Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Traces of Feminist Rage

April 18th, 2014 by Breanne Fahs

In the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a lot about feminist rage, in part because I recently participated in a panel at New York University about feminist rage with philosopher Avital Ronell, American Studies scholar Lisa Duggan, and performance artist Karen Finley. In celebration of my new book, the first-ever biography of Valerie Solanas entitled Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol) (Feminist Press, 2014), we came together to think deeply about feminist rage and how anger has a place within feminist thought, pedagogy, and practice. Avital Ronell lit up the room with an analysis of devastation versus destruction, drawing on Heidegger, Lacan, and Derrida, while Karen Finley performed feminist rage by imagining the interplay between a homeless woman on the subway and a punk hipster girl. The evening was topped off by an appearance by Valerie’s friend, Ben Morea, who slammed the university for its elitism and said that Valerie hated universities and wanted nothing to do with them—a rage-filled riotous evening indeed!

Valerie Solanas wrote a manifesto that has continued to perplex, inspire, and enrage its readers. She blatantly expressed rage toward both men and “Daddy’s girls” (and some argue that her rage was more directed toward the latter than the former); Valerie wrote in her 1967 SCUM Manifesto, “The conflict, therefore, is not between females and males, but between SCUM—dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females, who consider themselves fit to rule the universe, who have freewheeled to the limits of this ‘society,’ and are ready to wheel on to something far behind what it has to offer—and nice, passive, accepting, ‘cultivated,’ polite, dignified, subdued, dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy’s Girls, who can’t cope with the unknown; who want to continue to wallow in the sewer that is at least familiar, who want to hang back with the apes; who feel secure only with Big Daddy standing by, with a big strong man to lean on and with a fat-hairy face in the White House” (63-64). Not insignificantly, while simultaneously declaring SCUM a “state of mind” and the manifesto a “literary device”—raising questions about whether Valerie understood this work as absurd satire or whether she believed it completely—she strode into Andy Warhol’s Factory and shot Andy Warhol and two of his associates on June 3, 1968 largely because she felt assaulted as an artist and a writer. In a little known fact, she also left a paper bag on Andy Warhol’s desk before she fled the scene that contained another gun, an ice pick, her address book, and a Kotex pad.

That Valerie left a menstrual pad on Andy Warhol’s desk has stuck with me as a curious point for several years while working on this book. Did Valerie merely forget the paper bag accidentally (implying that she may have been currently menstruating and needed the pad in a practical sense)? Or, did this twinning of the gun and menstrual pad signify something larger about her particular brand of rage? Both objects connect deeply to the spilling/shedding of blood; maybe Valerie used the menstrual pad as a conscious imposition of, or symbol around, her feminist rage. Perhaps Valerie meant to remind her victims that women and guns remained bound together, that SCUM would corrode the world with their own menstrual blood.

In any case, the whole incident (and subsequent reactions people have had to the shooting and to Valerie’s anger) made me again reflect on how much distance women often try to put between themselves and their rage. Women generally shy away from their own anger, both as individuals and as a collective force, and this has serious consequences for the advancement of feminist politics. We live in a culture adept at blocking, disallowing, suppressing, and discouraging women’s anger and rage; women know this deeply and often only feel entitled to express rage during their menstrual cycles (a “socially-acceptable” alternative). Women’s respectability and “proper” femininity often hinges, in fact, on denying anger altogether. Perhaps our reactions to Valerie (both our celebratory impulses and our tendencies to reject and discard her) occur because Valerie represents the rage and anger women themselves sense but cannot express or accept within themselves. Ultimately, there must be a place for rage in the contemporary landscape of gender politics and feminism; whether our menstrual cycles serve as a “cover” for it, or whether we just let it rip (in the words of Ti-Grace Atkinson), rage serves a necessary role in challenging oppression and fighting back against the prevailing powers that be.

Ms. April—Menstruation Pin-Up

April 11th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. April: Galaxy
Cycle: April 2013
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Choice, Fertility, and Menstrual Cycle Awareness

April 2nd, 2014 by Laura Wershler

Guest Post by Lisa Leger

Photos courtesy Lisa Leger

Posing while pregnant in my pro-choice T-shirt in 1993 was a political statement, one I made with a huge sassy grin on my face. When I recreated the pose recently on my daughter’s 21st birthday, I found it easy to reprise the grin. First take, in fact. My choice tee is well worn; it’s a house/jammy shirt that my daughter has seen me in her whole life. Little does she know that she’s had her nose wiped by a piece of Canadian history.

