In 2017, pink pussy hats became a divisive piece of protest apparel at Women’s Marches around the world. GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times, with its pink-toned cover and bold alliterative title, captures the same outspoken energy and political zeal as hatted protestors unabashedly chanting for bodily autonomy. But its contents delve far deeper than knitted hats ever could.
Within its 366 pages, more than 100 women and non-binary writers offer insight into periods and all the emotions, products, labels, misfortunes, and blessings that come with them. These insights take the form of short stories, poems, personal essays, comics, and more.
As the term “manifestos” suggests, many of these pieces have a distinctly political tone or act as a call for change, whether it be in attitude or actions. For example, “Hysteria” by Nikki Reimer begins, “This is the story of how it took me twenty-five years to be diagnosed with endometriosis,” immediately drawing attention to the shortcomings of women’s healthcare.
Similarly, Nathalie Foy’s “When Shark Week Becomes Shark Season” discusses the health implications of societal and self-imposed pressures to be an exceptional care-giver and worker.
In “Losing My Tradition,” Yvette Nolan calls out exclusionary religious practices, while “Life Givers” by Roxanne Shuttleworth and “moontime” by Rosanna Deerchild discuss Christianity’s impact on perceptions of similar practices and lament colonial erasure of traditional customs.
And in Chandra Mayor’s “When My Boyfriend Gets His Period,” images of the ordinary workings of a loving relationship challenge gender binaries and remind us to include trans and genderqueer communities in these discussions.
But do not let the political leanings of GUSH skew you into thinking it boring or self-righteous. These works are full of vulnerability and contain a full range of emotions. They’re also just (pardon the pun) bloody entertaining—there’s a story about dude bros designing pads that accidentally give women and girls the power to summon demons, for Chrissakes!
Together, these works form a collection that demonstrates—to paraphrase JoAnn Dionne’s “The Accident”—that blood connects us all. Yet, GUSH also illustrates that there is no one true universal menstruation experience. Periods are as varied as the euphemisms for them (and as Catherine Graham’s “It Begins When You’re Not Looking, Stops When You Are” can attest, there are many).
It is precisely by giving space to so many different views and experiences that editors Rosanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon, and Tanis MacDonald succeed in positioning this book as a catalyst for further discussion. By providing space for this diverse group of voices, GUSH gives us permission to recount our bloody accidents, discuss our health issues, and discard our memories of embarrassment and shame.
Instead of hiding maxi pads in socks, as Ingrid Littman Tia recalls doing as a young bleeder in “Horror on the Basketball Court,” GUSH invites us to discard our sanitary product hiding spots and let go of the baggage that comes with menstruation. The result is an anthology that is political, cathartic, and a whole lot more fun than actually being on your period.
Emily Stewart is a wanna-be everything and an actual freelance writer and editor. She currently writes about book news for Women Write About Comics, acts as a digital content coordinator and publishing assistant for Common Deer Press, and volunteers with Editors Canada. When not at a keyboard, she’s usually reading CanLit, YA, or SFF, trying to be artistic, or daydreaming about travel. Find her online at emilystewart.ca or on Twitter @emstewart041.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.