Last year, Twitter user @cutequeer96 asked a simple question: “What if men were as disgusted with rape as they are by periods”? The viral tweet has gone on to inspire a global conversation about rape culture and attitudes about women. In Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany, it’s also inspired a pretty disgusting project: maxi pad protest art. Totally obsessed with her vagina like most feminists, German artist Elonë recently posted menstrual pads with feminist messages all over her hometown of Karlsruhe in western Germany in an effort to raise awareness of issues such as rape culture and victim blaming.  The sanitary towels were repeating @cutequeer96’s message and other statements like “rapists rape people not outfits”, “my pussy my choice” and “my name is not baby”.
She posted pictures of the pads to her Instagram and Tumblr accounts on Sunday, which was also International Women’s Day.  Elonë’s message has spread across the world since her original images exploded online. She has already attracted the attention of thousands of supporters and critics alike from around the world, including people who want to apply her project in their own cities as well. Some of her most popular photos with the pads have been shared thousands of times.  There’s been a huge response on Tumblr, where people have headed to either give her a lot of shit or show her support.  “There were some haters that called me manhating or something, but I’m not!” she tells Dazed. “Feminism means equality for me! I’m not reading everything [online] because I didn’t do this for fame or stuff, I just did it to provoke and make [people] aware that sexism is a daily problem!”  She says that she’s stuck up 40 maxi pads in total around her city, but she is thinking of expanding the project. “I will take it a bit secretly,” she declares, “the only thing I can say is that I will do it, maybe abroad… And I want everyone to do this if she or he wants to do it!”  All you have to do to take part is upload your image and tag it #padsagainstsexism. Her work has been criticised and praised in equal measure: there are some who say she’s blazing a trail for a good cause, others claim she’s wasting valuable tampons and should be giving them to homeless women instead. Fair enough, but weird too – she can do both. If marrying menstruation and rape takes audiences out of their comfort zone, isn’t that the definition of a successful art project?
Elonë isn’t the first women to use menstruation for art. Tracy Emin once displayed a jar of used tampons next to a pregnancy test for a piece called “The History Of Painting Part 1”. Chilean artist Carina Ubeda saved five years worth of menstrual blood and displayed the blood in a 2013 exhibition called Cloths. A visitor to Ubeda’s exhibition made this poignant remark: “Male blood is celebrated for being brave, while ours is a shame.”  And while the initiative has drawn plenty of positive feedback, it has also attracted some anger that she confronted directly on her Tumblr. One user said, “Why did you waste pads to spread a disgusting feminist stereotype instead of doing something useful with them like donating them to homeless women who they would actually help?” To that Elonë responded, “Yes please teach me how to donate. Feminism isn’t disgusting.”  Meanwhile, she’s encouraging others to carry out similar projects and tag her so that she can see them.