I bought the choice tee at a fundraiser in Toronto when the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics was helping Canadian abortion rights crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler with legal expenses when he was forced to defend in court his practice of providing safe abortions in a free-standing clinic. At the time, abortion was legal in Canada, but only if approved by a Therapeutic Abortion Committee and performed in a hospital. I was 27 years old, fresh from university, and a legal abortion had allowed me to finish my degree unburdened by an unplanned pregnancy, but I supported fewer restrictions to access.

Like most twenty-somethings, I had a long history of contraceptive use. I’d tried the pill, an IUD, and even the rhythm method, a fuzzy grasp of which I probably had picked up in a public school health class. I had a rotten attitude about my fertility, saw it as a huge hassle, and had no interest whatsoever in becoming a mother. My social and political opinions about the right to reproductive choice were fully formed when I bought this T-shirt for the cause I so ardently supported.

I was 32 years old when I posed in it while pregnant. By then I’d been charting my menstrual cycles for enough years to have improved my attitude about fertility dramatically. I’d met Geraldine Matus in the late 80s and learned to use the Justisse Method for Fertility Awareness that she developed. It changed my life forever; not only did I gain body literacy, develop a healthy relationship with my cycling body, and break free from contraceptive drugs and devices forever, I also gained a cherished mentor in Geraldine, and a career path as a Justisse fertility awareness educator that has sustained and gratified me for the past 25 years.

I took that picture in my choice T-shirt in 1993 because, for me, it says “I’m choosing to be pregnant.” I grinned because it was my choice to have Clair; I wasn’t scared or forced or coerced into that pregnancy. It was entirely my free will to lend my body to the great task of having a child and I made that choice because of the healing that had gone on over the years of charting, coming into relationship with my body, and learning to appreciate the awesomeness of my pro-creative power. Now that my daughter is 21 years old, I think about the freedom and choices she has as a Canadian woman in 2014, and feel sadness for those who don’t have that choice. I reflect on what a shame it is that these battles over reproductive choice, human rights, access to birth control, stigma, and power seem never to be put to rest. On Clair’s birthday, I posed in my choice T-shirt for my family archives and for those who still do not have choice.

Lisa Leger is a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner (HRHP) and women’s health activist on Vancouver Island. She serves on the board of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.

Sexism in a world ruled by social media

March 31st, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

As a woman who has now worked in several male-dominated industries, I’ve unfortunately become pretty desensitized to acts of subtle sexism. I’ve been compared to a VC’s nagging wife, asked inappropriate questions about my personal life in professional settings, belittled about my assumed lack of “masculine” skills, and called things like “honey” and “sweetie” by male peers. This is certainly not to say that I’m treated poorly by everyone of the opposite sex I encounter, or even often. There are tons of decent people out there that are genuinely supportive and eager to see me succeed.

But these things do happen…and more frequently than I would like. I have a pretty thick skin, and there isn’t much a person could say to really upset me at this point. But recently on social media I was directed to the website of a tech news magazine called Hot Tech Today (trigger warning). I was horrified by what I saw: an image of a woman’s unclothed legs (except for the high heels, of course) with a thong around her ankles. The site comes complete with an announcement asking tech women to submit photos that readers can then vote to include in a sexy centerfold spread (yes, this is a tech news magazine). I’ve worked hard–as I know so many others have–to be taken seriously as a woman in the tech industry, and it feels like a slap in the face to see a company so blatantly turn women in my field into sex objects.

Despite my anger, I found myself incredibly encouraged to witness the subsequent wave of disapproval from others. It’s reassuring to see others on social media calling out biases—whether those expressed biases are intentional or subconscious. I don’t fault the company for assuming that rating the hotness of women in tech was a good idea. I blame society for molding people’s behavior in such a way that things like this seem okay. Sure, I was upset, but the company’s decision was simply part of this much larger, more complex issue.

I admit I get a great deal of satisfaction when organizations (and individuals) are called out for bias in any form. Not because I think those expressing these biases are terrible people, but because social media backlash is now beginning to mold our culture. People are increasingly more conscious of what they say and do. People are starting to think a little harder before saying something hateful about a group of people on the Internet. Even if this censorship is only done for the sake of not seeming like an awful person—even if they truly believe in their biased or hateful actions—I’m thankful for this shift.

Social media has inadvertently created a platform with an incredibly powerful voice. People no longer have to gather in the flesh to make their opinions heard, and there are a lot of voices pushing for changes. Despite social media being a total time-suck, I’m continually impressed by its contribution to advocacy. It’s no longer uncommon to see companies pull inappropriate ads due to social media backlash. We’re changing the behavior of our society’s most influential entities. Slowly, yes. But it’s happening.

We still have a long way to go (as made obvious by the actions of Hot Tech Today), but I can see the changes occurring…it’s a wonderful sight! I now find solace in those little (and not-so-little) moments of sexism that I experience in my life, because I no longer feel so alone. My anger, frustration, disappointment, and urgency for change are not unique. Women in tech (along with all others who identify as women) are so much more than just centerfolds-in-training. Thanks for having our back, social media allies.

