As you are probably aware, women bleed for an extended period once a month through their feminine areas. While that may sound gross, director Kim Bo-ram is here to explain that actually menstruation is pretty normal. It's just not something people like to talk about much, because bleeding is seen as dirty. Well no, bleeding is dirty. Any kind of bleeding is inherently dirty. Which is why the premise of "For Vagina's Sake" as a documentary frequently confused me.
The inherently icky nature of menstrual blood is referenced from the first scene. "For Vagina's Sake" opens with a narrated story that ends with a very confused Dutch traveler receiving a traditional menstrual cloth from an elderly Korean woman. This segues well into an animated sequence depicting how woman from ancient times to the modern day all over the world had to find different ways to cope with menstruation.
But this history lesson also gives the impression that a lot of these cleanliness taboos are a matter of cleanliness conventions than actual misogyny. Donald Trump's infamous quote of blood coming out of her whatever does factor in here, mostly as a matter of obligation. Yet there's no real evidence presented that any kind of active or even passive effort has been made to stigmatize the idea of menstrual blood.
The women we see are uncomfortable discussing the matter, and the men even more so, such that the whole issue is a matter of choice. I don't think it's a coincidence that the main outspoken women we see on the subject tend to communicate via YouTube videos. It's easier to talk about icky stuff when you don't actually have to look at the person you're talking to, and everyone has weirdly personal phobias when it comes to personal hygiene.
Take the extended explanation of menstrual cups. I'd use a menstrual cup, if I were a woman, but I can see how plenty of women would balk at the idea of a sanitary device that is intended to be washed and then used again. Sure it's economical, but in a capitalist system that incentivizes the production of cheap single use products, it's little surprise that menstrual cups have failed to make much of an impact.
Other portions of the documentary that depict access to tampons as a human right accidentally underscore this. Tampons are likened to toilet paper as an object woman should be able to access easily wherever they go without needing to enter into a financial transaction. While I found the political debate in the United States over free tampons in government buildings to be informative, this was more in the sense of socialism than feminism.
Another section detailing the role high tampon prices in South Korea likely played in the 2016 parliamentary election is also noteworthy. But again, this is mainly in the sense of how lack of access to essential necessities can foster discontent with an incumbent government. Incidentally, much like this review, "For Vagina's Sake" changes topic at random and ends without having made a clear argument. So be forewarned.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "For Vagina's Sake""
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