Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Waiting

August 20th, 2014 by Heather Dillaway

re-blogging re:Cycling

In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post by Heather Dillaway originally appeared October 28, 2010.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use when we’re talking about menstruation or reproductive experiences more generally. I’ve been noticing lately that we use the word “waiting” quite a bit. I have a friend who is “still waiting” for her menstrual cycle to be “normal” again after her second child, and several other friends who are either “waiting” to figure out whether they will get pregnant, “waiting” to be done with their pregnancies, or “waiting” before they can have their last and final kid. I just had my basement waterproofed and one of the basement repairmen told me that his wife had been “waiting” ten months to get a menstrual period and that they were worried about her (this is information he volunteered after I told him I studied women’s health). I started thinking more about how the menopausal women I interview always talk about “waiting” to figure out whether they are really “at menopause,” or “waiting” to figure out if this is really their last menstrual period. Or how so many girls/young women who are sexually active are “waiting” to get their periods so that they can be relieved to know they are not pregnant. Or how women with painful periods, endometriosis, or migraines are waiting until those days are over each month. What does all of this reproductive waiting (waiting for menstruation, waiting for menstruation to be over, waiting for pregnancy, waiting for birth, waiting for menopause) mean?

In all of these instances of reproductive waiting, waiting seems a negative connotation and that seems to stem from the fact that we do not feel in control or in charge of this reproductive time. When I think of the other situations in which I might use the word “waiting”, the same holds true. I tell my kids to “wait their turn” and they don’t like it. And none of us really like waiting in line. Fast food restaurants, frozen dinners, and ATM machines are all in existence because we don’t have time or don’t like to wait. Phrases that we use like “worth the wait” also connote negativity about waiting. So, I finally looked up the actual definition of waiting. Depending on which online dictionary you visit, definitions of “waiting” include: “pause, interval, or delay,” “the act of remaining inactive or stationary,” or “the act of remaining inactive in one place while expecting something.” While some of these definitions do not automatically lend themselves to negativity, waiting is defined mostly as a passive activity that we are forced to participate in, perhaps against our will.


All of this makes me think further about whether women really dislike the waiting or the time that comes with menstruation or other reproductive experiences, and whether women really feel out of control as they engage in their experiences. Is this just a word we use or are we really impatient about menstruation and reproduction? When I think about alternative words that are sometimes used, like “tracking,” other words seem much more agentic in that they put women back in control of their cycles and other reproductive experiences. So, is it just the word “waiting” that has the negative connotation or is that word signifying some larger impatience that we have about reproduction these days? I have a colleague who writes about the “inconveniences” of reproduction and how, in so many ways, we try to avoid the reproductive waiting or reproductive uncertainties we face. For instance, instead of waiting to see when a baby is born, we might plan a c-section so that we can know when we’ll get that baby. Or, now we’re told that if we’re “waiting” more than 6 months to get pregnant that we should probably start taking fertility drugs to shorten our wait or get rid of some of that uncertainty. Or now we can find out that we’re pregnant a couple weeks after conception instead of waiting to see whether we menstruate a few weeks later. We attempt to cut out some of those reproductive waits these days. Menstrual suppression is at least partially popular because then women won’t have to be surprised by their periods or wait to know what bad day their period might fall on.


I think perhaps we do need to be more conscious of the words we use to describe our own and others’ reproductive events. Is “waiting” the correct word to use? Is “tracking” a better word to use because of the agency/active control it implies? Is “experiencing” a broader, less value-laden word to use? What do we really mean when we use these words?

  

Two or three things I know for sure (about menstruation)

August 19th, 2014 by Breanne Fahs

On June 7, we posted a video of slam poet Dominique Christina performing a poem combating men’s shaming of women and their menstrual cycles. In the “Period Poem,” which she dedicated to her daughter, Christina encourages women who are confronted by men’s negativity toward menstruation to bleed, and bleed, and bleed on everything he loves. It is a fierce, bold, rebellious poem that has garnered much attention on social media, which received upwards of 6 million “likes” when it later appeared on Facebook. There is something magical and inspiring about menstrual art—poetry, paintings, songs, stories. For myself, who most often addresses menstruation in academic work—mired in journal edits, statistics, interviews, and such—I am in awe, somehow, by the similar themes that art, activism, and academia all address around the topic of menstruation.

To borrow a title from Dorothy Alison, here are two or three things I know for sure (about menstruation):

(1) First, the disgust directed toward women’s bodies serves as a powerful regulatory force to direct, contain, control, and denigrate women’s bodies. By eliciting disgust, we can summon people’s sense of outrage, moral judgments, visceral reactions, and “irrational” fears and funnel them toward a particular target. I continue to be amazed at how disgust about menstruating women (and, specifically, menstruating vaginas) permeates popular culture, social media, news media, and informal interactions. My research on disgust and menstruation has found that people find menstruation more disgusting than nearly any other bodily product or bodily occurrence. A recent pilot study I conducted found that this normal, healthy monthly cycle weighs in as more disgusting than open wounds, diarrhea, used diapers, and vomit. Dominique Christina’s response to the “dummy on Twitter” that dissed his girlfriend for starting her period during sex is tapping into this same phenomenon. Disgust is dangerous, and it connects powerfully to the undercurrents of misogyny in this country.

