Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Obvious Child: The Other Taboo

June 18th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

cervical mucus

 The recently released rom-com ‘Obvious Child’ has been discussed far and wide for its mature, sensitive and funny approach to the topic of abortion and yet I have not seen one comment on the fact that this movie also makes mainstream (and yes, funny) the topic of cervical mucus.

In the opening scene stand-up comedian Donna (played by real-life comedian Jenny Slate) is performing on stage at her local open mic night. She wraps up with a joke about the state of her underwear and how, she describes, her underpants sometimes look like they have “crawled out of a tub of cream cheese.”

She claims that they often embarrass her by looking as such during sexual encounters, something she feels is not sexy.

Of course, by “cream cheese” I immediately assumed Donna meant cervical mucus. Unless she is supposed to have a vaginal infection – which seeing as it is not discussed amongst the other myriad bodily function-centric conversations in the movie, I doubt to be the case – then it’s clear she is detailing her experience of cervical mucus.

Later on that night, when Donna meets and goes home with a guy, has sex and then wakes up in bed with him the following morning, she sees that her underwear is laying next to the guy’s head on the pillow. Not only that, but this is one of those situations she finds embarrassing as the underwear is actually covered in the aforementioned “cream cheese” or cervical mucus. She cringes, retrieves the underwear and hastily puts it back on under the covers.

At this scene we can assume that the presence of visible cervical mucus indicates that the character is in fact fertile at this time during the movie. Even if we didn’t know this movie was about unplanned pregnancy, perhaps we would know now. Apparently Donna is not on hormonal birth control, and she’s not sure if, in their drunkenness, they used a condom properly. So, I speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile and that the “cream cheese” in her underwear was actually one of the handy signs of fertility her body provides, then she may have taken Plan B and not had to worry about an abortion. But, then, of course, we wouldn’t have had the rest of this movie. We would have had a very different movie – a movie someone should also make.

But it goes to show how some body literacy might go a long way in helping women make more informed choices. The abortion sets her back $500 and causes some emotional turmoil. A dose of Plan B is cheaper and easier to obtain, although not without some side effects. Maybe even, we can speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile she might have avoided PIV sex that night.

It’s great to see a movie approach the choice of abortion as though it really were, well, a choice. But isn’t it interesting that in doing so it shows how women can be hampered in their choices by a lack of body literacy?

We often see women in movies discussing their “fertile time” in regards to wanting to get pregnant – and so meeting their husbands to have sex at the optimum time in usually funny, crazy scenarios. Sometimes we have seen women taking their temperature or using ovulation tests and calendars to figure this out. However, I think this might be the first mention of cervical mucus in cinema.

I had the honor of seeing this movie with longtime abortion rights and women’s health activist Carol Downer and getting to discuss it with her after. Carol pioneered the self-help movement and self-examination, adding much to our collective knowledge of our bodies.  

This is what she had to say:

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Depo Provera and menstrual management

April 8th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Melinda Gates speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning; Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks back I did an interview with Leslie Botha regarding the distribution of Depo Provera to women in developing countries. Recently Leslie shared with me an email she received from someone working in a family planning clinic in Karnataka, India. He described how he was providing the Depo Provera injection to women and finding that, after they stopped using it, they were not experiencing menstruation for up to nine months. He asked for advice – “what is the procedure to give them normal monthly menses….is there any medicine?”

I have written previously about one potential problem of providing women with Depo Provera – the possibility of continuous spotting and bleeding that would not only be distressing with no warning that this might happen and no medical support, but could also be difficult to navigate in a place with poor sanitation or with strong menstrual taboos. As women in developed countries are so very rarely counseled on side effects of hormonal methods of contraception, it seems unlikely women in developing countries receive such information. As we know, some women will instead experience their periods stopping entirely during use of the shot and, as we see from this email and from the comments on other posts written for this blog, long after use.

In this context I find it interesting that the Gates Foundation’s programs for contraception access have a very public focus on Depo Provera. The method was mentioned again by Melinda Gates in a recent TED interview and when she was interviewed as ‘Glamor magazine Woman of the Year’ the shot was front-and-center of the discussion of her work. Yet the Foundation also funds programs that provide support for menstrual management and sanitation.  Continuous bleeding from the shot, or cessation of bleeding altogether, would seem to be an important connecting factor between these two campaigns.

Much has been written on the menstrual taboo in India and how this holds women back. In the US we have come to embrace menstrual suppression as great for our health and our progress as women. We see menstruation as holding women back in a variety of ways. However, in India could lack of menstruation also be seen as a positive outcome? Instead of dealing with the menstrual taboo with expensive programs that provide sanitary products and education, might suppressing menstruation entirely be seen as a far more cost-effective solution? It may seem like a stretch, but I am surprised this has not been brought up during debates about the need for contraceptive access in developing countries. Yet of course, the menstrual taboo may well extend to absence of menstruation – a woman who does not experience her period might also be treated suspiciously or poorly.