Happy Birthday, Gloria Steinem!

March 25th, 2014 by David Linton

The SMCR joins thousands of other groups and individuals around the world in celebrating Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday. Her contribution to the full array of feminist causes is immeasurable, not the least of which is her insightful essay on the social construction of the menstrual cycle, “If Men Could Menstruate.” We were honored to present her with the first Making Menstruation Matter Award in June 2013 and recall her presentation fondly. Her opening statement to the auditorium full of menstrual activists and scholars was, “I can’t tell you how happy I am that you exist.” Well, there is no doubt that the feeling is mutual!

Are There Limits to Empathy?

March 17th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Readers—I need your help!

Next month, I will participate in a friendly debate at the Museum of Modern Art about Sputniko!’s provocative piece “Menstrutation Machine.” We’ve written about Menstruation Machine on re:Cycling before. In short, the metal device is equipped with a blood-dispensing system and electrodes that stimulate the lower abdomen, thus replicating the pain and bleeding of a five-day menstrual period.

Here’s the video that the artist created to simulate what it was like for one fictional boy (Takashi) when he wore the device while socializing with a friend in the streets of Tokyo.

The debate is part of a series Design and Violence-an “ongoing online curatorial experiment that explores the manifestations of violence in contemporary society by pairing critical thinkers with examples of challenging design work.”

The exact debate resolution is still being worked out, but it will revolve around this question of EMPATHY.

That is, what is the potential of “Menstruation Machine,” specifically, or any other object, to engender empathy in another?

Need more examples? Think Empathy Belly (thanks to sister blogger Chris Hitchcock who conjured that connection).

But we can extend the concept to ANY experience designed to expressly help an individual see inside someone else’s reality. Think “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”, the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence, “a playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women”; The Blind Café; or the TV show 30 Days, “An unscripted, documentary-style program where an individual is inserted into a lifestyle that is completely different from his or her upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession for 30 days.”

So, dear readers, I am hungry for you to share your thoughts as I prepare for the debate.

What do YOU think?

Can design help us be more empathic?

Can a non-menstruator ever really know what it is like to menstruate?

Can a temporary simulated experience, like this or any other, build a bridge?

Are there limits to what we can know of another’s lived experience, even if we can, for a short while, FEEL the pain?

Ms. March—Menstruation Pin-Up (Video)

March 14th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Untitled #1
Cycle: March 2014
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Director of Photography: Rob Lewis

Untitled #1 is currently part of the “Period Pieces” Art Show curated by SMCR member Josefin Persdotter. This exhibition opened on March 1st and is on display all month long at the Urban Artroom in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Untitled #1.mov from Robert Lewis on Vimeo.

Help Me Spread Some Positive Messages

March 3rd, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

I’ve made it a personal mission of mine to spread some self-love with positive messages about female reproductive function and the menstrual cycle. It’s no secret here on re:Cycling that society’s current views of menstruation have crippling effects on girls and women and on the way the female body is perceived.

The internet gives us a unique opportunity to exploit these societal flaws and lessen the stigmas felt by today’s young women. To take advantage of this opportunity, I have created a YouTube channel that will exist to spread both awareness and education about important topics relating to menstruation, women’s health, female sexuality, and body image, among others. Thus far, I have discussed some popular menstrual myths and a basic run-down of the menstrual cycle.

A lack of education about my first two video topics is far too prevalent (and very personal since I was totally in that boat once upon a time), so making these my intro videos felt like an easy decision. But I want to know what others think, too. I don’t just want this channel to be about my thoughts and opinions. I hope to make videos that people can relate to.

Have you noticed any myths or misconceptions about the female body or menstruation that you think should be debunked? Is there a certain topic that you’ve found women to be really interested in learning more about? Is there a topic that totally changed your life when you learned about it? Is there something few women are ever taught that you think is an absolute must? Help me share these things with other women!

Let me know in the comments if you have any topic suggestions or info that I should share in my upcoming videos! I absolutely love this community, and I hope to see lots of great ideas flowing.

Ms. February—Menstruation Pin-Up

February 14th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. February: Smoke Series
Cycle: February 2013
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Breaking the Silence

February 3rd, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

When I read Chris Bobel’s recent post about silent menstrual suffering, I was instantly drawn in. Although her experiences are independent of my own, this particular experience felt familiar, as though I was reading a story about my own life. I can close my eyes and instead picture myself in her place. I can hear my silence. I can feel my frustration mounting. It made me wonder why I, and many others, feel compelled to hide the menstrual suffering. After all, we rarely hesitate to utter complaints of a cold, a poor night’s sleep, a stomachache, a headache, an injury, a hangover.