(2) Resistance to men’s shaming of menstruation is everywhere, hidden in simple acts of rebellion all over the world. Whether through poetry, art, the refusal to use commercial menstrual products, the impulse to fight back against the idiocy that permeates online culture, the commitment to love one’s body no matter what, the embrace of cycles and changes in the body, the refusal to be silent or unseen, the desire to connect to other women, the communication with daughters and grand-daughters about their cycles, and in a thousand other simple and elegant and (often) hidden ways, women resist the bullying, misogyny, and shaming of menstruation all the time. We can and should expect such resistance.

(3) Menstruation is no trivial subject. We are taught, as women, that our concerns, thoughts, fields of study, feelings, and attitudes are trivial, silly, not relevant, not important. (The journal, Trivia: Voice of Feminism, exists to combat this very assumption, publishing some of the most engaging and interesting feminist creative writing around). Menstruation is no exception. We learn very early that our menstrual cycles are either wholly invisible or targets for ridicule and misogynistic humor. And yet, what could possibly be more powerful than women’s reproductive capacities, their ability to bleed and give birth? Where are political, social, personal, cultural, and institutional intrusions more keenly felt than in women’s decisions about, and relationship to, their menstrual cycles? There is much at stake in resisting the stories we are told about our bodies, and, as I have too often found in my own work, doing so can make people frothing-at-the-mouth angry. My prediction: the more we continue to resist and fight back against menstrual shaming—whether through art, activism, or academia—the more clear it will become that menstruation is far, far, far from trivial.

  

What color is your menstrual blood? And more weekend links

August 16th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

CC BY-SA 3.0 by Michiel1972

  

Ms. August—Menstruation Pin-Up

August 15th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. August: Red Reeds
Cycle: August 2013 
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis
  

The Blood They Cannot Show

August 14th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

re-blogging re:Cycling

In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post originally appeared July 2, 2009.

As I’ve written elsewhere, entertainment media in the U.S. aren’t squeamish about showing us blood: gunshot wounds, horrific vehicle accidents, and surgical procedures can be seen in fictional narratives as well as nightly news. It’s only menstrual blood that must remain hidden.

Another reminder of this phenomenon can be seen in the brief internet buzz last month, when teen actress Dakota Fanning was photographed on a movie set with blood running down her bare legs. I read about this at Broadsheet, Salon.com’s blog about ladybusiness. Broadsheet’s take was uncertainty over whether the photos are real or from the film, and disgust with the
reactions from internet commenters at Livejournal:

Is the blood part of the movie’s plotline — in which Fanning plays rock chick Cherie Currie — or just a run-of-the-mill monthly mishap?

Probably the latter. But that hasn’t prevented the Internet from erupting in an astonished, OMG! WTF? reaction, summed up best by the Livejournal poster who offered a pithy “Ew. Blood.”

Dakota Fanning holds still while an assistant cleans up her menstrual blood.Actor Dakota Fanning waits while an assistant cleans her legs.

[Click on photos to embiggen]

Of even greater interest is the comments at Broadsheet. Although I read Broadsheet every day, I usually skip the comments. (To borrow a term from Kate Harding, I find I can rarely spare the Sanity Watchers points). The overwhelming consensus of Broadsheet commenters was that OF COURSE it’s fake blood from the movie being filmed, because if it were a real period, no one would stand there looking so blasé while someone else cleaned her up. Apparently, if it were REAL blood, young Ms. Fanning would have run from the set to the nearest ladies room to plug it up, and not stood still for so many photographs, much less allow someone else to handle WetWipes duty.

Telling, no? It’s only OK for us to see this menstrual blood because it’s FAKE.

  

On Menstrual Artwork and Internet Trolls

August 12th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jenny Lapekas

I’ve noticed for quite some time now that on social media sites, along with news articles that allow readers to comment, users attack menstrual artwork, claiming it’s disgusting and meaningless, and certainly not feminist. No surprise there. What catches my attention the most, however, is when people draw a correlation between menstrual blood and feces. Sure, both substances exit our body as it cleanses itself, but our first blood—menarche—alerts us to a new, sophisticated process taking place within us. Art ventures whose medium is the message, such as Vanessa Tiegs’ “Menstrala” or Jen Lewis’s “Beauty in Blood” seek to materialize woman’s experience with blood and to suggest that it can in fact be positive.

