENTA. Maybe people would have been more comfortable with Collins’ image if she used a different colour, like the vague approximation of antifreeze that pad commercials use.

“I find it interesting the reactions I’m getting,” Collins told the Toronto Sun. “The most natural things and the biggest things that play the biggest roles in sexuality and reproduction are always hidden and looked at as disgusting. It saddens me, but I’m not surprised.”

I’m not surprised, either.

The world is just not ready for a crew neck featuring a bleeding vagina. Collins wanted to force people to confront their discomfort with female sexuality, so she created an intentionally provocative image — and provoke it has.

The image is only shocking because, in our culture, women’s genitals — especially hairy women’s genitals menstruating and experiencing pleasure — are something shameful, to be hidden from view.

The fact that this image could be worn emblazoned across someone’s chest in, holy shit, PUBLIC, broke people’s brains. (Some people are more comfortable believing we have a Barbie situation happening down there, I guess.)

It’s worth examining WHY society has such visceral reactions to both depictions of female sexuality that deviate from the hairless, sanitized, mainstream porn version and, in this particular case, depictions of the vagina as a menstruating reproductive organ.

Collins’ shirt has been called ‘disgusting’ and ‘vile’ — mostly because EW PERIODS ARE GROSS — which is more offensive to me than a particularly graphic graphic tee. Because what, really, is so disgusting and vile about periods and, by extension, vaginas?

We live in a culture in which the vagina is taboo and EW PERIODS ARE GROSS. Hell, newscasters can’t even SAY the word. Many women don’t even call their vulvas/labia/vaginas by their correct terms. No wonder we worry about smells and hair and fluids when they’re repeatedly called “vile” and “disgusting.”  No wonder we worry about the size, shape and colour or our labia; some women even undergo labiaplasty — a horrible cosmetic procedure that exists — to “fix” them.  (Thanks, mainstream porn!)

Meanwhile, our society views periods (EW, GROSS) as embarrassing and repulsive; pads and tampons must be concealed like weapons. NEVER LET THEM KNOW YOU BLEED.

To be a woman is to constantly apologize for being human.

Collins’ image is interesting because it depicts the vagina as both a sexual pleasure giver/receiver AND a reproductive organ, two things that, weirdly, are often separated from each other because periods have no place in the bedroom, apparently. (EW, GROSS.) It’s much easier to sexualize perfect pink porn pussies if we assume they never bleed. (Or have hair).

That Collins is opening up a dialogue about female sexuality and our societal discomfort with vaginas and menstruation means she’s done her job as an artist. She isn’t shocking for shock’s sake; she’s sparking a vital discussion.

Also, the thing about T-shirts is, you don’t have to wear or buy them — although personally, I think the T-shirt is a GENIUS medium for this particular statement.

Think about it: T-shirts are iconic, everyperson items of clothing that, in our culture, often serve as easy shorthand for communicating to the world who we are by promoting the bands we listen to, the places we’ve been, the TV shows we watch, the politics we subscribe to, etc.

Even a plain black T-shirt says a lot about your character. That goes a long way in underlining Collins’ artistic statement, which is still effective — even if the shirt itself is never actually worn.

For those interested in actually wearing it, the shirt WAS retailing online at americanapparel.com for $32 — but it’s either sold out or has been pulled because I can’t find it online (any eagle-eyed readers have the scoop?)

Fifty per cent of the proceeds from this shirt and the two others in the capsule collection go directly to The Ardorous an online platform for female artists curated by Collins that features some rad, provocative and hilarious feminist works, such as There Will Be Blood, which features women doing everyday things while riding the crimson tide. (I do wish The Ardorous was more diverse; it’s blindingly white up in there.)

My big criticism of the shirt, meanwhile, is its affiliation with American Apparel, with which Collins has had a longstanding working relationship and which doesn’t have the most awesome track record with the ladies.

I hope AA doesn’t think that selling a Period Power T-shirt somehow atones for its gross, porny, exploitative photography, or for its CEO, Dov Charney who has been repeatedly accused of sexually assaulting his employees/models.

BECAUSE IT DOESN’T.