The Menstrual Cycle in Art and Literature: How Periods Shape Creative Expression

The menstrual cycle, a vital part of the female experience, has long been considered a taboo in various societies. However, over time, brave artists and authors have challenged these norms, using their creative platforms to depict, discuss, and demystify menstruation. This article explores how the menstrual cycle has influenced art and literature throughout the centuries, and how it continues to shape contemporary creative expression.

Discover the fascinating influence of the menstrual cycle on art and literature throughout history. Understand how periods shape creative expression, empowering artists and authors to challenge taboos and celebrate the female experience.

The Historical Perspective: Menstruation in Early Art and Literature

Early instances of menstrual representation can be found across cultures, but the interpretations have varied greatly. From being seen as a symbol of fertility and strength to being perceived as impurity, menstruation has been a subject of intrigue and often controversy.

Biblical References

In biblical texts, menstruation is often associated with impurity. For example, Leviticus 15:19–30 outlines specific rules for women on their period, indicating that they were considered unclean during this time [source].

Ancient Art

In ancient art, menstruation has been symbolically represented in various forms. For instance, the Venus of Laussel, a Paleolithic figurine found in France, holds a bison horn that has 13 notches, interpreted by some as a reference to the lunar and menstrual cycles [source].

Menstruation in Modern Art and Literature

In the modern era, artists and authors have explored menstruation more openly, addressing both its physical and emotional aspects. This shift has played a significant role in reducing the stigma associated with periods and opening up dialogue about women’s health.

Visual Arts

Several visual artists have incorporated menstruation into their work. For instance, Judy Chicago’s “Red Flag” (1971) graphically depicts a woman removing a bloody tampon, marking one of the first times menstruation was explicitly shown in visual art [source].

Literature

Modern literature has also embraced the menstrual cycle. In Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, experiences her period as a metaphor for her depression and societal oppression [source]. Meanwhile, in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” Judy Blume addresses menstruation as a milestone in a young girl’s life, treating it with sensitivity and normalcy [source].

Menstruation in Contemporary Art and Literature

As we move into the 21st century, the discourse around menstruation in art and literature has become even more significant. The topic is no longer just acknowledged but celebrated, fostering inclusivity and raising awareness about period poverty.

Feminist Art

In recent years, feminist artists have used menstruation as a powerful symbol of female experience. Artists like Rupi Kaur, in her photo series on Instagram, used the imagery of menstrual blood to confront societal taboos and provoke conversation.

Inclusive Narratives

The conversation around menstruation has also expanded to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary individuals. For example, the graphic novel “Manfried the Man” by Caitlin Major portrays a world where men experience menstruation, challenging gender norms and stereotypes.

“In our society, periods are still something that gets brushed under the carpet. That’s ridiculous.” – Rupi Kaur


The depiction of the menstrual cycle in art and literature is a powerful medium to normalize and celebrate a natural biological process that has been stigmatized for too long. As we continue to push the boundaries of creative expression, we can look forward to a future where periods are no longer a taboo, but an accepted and celebrated aspect of human life.

Art and literature have the power to shape society and bring about change. The more we openly discuss and depict menstruation in these mediums, the more we can contribute to dismantling harmful stereotypes and promoting a healthier, more inclusive understanding of the female experience.

Q1: How has menstruation been depicted in ancient art and literature?

A: In ancient art, menstruation has been symbolically represented in various forms. The Venus of Laussel, a Paleolithic figurine found in France, holds a bison horn that has 13 notches, interpreted by some as a reference to the lunar and menstrual cycles. In biblical texts, menstruation is often associated with impurity.

Q2: Can you give examples of menstruation being addressed in modern literature?

A: Yes, in Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” menstruation is used metaphorically, reflecting the protagonist’s depression and societal oppression. Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” addresses menstruation as a milestone in a young girl’s life, treating it with sensitivity and normalcy.

Q3: How has feminist art contributed to the discussion around menstruation?

A: Feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Rupi Kaur have used menstruation as a powerful symbol of the female experience. Their work has helped confront societal taboos, provoke conversation, and normalize this natural biological process.

Q4: How does contemporary literature approach the topic of menstruation?

A: Contemporary literature has started addressing menstruation in a more open, inclusive way. It’s not only about acknowledging menstruation but celebrating it, fostering inclusivity, and raising awareness about period poverty. Also, works like “Manfried the Man” by Caitlin Major expand the conversation to include trans and non-binary individuals.

Q5: How can art and literature help dismantle the stigma associated with menstruation?

A: Art and literature, by depicting and discussing menstruation openly, play a vital role in normalizing this natural process. They can challenge harmful stereotypes and promote a healthier, more inclusive understanding of the female experience, thus reducing stigma.


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