Let’s look at some YouTube (the cruelest place on the web) comments found on Tiegs’ “Menstrala” videos:

crckthsfkcr:  “it just like the ‘artist’ who filled jars with his shit and sold them as a piece of art”

eliwoood1 shares:  “i threw up”

fat apollo writes:  “Oh gross. I will never understand you art people. You could use baby shit, call it art, and it’s acceptable.”

Trolling has obviously become an online phenomenon and can be a very irritating problem for many of us. It seems we’ve forgotten what our mothers told us as children: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The types of trolls that seem to appear when content related to menstrual artwork is published online aim to be dismissive and condescending in their remarks and tone. A user who claims they vomited at the sight of menstrual artwork is no doubt invoking the compelling theme of body horror, particularly what menstrual artists seek to destroy. Username “fat Apollo” points to the idea that using menstrual blood to create art is not “acceptable.” Menstrual etiquette dictates that our bleeding should remain unseen, so by these unspoken standards, blood’s visibility and even glorification are enough to give some people a heart attack. Because menstruation is frequently seen as an unruly process, many find blood’s placement within a controlled medium to be puzzling, and thus offensive.

What to do about trolls then? Nothing. Eyes and ears must be open for education to take place. Too often I’ve encountered circular dialogue that leads nowhere between trolls and those who are being attacked for what they’ve posted, what they believe, or what they hold dear in this world. It seems that the web accommodates ignorance as much as it opens new and exciting doors for its users. What better platform to anonymously claim ignorance and then resist the push for self-education? Even with all the information available online, it’s futile to conduct research when we simply leave no room in our minds to digest the material and ideas we find there.

Yes, both menstrual blood and feces are forms of waste. However, not only is menstruation unique to women, but it’s evidence of our own mortality, where we come from, and the bittersweet reality that we’ll decay and die to make way for new life. Isn’t there something terribly poetic about that? Because menstrual blood can be seen as the body’s failed attempt to procreate, this blood is highly symbolic, especially for women trying (some desperately) to conceive; for this particular group of menstruators, the arrival of blood can mark heartache and depression—as opposed to the many women who sigh with relief during that magical moment in the bathroom that can make even the most committed atheists thank God in heaven for that bloody stain in their panties.

Menstrual blood, then, carries with it multitudes of stories, what ifs, and the humble knowledge that it is the same blood that pumps through all of our veins, nourishes the body, and enables us to carry on each day. The act of appropriating it as a means of aesthetic expression is not only subversive and wildly feminist but helps to broaden viewers’ understanding of the menstrual cycle and the interplay between beauty and biology.

PMS, cheese, and more weekend links

August 9th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling
  

The Notorious RBG and more weekend links

August 2nd, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling
  

Myrtle and MOOCs and More Weekend Links

July 26th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling
  

‘Yuck’-busting conversations about menstruation

July 22nd, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

In my line of work, I talk and write a lot about the female reproductive system. It’s no secret…I’m pretty vag-savvy. I don’t randomly walk up to strangers and start talking lady parts, but I certainly don’t hesitate to share repro info when the topic arises or when people ask me what I do for a living.

While some people constantly look like they are secretly planning an escape from the conversation, more often than not, the folks I’ve encountered are genuinely very curious and inquisitive about female reproduction. After all, it’s something that most of us have never really been taught. One big thing I’ve noticed is that talking about the topic like it’s no big deal makes people a lot more likely to truly engage. Having frank conversations rather than ones riddled with “ewws” and “yucks” goes a long way toward helping people break down internal menstrual stigmas, and it’s an awesome thing to be part of.

I recently spent some time in Chicago visiting a friend, and while I was there, we went out to dinner with her friends. Then comes the obligatory question about what I do for a living. To this day, when someone asks me this question, I still have moments of mild internal panic, wondering how they will react. I would imagine that when most of us ask this question, we’re not expecting to be faced with a deeply personal, and often polarizing, subject. So, in some ways, I can totally understand the initial shock-factor that some people experience. But I somehow always manage to answer very matter-of-factly, and on this particular day, it couldn’t have gone better.

 

One of the women in the group, after hearing that I specialize in lady parts and natural fertility management, mentioned that she was really struggling with the birth control pill and had been thinking for a while about stopping. And she asked for my advice. I’m always very careful not to say “this is what you should do,” because autonomy is incredibly important and I’ll never claim to know the best birth control option for someone…especially someone I just met. So, instead, I opened up about my personal experience with the pill, my hesitation in deciding to stop, my work with Groove and fertility awareness, and what it has all meant for my life. I wasn’t surprised that she was interested in my story (it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone), but I start to get pretty giddy when others jump into the conversation, too. Which is precisely what happened.