When Melinda Gates says women “prefer” and “request” Depo Provera I always wonder whether that’s after they’ve been told how it works (perhaps described as a six-month invisible contraception) or after they’ve had their first shot or after they’ve been on it for two years and then, via FDA guidelines, must find an alternative? How much follow up is there? As the self-injectable version is released widely how will women be counseled? Gates argues that the invisibility of the method is part of the draw as women do not have to tell their partners they are using contraception, but what happens when they bleed continuously or stop entirely?

It seems to me like there might be a real lack of communication – both between medical practitioners and their patients, drug providers and the practitioners, and those who fund these programs with everyone involved. It is often argued that the risks of pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries justify almost any means to prevent pregnancy – including the use of birth control methods that cause health issues. How much feedback are groups like the Gates Foundation getting on women’s preferences if they seem to be so unaware of the potential problems, even those that would greatly impact their wider work?

The Big, Fat, Menstrual Untruth in Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book

February 5th, 2014 by Laura Wershler

I was curious. If Cameron Diaz’s purpose in writing  The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body was empowerment, helping women to understand how their bodies work, would she include information about the menstrual cycle?

There was no way of knowing from her Jan. 22, 2014 radio interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC’s Q. I listened to Diaz explain that conversations she’d had and overheard in the last few years made it clear to her that women are completely confused about their bodies. She said this had her thinking, “Wow, that’s such a crazy thing that after so many years of living in your body that you actually don’t have an understanding of it.”

Then she revealed her intention in writing the book – to empower women to make “informed decisions about their nutrition and their physical activity.” Judging from this comment, the book’s subtitle, and the fact she did not mention menstruation during the interview, I wondered if the menstrual cycle would even be mentioned.

I sought out The Body Book at my local bookstore and quickly scanned the table of contents and index. I found myself smiling, thinking about Betty Dodson, author of Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, and how she revealed in Chapter 1 that whenever she gets a new sex book she “immediately” looks up “‘masturbation’ to see where the author really stands on sex.” Whenever I see a new book about women’s health I look up “menstruation” to see what the author really knows about the menstrual cycle. Turns out Diaz, and/or her co-author Sandra Bark, know both a lot and not so much.

In Chapter 21, Your Lady Body (the book’s introduction starts with the salutation Hello, Lady!), she presents a fairly accurate endocrinological description of the three phases of the menstrual cycle: follicular, ovulatory, luteal. So far so good. But then, in the last paragraph of the luteal phase section, comes the big, fat menstrual untruth, the implication that whether you use hormonal birth control or not, this is how your menstrual cycle unfolds. It’s an absolute falsehood, and one that many women in this age of burgeoning body literacy are sure to see through.

Photo Illustration by Laura Wershler
Note: This is the only reference to contraception in The Body Book

The last paragraph of this luteal phase description (page 182) is ridiculously misleading. If a woman’s birth control method is the pill, patch, ring, implant or (Depo-) Provera shot, the synthetic hormones each contains will shut down her normal menstrual cycle function. She most definitely will not experience a cycle with follicular, ovulatory and luteal phases. Hormonal contraception does not “protect” her eggs. She will not ovulate, therefore the egg will not die. She may have a “withdrawal bleed” but it is not a true period. This is the truth.

I can understand, possibly, why Diaz made this egregious implication. What were her choices? Open a can of worms? State categorically, as every description of menstrual cycle function should, that you don’t ovulate or experience a normal menstrural cycle while taking hormonal contraception? 
Maybe something like this?

Hey Lady! If you use hormonal birth control none of this fascinating menstrual information applies to you. Wish I could tell you what this means for your health and fitness but, sorry, that’s beyond my area of expertise.

If Diaz’s intention for this book is to empower women to better understand their bodies, then she failed when it comes to the menstrual cycle. I hope she’ll correct this big mistake in any future editions.

Symptoms are Demeaning….and Feminine?

January 31st, 2014 by Heather Dillaway

According to a recent piece in The Times, a reputable English newspaper, symptoms are demeaning AND feminine. More specifically, the article reports on the prostate cancer experiences of Sir Michael Parkinson, or “Parky,” a famous British talkshow host. Parkinson reveals his harrowing experience of getting prostate cancer treatment and its “grueling” side-effects. While the treatments worked, they apparently produced menopause-like symptoms (hot flushes and weight gain) that reminded him of “how women feel when they are going through menopause.” Parkinson is quoted directly as saying, “In a sense you become a woman. I’m getting fitted for a bra next week!” The reporter goes on to say “he’s joking but he’s also deadly serious.” The “menopausal” symptoms that Parkinson had during his prostate cancer treatments are also described as “demeaning” in the same paragraph.

