Don’t Cramp My Style: breaking the silence of period poverty
By Anuli Changa
Freya Slack, is the creator of Don’t Cramp My Style, a Manchester-based arts platform tackling the taboo of periods and the issues those who have periods face. Don’t Cramp My Style’s first event on the 22nd January was raising money The Red Box Charity, Manchester.
When asked about the beginnings of Don’t Cramp My Style, Freya told me about spotting a magazine a few years ago whilst on a train, the front cover featuring articles on period poverty. Freya explained that she had “never thought” of period poverty before and did not know it existed. Freya still has that magazine and has read it “again and again”.
Freya explained that she ruminated over the issues she’d learnt about around period poverty. As an artist, she felt a need to respond to the issue and go beyond words. At the time, as an Interactive Arts student at MMU, Freya just began embroidery and created art inspired by period poverty and breaking the taboo. This along with events such as the Bodyform advert ‘Blood Normal’ – which was the first to show ‘blood’ in the sanitary product advert (as opposed to the ‘traditional’ blue liquid) – accumulated in Freya’s interest in raising awareness for period poverty.
However, it wasn’t until recently, in her third year of her degree, that Freya confirmed that she wants to “go into inclusive education” and period poverty was the place to start.
“If we’re not teaching mental health then let’s start in public bathrooms” – and Freya is true to her word, putting booklets with information on periods in pockets on the back of toilet doors, opening the conversation up to discuss and support those who experience periods.
Freya explained that she didn’t intend her work to be political but her anger about the invisibility of period poverty ad efforts to change this meant it “did become political” and she has since embraced this.
Don’t Cramp My Style the event went from a single Facebook post, to 30 replies in a matter of minutes. Freya explained her practical incredulity at the reach of that single post, with it being shared to the point that performers/artists from beyond Manchester were in contact seeking to get involved. Freya explained that the multitude of responses “made [her] realise…there are no platforms” to tackle period poverty. Instagram comments and posts with #periodpoverty only goes so far, “a face to face platform is needed” for people to have conversations and express themselves.
Freya explained that the name, Don’t Cramp My Style, came from need for a fun name to sit alongside so many other great names for organisations in this area alone – like Bloody Good Period. I asked Freya why she felt art of all different kinds was the best medium to express these issues and break the stigmas around conversations about periods. Freya replied “when I think of art, I think of art therapy… art is its own language”, creating art of all forms is a kind of therapy to accept there are problems and begin to solve them.
Don’t Cramp My Style’s first event has already taken place and to great success. The event, held at The Peer Hat, includes beautiful artwork, “grotesque burlesque”, spoken word and more, raising £300 for Red Box to buy all manner of sanitary products, underwear and toiletries. I wanted to know what Freya envisioned for the event. She explained that she wanted a variety of different people and different perspectives because this is how we educate people. The goal of the show was the different pieces would speak to and connect with different people in different ways.
Freya was determined to be representative and diverse in the event. This included trans artists and a male performance about period sex, all helping to normalising how periods stand in society, such as in relationships. Freya’s simple comment: “If you date me, then you date my period”.
Freya has acknowledged that there is further to go with the next event; she particularly wants the next venue to be more accessible, opening up the conversation around periods and disability, as well as issues and infections caused by unmanaged periods in cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Speaking matter-of-factly, Freya recognised that “baby steps” are needed in this area. She identified the start being all those who qualify for free school meals, should receive free sanitary product, ultimately leading to free sanitary products as accessible as condoms are today.
This is clearly just the beginning of Don’t Cramp My Style and the work being done to bring period conversations out of the shadows.