Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Are We Stalled?

May 14th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

What is worse? A problem unnamed or a problem named and denied as our own?

In a recent class discussion, a (white) student shared that she while she was in high school (a racially diverse high school, she explained), “everybody got along and racism was not a problem.” But now, since taking my class, she sees there IS racism around her.

The denial of racism in our own lives. This denial, like so many others, is certainly not uncommon, especially among those protected by some measure of privilege. Sometimes our denial is less passive (I didn’t know better); sometimes it is more active (I sure do know, but the knowing is painful and expects me to DO SOMETHING and I rather not, thank you very much).

This reminds me of the responses I typically hear from my students when we discuss menstrual shame. When I show commercials like the one below, they tell me they are NOT ashamed of their periods. They talk openly about their cycles. This menstrual taboo I speak of—old school. When I probe and ask if they carry their menstrual products around in the open, then, they tell me, “No…that’s just not something you do.”

 

A student denies racism in her high school, but sees it OUT THERE. Young women deny menstrual shame while concealing their tampons. These contradictions vex me. What gives?

I think we are in the midst of what sociologist Arlie Hochshild calls a ‘stalled revolution.’

Hochschild uses this concept to explain how the feminist movement helped women pursue careers but stalled before it (and by it, I mean WE) succeeded in dramatically altering the gendered division of household labor. I think the concept applies here, too.

We see racism but NOT HERE, not involving ME.  We follow the rules of concealment even while we deny that we are embarrassed. I am not ashamed; other people are. We can name the problem, but we cannot, will not, claim it for ourselves. That’s where the engine cuts out. That’s where we are stalled.

We live in a culture where racism is DISCUSSED, at least. Look at the tremendous response to the murder of Travyon Martin for a recent example. And we ARE  talking more about periods and about our bodies; the very fact that Kotex launched its ’break the cycle’ campaign in 2010 is fair evidence that the menstrual discourse IS enlarging. But forgive me if I am not jumping up and down with glee. After all, there’s more talk about EVERYTHING now. We have more ways, more means, more access to express and connect, instantaneously.  Some might argue we talk too much; we tweet and post and text before we think. Sometimes talk is just…talk.

Are talking toward change? Or we just talking, talking, talking about other people’s racism, other people’s shame.

What will it take to re-start our engines and both name and CLAIM the problems for ourselves?

 

  

17 Responses to “Are We Stalled?”

  1. ST says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. Connecting the issues and examining various aspects of personal, communal, and political life is really valuable.

    I guess the way I try to avoid the stalling engine is to ride a bicycle, literally and theoretically. Sometimes, going slow and steady powered by ourselves rather than external energy sources, means that we may go further in the long run, more sustainably. And we have the chance to experience the process of personal, communal, political and societal change deeply (a bit more in focus with time to digest the sites and changes).

    Let’s keep pedaling!

  2. Chris Bobel says:

    I like the bike metaphor, ST. Well said!

  3. Emily says:

    One point that I would be really interested for you to cover:
    I am not ashamed of my cycle.

    I am afraid other people will think it’s strange/ a massive overshare/ social suicide to be seen carrying sanitary stuff or being open about my cycle.

    I love my menstrual cycle, I am proud to be a woman, but you know the weirdest thing? I am ashamed, embarrassed, and feel wrong for loving it so much. I have spent so much time googling “I think I’m obsessed with menstruation”, trying to be disgusted by it, and trying to understand why we have to be secretive about it. What I feel like I am doing is not hiding my cycle, but hiding my love for my cycle.

    Reading this reply, it’s the saddest and most ridiculous thing I ever saw. I can’t believe I wrote it, but it’s true. I guess I’m not as open as I thought.

    • Chris Bobel says:

      I think you are very brave by modeling the kind of honest self reflection that will get the engines revved up again. Thank you for writing, Emily.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      In the last few years that I was menstruating, I had this idea to make coiled red-beaded bracelets to wear on my wrists while I was having my period. Very showy, bound to attract a question or too, which I would certainly have answered honestly. I imagined a world where all women might do this, or chose their own symbol or representation. I wonder how such an action might change our personal and public perception of menstruation? I never made the bracelets, but I did wear red earrings for a few cycles. Carrying our femcare products around in the open might readily follow such an overt personal signal that we our having our periods.

      • Chris Bobel says:

        I think the beads are a great idea! If nothing else, wearing them fosters PERSONAL awareness…which can be expanded to PUBLIC awareness if the menstruator is inclined to share. In this way, the PERSONAL can become the POLITICAL.

  4. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    I like the bike metaphor as well – as a cyclist, the double meaning of cycle amuses me.

