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Music by VICE

Tacocat, Tumblr Feminism, and the Culture of Freebleeding Periods

The palindrome-loving band's new period-positive song may have tapped into one of the internet's weirdest feminist phenomena.

by Sophie Weiner
Jan 27 2014, 5:50pm

A few days ago, the palindrome-loving band TacocaT dropped a new single from their upcoming album. In the past, the Seattle-based four-piece has dealt with subject matter as diverse as psychic cats and Volcano vaporizers, but this one hit even closer to home: it's about periods. “Crimson Wave,” as the song is titled, deals with something at least half of the population experiences first hand, but which few musicians have dared touch. It's an astonishingly catchy surf rock number that laments waking up to discover it's that time of the month, and instead of moping around popping Motrin, heading to the beach to “surf that crimson wave” wishing for “white wine and Vicodin” while turning up The Cramps on your stereo.

But the song's aggressive cheeriness shouldn't come as a surprise—TacocaT are all about fun. Their music feels like jumping up and down on a hotel bed with your best friend. They're more Le Tigre than Bikini Kill, spreading their feminist messages through songs that don't feel too weighed down with politics. They've sung about wearing a leotard to avoid going to second base, a topic that clearly has implications for the ethics of consent and the pressure women face in sexual situations, but the song treats those issues with a lightness that might appeal to those who would turn away from something too explicitly ideological.

And that's the appeal of TacocaT's music—it's funny but still serious. It's something I would have been into as a teenage girl who loved Ghost World but wasn't quite ready for Judith Butler. “In my experience, making jokes about that kind of stupid stuff has made people check themselves more than when people yell at them about it,” Emily Nokes, the band's lead singer, told Rookie. And in the hyper-serious world of internet feminism, their attitude is a welcome relief.

If TacocaT's blissed out feminine style feels familiar, it should. It's the one you've seen reblogged a thousand times: it's Lisa Frank, it's Grimes fan art, it's screencaps of Clueless. They've got the Tumblr teen aesthetic down to a tee without it feeling co-opted or contrived. If you see them live, it's hard to believe they aren't teenagers themselves—the way they perform is so genuinely exuberant and sincere. It is worth noting that Tumblr is a hotbed of feminist and social justice advocates as well as pastel-haired teens, and these communities do overlap. As TacocaT's new album is winkingly titled NVM, their influences and intentions seem to be intertwined. Why shouldn't they be the Nirvana of the soft grunge generation?

The song reminded me of another phenomenon that dripped down my Tumblr dashboard one day. I didn't quite believe it at first, but there's something called “freebleeding,” which has caught on in some teen feminist circles. It's pretty much exactly as it sounds: imagine if when you got your period you just did... nothing. Cut to a photo of a girl with pink hair and a septum piercing, wearing a smiley face t-shirt and holding a skate board, with blood smeared between her legs. Gross? Sure. Subversive? Maybe. Funny? I thought so.

There seems to be a lot of disagreement online about whether freebleeding is cool, disgusting, or even real, but the virality of it and other period-centric culture of late seems to indicate a shift towards young girls embracing aspects of their femininity as rebellious signifiers that once were beyond taboo. You can look to Molly Soda, who regularly displays her armpit hair (along with her breasts) online to thousands to reblogs, or to Petra Collins, who caused a small frenzy a few months ago with her menstruating vagina t-shirt for American Apparel. “We’re so shocked and appalled [by] something that’s such a natural state—and it’s funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently,” Collins told VICE. This is the kind of stuff you'd think we would have figured out in the 70s, but it turns out centuries old gender roles aren't so easily broken. People are still very upset by women talking openly about the things that occur naturally in our bodies. We are still taught from a young age that to be acceptable, we need to contort ourselves into an unnatural state, one that is both painful and expensive. And people still get grossed out by periods. In our post-Jackass, post-4chan world , anything that can elicit such intense rage is pretty impressive, especially if it's a basic biological fact for most humans. It makes a pop song about menstrual cramps seems sort of radical.

In an interview with Hyperallergic, the artist and writer Kate Durbin said she thinks using the internet can “teach us better ways to be our fully integrated selves IRL.” We're far enough into this cultural moment to say with certainty that the “teenage girl” is nothing to laugh at. But there are enough girls (and marginalized people of all genders) in the world who know how bad a bad period, or any other “shameful” bodily event, can be that we should be able to talk about it, laugh about it, sing along to it. And as feminists, we shouldn't have to sacrifice having fun to be taken seriously. So at least for a moment, let's stop worrying, put TacocaT on repeat, and keep riding that wave.

Sophie Weiner just realized she spends too much time on Tumblr. Follow her on Twitter - @sophcw