I was in mixed company and everyone in the group was actively engaging in a conversation about periods, birth control, and cervical fluid. Not a single person murmured an “ew,” and I (of course) was thrilled. There were a lot of wonderful questions asked, a lot of great dialogue about how the female reproductive system works, and even some thoughtful critiques of modern birth control methods. In the end, the woman who initially asked for my advice said that she found my experience both validating and reassuring, and she mentioned that she planned to stop the pill. But even if this hadn’t been her decision, the conversation was still a wild success.

Any initial hesitation felt by the individuals in our group quickly dissipated after the conversation began. In the end, there was no shame, no embarrassment, no stigma. This is precisely why I do what I do. If I can help even one person overcome female reproductive stigmas, then I consider my work a success. On this day, I felt enormously successful.

  

ACA contraceptive coverage saves money, and more weekend links

July 19th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

Anatomically correct underpants
[via Tumblr user Slow]

  • I tracked these beautiful undies backwards through three layers of blogs and Tumblr sites, and even did a Google image search with the photo, but still couldn’t find where you can buy them.
  • Meet Cameron’s uterus, in Saturday Morning Cartoons at Autostraddle.
  • Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi has been arrested on suspicion of obscenity for distributing data that enables recipients to make 3D prints of her vulva. This happened in a country that resisted public pressure to ban pornographic images of children in manga comics and animated films. 
  • The Guttmacher Institute reports that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage guarantee, which requires most private insurance plans to cover contraception counseling, services, and supplies without additional out-of-pocket costs, ultimately saves money for businesses: The cost of contraception is outweighed by the savings from averting unplanned pregnancies.
  • This month, ladyblog The Hairpin  launched, “Bloodfeast” a new period foods-themed recipe column. The inaugural special is period burgers with Nutella
  

Women’s Need for Accurate Information About Birth Control Gets Lost in Controversy over Zimbabwe Official’s Speech About Dangers of Birth Control

July 18th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Carol Downer

One side of the population controller establishment, the “pro-natalist”, says they’re concerned about our health, when, in reality, they just want us to have more babies; the other side, the “anti-natalists”, says they’re concerned about our health when, in reality, they want us to have fewer babies. Who’s “facts” do we believe?  Or, whether we believe their facts or not, do we believe they’re concerned about our health, or that they’re cloaking their national and international policy debates about the impact of birth rates on national aspirations or economic growth in the neutral garb of a discussion about women’s health.

A recent flurry of supposedly neutral health discussions and commentary was provoked when a pro-natalist Zimbabwean official told his countrywomen “to multiply” in order to be a “superpower” and warns that birth control can cause cancer, a supposedly objective “fact checker group”, Africa Check, rushed to allay women’s fears about oral contraceptives and cancer, and Bustle.Com chimes in support.

Africa Check wrote a critical article about two main assertions by Zimbabwe Official Tobaiwa Mudede on May 25 at the celebration of Africa Day. It ignored his first assertion that the promotion of birth control is a ploy by western nations to retard population growth in Africa, and then it found that when he says that contraceptives can cause cancer, his facts are right, however his advice to women to stop using contraceptives were “misleading and alarmist”.

They rely on WHO’s cancer and research agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), who confirmed that there can be a link between the use of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives and particular types of cancer, increasing the risk in some cases and lowering it in others. Dr. Elvira Singh of IARC concluded that Mudede’s comments are “alarmist”.

Shortly thereafter, Abby Johnston of Bustle.com, sums up the WHO’s position as “the benefit far exceeds the risks” with contraceptive use, and mis-quotes Africa Check in saying that “the higher the birth rate in a country, the higher the maternal mortality rate”. Fact? Africa Check said that the UN only said the dangers of having more children could result in increased mortality rate. Johnston reveals her true concern, which is that African women are having too many babies in her statement, “Access and education on birth control is particularly important in areas facing overpopulation.”  She presumably means Africa. African women, just as much as other women, need to have an unbiased comparison of all methods of birth control; www.birth-control-comparison.info

Methinks that the reason that Africa Check didn’t check the facts concerning Mudede’s allegation that “there are those in the West that push birth control is because they fear population growth in Africa” is based on fact, as the Bustle.com article reveals.

There isn’t much written about or by the population control establishment for the general reader. (There is an extensive scientific literature published by demographers -demography is the study of populations, including birth control, migration and immigration). I urge supporters of women’s reproductive rights to read “Quiverfull” by Kathryn Joyce, a contributing reporter for Nation Magazine. Joyce gives a road map to the Christian Patriarchy Movement” in America that forms the popular base for the pro-natalist politicians. Given the tidal wave of T.R.A.P. laws (Targeting Abortion Regulation Providers) in various states, and the recent Supreme Court decisions that promise to sharply restrict accessibility of abortion, I think it is important for us to face the influence of the growing pro-natalist movement in the United States. At the same time, I think we need similar research and analysis of the antinatalist movement, both national and international, who oppose it. My review of Quiverfull is at femwords.blogspot.com.

  
Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.