    Chris, can I share one small way the revolution is slowly moving forward? My campus is hosting its first annual ‘Diversity Week’ next week, with many different events and displays intended to celebrate and honor all kinds of human diversity. A few of my students have reserved a table for the Thursday afternoon displays set aside as Diversity Fest to do some menstrual education. They’re planning to make it fun and celebratory, with information about menstruation as a normal, not shameful, physiological event, re-usuable menstrual products, and crafty party favors inspired by my box of menstrual monday goodies saved from Geneva Kachman’s creative goodies over the years.

    Should be quite a good time!

  5. HeatherD says:

    Thanks, Chris, for this post. I think the recent TIME magazine cover on breastfeeding represents another stalled revolution re: women’s bodies and reproductive processes. The idea that breastfeeding can be seen on the cover of TIME is in some ways groundbreaking but at the same time it reifies exactly how little we’ve accomplished re: the sexualization of women’s bodies and the disgust surrounding women’s bodily liquids/bodily processes. I’ve always liked the concept of the stalled revolution and I think it can be used to talk about so many things right now.

  6. Chris Bobel says:

    I’ve been thinking of those connections, too, Heather. Thanks for writing. If Jaime Lynne Grumet (the woman pictured on _Time_) was depicted inserting her tampon (or lo! even just holding one up), there would be similar outrage and impugning of her character…..Remember the flap when the _Village Voice_ pictured a woman’s torso with a visible tampon string in the mid 90s?

  7. Laura Wershler says:

    Those of us interested in fertility awareness have experienced this “stalled revolution” several times over the last 30 years. It seems like interest is about to take off, then it fades away or gets stuck in pockets here and there. But as you say here, Chris, there is more talk about all of these issues:

    “We have more ways, more means, more access to express and connect, instantaneously. Some might argue we talk too much; we tweet and post and text before we think. Sometimes talk is just…talk.”

    I’m thinking we should keep talking, keep writing on this blog, keep tweeting and posting. Maybe a breakthrough menstruation meme is just a few tweets or posts away.

    You always make me think.

  8. Chris Bobel says:

    I agree. We have to keep talking. Otherwise, we are not only stalled but worse—-sitting inside a stranded car. I am resisting referring to the process of change as CYCLICAL…but there it is!

  9. Eeyore says:

    Talk is good. Talk is cheap and yet worth a great deal. What spews out of our mouths, almost always elicits a response, a feeling. I get most people think thoughts change culture. But I believe it is feelings not thought (or just thought) that causes great change. Feelings at some point cause a self-inventory. Lots of people can think logically about what is right (or wrong). But, just thinking does not have the power to change people. It is when it is painful not to change, when we feel deep in our hearts it is the right thing to do (or that we have done the wrong thing) that culture will be forced to change. I love logically thinking about things, but I realize that (often visceral) feelings cause great action…cause change. Talk is the way our culture works, especially now. Talk is a great venue for change

  10. Chris Bobel says:

    I really appreciate your point about how FEELING instigates change. Deeply felt words are powerful indeed. And they are the absolutely essential first step. And I agree with this too: “When it is painful NOT to change…..” that’s when change happens. Thanks for commenting, Eeyore.

  11. Aggie says:

    I hope this is ok to share here. Until I read this blog the other day I had no idea that there was so much dialogue out there about the lack of (or need for more) public acceptance of menstruation discussion. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I even understood the need. Maybe, I just didn’t think it was really a problem. I thought “people talk about this all the time, what is the big deal.” But, I am here to tell you it was very ironic that I read this blog the other day. Today while I was getting haircut I asked my stylist to “thin it out a bit more.” She asked if I was sure I wanted it so thin. I said in a whisper “yes, I am perimenopausal and I get hot flashes.” She responded in a VERY loud voice (as to be heard over the clippers) “YOU MEAN YOU DON’T GET YOUR PERIOD ANYMORE?” I was horrified! My first thought was what is wrong with this picture, what the heck is she doing. Then I suddenly had an epiphany. What was wrong with the picture was MY reaction, not her question. I calmed down and we actually had an open (public) conversation about our menstrual experiences. I was still a bit in disbelief as it went on, so I looked around. I realized no one seemed to notice or even care…even the man sitting next to me. Thank you all for my new awareness; change is a good thing, especially in ourselves.

  12. Chris Bobel says:

    Ironic indeed! I wonder if the nonplussed reaction of those around you is related to the context at all—-would this conversation play the same way at an auto shop or at the ball park? Thanks for sharing, Aggie! This iS precisely the place to puzzle through these issues.

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