Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Violence, discussion of the meat of bodies.
Barbara Gordon is frozen and terrified to the point of tears by the man touching her. He points at her mouth, and he points a gun at her crotch. The mouth and the vagina have a long history of suggestive parallel; oral sex is called sex, but “manual sex”… isn’t. There is a red “smile” drawn on her face; it has dribbles, it looks like blood.
I look at this picture and I think, “bloodied vagina.” Not a bloody vagina, or her bloody vagina, or specifically mine, or anyone’s. Just the concept of “vagina with blood in it,” that I have become accustomed and attuned to as a regularly menstrual adult. It is a deep and organic familiarity and it links my body, my embodiment as a living human, with hers, and with her circumstances: held by a hostile man, appalled. He’s pointing at her mouth and her vagina and he’s violent and he’s wiped blood on her.
A lot of people think that menstruation is gross. A lot of those people are men, and most of those are men who have never had a vagina and have never had a period. Set aside the concept of patriarchy because I know some of you out there struggle with it, and let’s just concentrate on the fact that comic book shops as a cultural force tend towards the masculinised. Holding, or looking at, this comic in a comic shop, where the other patrons are all or mostly men, forced aware of bloody vaginas and traumatic masculine trespass…
A girl like me feels a bit ill. She feels raw. She’s hyper-aware of her immediate safety relying on the comfortable graces of the men around her. She does not forget the fact that people who are repulsed often become violent, and that masculinity trains boys to accept violence as a part of their toolkit. Do they realise that this cover speaks of bloodied vaginas? What if they do. What will they do? She feels very, very wrong. She can’t forget she has a vagina, and that other people are inclined to treat vaginas cruelly and devalue her entire personage on the basis of the weakness of pussy, and if she’s currently menstruating she can feel her heart beat, thinking god, god, please don’t let it somehow show. “Please don’t let this be the time that the nightmare turns out to be real and I get visible leakage.”
When you menstruate, there’s increased sensitivity in your lower abdomen. Blood is coming out of your womb and eventually your vagina, and you’re aware of that in a “well, that’s factually happening and I’ve got to keep a handle on it” abstract sense and also sometimes in a very immediate, I just felt something come out of my vagina sense. Maybe it’s the blood itself, as nature takes its course, or maybe it’s a tampon or a menstrual cup that you’re actively removing. During a period there’s increased digital interaction with your genitals; you have to remove whatever’s catching the blood, and/or you have to wash the blood away. Blood gets around. The aim is not to let it show. “Don’t allow yourself to wear your shameful/private/designated disgusting biological status like a target.”
When you’re having your period, hormones are telling your womb, expel, expel, and your womb hears them but so does the rest of you. A lot of people feel sick. A lot of people are sick, they vomit, because of their period. You probably have to defecate more regularly. Your period does not treat you well; your period is not even technically “for you.” Not everybody gets pain, but most people do. A lot of us are lucky enough to have mild aches occasionally but some of us, some of us regularly, get bastard knife stabs and writhing heated hellpains, and these unlucky people vomit too, because of the pain. The vagina may feel more present, it may feel tight or hot and it might be more aroused and sexual than usual. A lot of people really want to have sex, when they have blood coming through their vaginas because of menstruation. They would like their partners to tenderly engage with their vaginas, intimately, while their vaginas are making their presence so known. Does the dominant narrative around menstruation suggest that a sexual, menstruating body is a viable thing to have? Sex is quite relevant to the way menstruation is discussed. Rape imagery is not sex.
A girl like me hasn’t been raped, and — thank everything — she hasn’t known vaginal trauma following forced entry by a penis or a foreign object. She doesn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder. She has no memory of extreme personal invasion to be shoved back into. She just sees a young woman with blood on her face, being held by a man, who’s threatening her holes.
She just looks at a girl who’s looking at her and crying.
She sees her peer, her mirror, her sister, say:
“please help me–“
She can’t do anything. She leaves Barbara, because her own vagina feels present and threatened and there’s nothing she can do. Just a picture, innit? Precious art; more important than you.
That’s a seriously bad trip, DC. That’s not worth retweeting your critics, Rafael Alberquerque. That’s not worth trolling me over when I tweet dissent, pissbabies.
That’s a bad cover. And a cruel decision to print it.