I’m menstruating. I’m hurting. I’m late to a meeting. I’m not fully engaged in a conversation. I leave work a little early. I am not feeling at ease. I am exceptionally in tune with my emotional state. And people are noticing that something is off. Eager to make excuses, I open my mouth to displace the blame that has no doubt been cast upon my character. But reactions to my secret race through my head, so I choke down the words. I, like Chris, suffer in silence. Why?

This is a question I was asking myself for days after reading her piece. Why do I–why do we–remain silent?

Is it because of the jokes? The jokes about PMS, menstruation, emotional instability, and “that time of the month” that are so casually and readily fired off at the sound of a woman who speaks with confidence? Maybe I won’t be taken seriously if people know that I’m menstruating. Maybe the quality of my work will be questioned. Or maybe it will be my competence, intelligence, or character.

Is it because of the media and its portrayal of women as objects meant for pleasure and servitude? As something to be controlled by men? Would the mention of menstruation hinder this oh-so-carefully crafted image? Perhaps my menstruating status would get in the way of my objectification. Surely I wouldn’t want that.

Is it because of a society’s past filled with male dominance and female domestication? Where the only true power is male power? Is it the legacy of female obedience and male ownership? Of female weakness and male strength? Maybe I only want to speak out about my suffering simply because I am too weak to suck it up. Have I been conditioned to feel weak?

Is it because of our unattainable standards of beauty? The expectations of wrinkle free and blemish-free skin, a super-model body, and perfectly-shaped breasts? Perhaps I’m not beautiful enough or perfect enough when I am menstruating.

Is it living in a society that undervalues, and often trivializes, the accomplishments and experiences of women? Is my menstrual pain not familiar enough? Is it not painful enough? Is it not real enough to be worth mentioning?

Yes, maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why we give into the “silent suffering,” as Chris called it. As conscious and as critical as I am of our society’s flaws, I cannot fully escape the overwhelming force of the words, the images, the actions, and the inactions. We cannot escape them until we defeat them. I feel a great sadness for the younger generations of women. I feel as though I have failed them. If I, as an adult woman, fall victim to our social pitfalls, then what hope do they have? Where does that leave them? We must break the silence. Next time, I will not be silent.

Will you join me?

Ms. January—Menstruation Pin-Up

January 17th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. January: Right Side Up #2
Cycle: January 2013 – Cycle #2
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Global Menstrual Progress

December 31st, 2013 by David Linton

Nicholas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof has for some years been a regular contributor to the op-ed page of The New York Times where he frequently writes about sex trafficking, child abuse, and the lives of women around the world.

In 2009 Kristof and his wife and writing partner, Sheryl WuDunn, published a volume that examined a wide variety of the ways women are oppressed around the world titled, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book moves from Congo to China to South Africa to Cameroon to Afghanistan and many places in between. And though their focus is on the more dramatic and life threatening problems such as maternal mortality, prostitution, rape, AIDS, and economic discrimination, to their credit they also include the role that attitudes and practices surrounding the menstrual cycle play in determining the fate of women. In effect, they have added their own voices to the ongoing project of the SMCR: MAKING MENSTRUATION MATTER.

Half the Sky (the title is an allusion to the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.”) is not reluctant to address ancient, deep-seated cultural traditions, including the vicious practice in Deuteronomy calling for stoning to death of girls suspected of having had premarital sex, and in a chapter titled “Is Islam Misogynistic?” they confront some of the darker portions of that faith’s history. For instance, they cite the writings of a “ninth-century scholar, Al-Timmidhi,” who “recounted that houri [the heavenly virgins who await martyrs] are gorgeous young women with white skin, who never menstruate, urinate, or defecate.”  The chapter goes on to explain how statements such as this are not consistent with other Islamic tenets nor with the beliefs of many Muslims, but the notion that menstruation is equivalent to processes of bodily waste elimination is a deep-seated conception that permeates many other belief systems as well.

Another chapter, “Investing in Education,” addresses the challenges involved in providing adequate schooling for girls and the need for sanitary facilities and products so that girls can manage their periods discretely and hygienically. Mention is made of a Proctor & Gamble project to distribute free pads in Africa, however, surprisingly, insufficient attention is given to home-grown efforts, such as SMCR member Megan White Mukuria’s ZanaAfrica, to provide both products and empowering education to girls in Kenya. One program called Camfed, for Campaign for Female Education, that operates in several African countries is justifiably credited for its thoroughness in addressing girls’ education, including the practice of supplying girls with pads and underwear so they can continue to go to classes during their periods.

Obviously, an entire book could be written about the links between women’s liberation and the menstrual cycle. Half the Sky is not that book, but it does make a contribution that is worthy of applause.

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.