Parkinson is a major public figure in the UK, with significant media influence. I’m certain that this article was read by many as a result, and it makes me wonder about the far-reaching impact of the negative characterizations made about both women and bodily symptoms in this article. When I read this article, I find the equation of symptoms and femininity problematic, for lots of health conditions that produce bodily changes and sensations are not only experienced by women. Experiencing a hot flush or hot flash, while often attributed to menopause, is not menopause-specific all of the time. You can have hot flushes from exercising hard, from the flu, from medications that treat a range of diseases, or when you’re embarrassed. You can have weight gain at midlife (or any time of life for that matter) for a variety of reasons unrelated to menopause. Both the equation of women with symptoms and the definitions of symptoms as negative and “demeaning” show exactly how little progress we have made in eradicating gendered ideologies that harm us. Women are equated with their bodies and seen as lesser than men because of this equation. Men are supposed to be able to rise above their bodily functions, signs, and symptoms and live the life of the mind. Thus, when men experience a symptom they must rid themselves of it because, oh, the horror, they might be “like women” if they have to pay attention to their bodies at all. Research studies show quite often that women are ignored by doctors when they report a long list of symptoms and are not given the treatments they need to ease those symptoms as much as men are, because doctors learn to assume that women are just overreacting. Symptoms are not real if reported by women, studies suggest. Yet, when men experience symptoms and report them they are treated for them more often, especially when they report things such as pain. I interviewed a woman once who told me that “symptoms are always negative” and I wonder if that is partially because of the equation of symptoms with femininity and women’s bodies.

I am certain that it was difficult for Parkinson to undergo treatments for his prostate cancer. I also know that hot flushes and weight gain are never comfortable for people, especially when they seem uncontrollable. BUT, when we go on to support the characterization of symptoms as “what women feel” and then in the next breath say that those symptoms are “demeaning,” we head right into reifying gender ideologies that harm every single one of us. Men should be able to notice changes in their bodies without feeling “feminine.” We should recognize bodily symptoms as part of both health and illness that everyone experiences. And women should not have to be defined only by the fact that they go through certain reproductive transitions that include symptoms. I know Parkinson is perhaps from a generation that might still be holding tightly to gender ideologies that do not make much sense for the contemporary world, but I hold the reporter responsible for some of the characterizations made in this article, too. It is 2014, and aren’t we supposed to be more progressive than this? Because you experience a hot flush you should be fitted for a bra? In the YouTube video that appears along with this post, Parkinson himself admits “men are silly about their health.” I’ll say. But comments reported in the recent Times article go way past being silly.

In Honor of (a Sampling of) our Brave Menstrual Champions!

November 26th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

The recent death of writer Doris Lessing led me to revisit her work a bit. *

Author of more than 50 books as well as an opera, Lessing was brave. She spanned genres, refused to tow a singular ideological line and used her Nobel Prize moment to remind us that privilege shapes greatness as much, even more perhaps, than talent.  And Lessing wrote about menstruation when few others dared.

In her 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, protagonist Anna Wulf journals on the first day of her period—chronicling every thought and feeling her menses produced for her. In the passage below, Wulf’s disgust with her body is hardly a menstrual-positive standpoint (and isn’t something off with her cycle if she detects such an offensive smell?). But there is an honesty, here. A broken silence. Lessing brought to the fore the reality of the fraught and conflicted menstruating body in the early 1960s, and that was a bold move.

I stuff my vagina with the tampon of cotton wool … I roll tampons into my handbag, concealing them under a handkerchief … The fact that I am having my period is no more than an entrance into an emotional state, recurring regularly, that is of no particular importance … A man said he would be revolted by the description of a woman defecating. I resented this … but he right … For instance, when Molly said to me … I‘ve got the curse; I have instantly to suppress distaste, even though we are both women; and I begin to be conscious of the possibility of bad smells … and I begin to worry: Am I smelling? It is the only smell that I know of that I dislike. … But the faintly dubious, essentially stale smell of menstrual blood, I hate. And resent. It is a smell that I feel as strange even to me, an imposition from outside. Not from me. Yet for two days I have to deal with this thing from outside—a bad smell, emanating from me. … So I shut the thoughts of my period out of my mind; making, however, a mental note that as soon as I get to the office I must go to the washroom to make sure there is no smell (pp. 339-340).

Lessing is not alone among the brave who dare to Speak a Menstrual Language. In honor of Thanksgiving in the US, I offer this shout out to a short list of  the courageous who inspire. Thank you menstrual champions.

Rachel Horn, of Sustainable Cycles, who cycled coast to coast this summer, promoting menstrual literacy and menstrual cup awareness.

Holly Grigg-Spall, who has put herself on the line with her new book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control. Grigg-Spall has been challenged, sometimes pretty nastily, for suggesting that one can use a feminist reproductive justice lens to be critical of the pill.

And how about radical feminist pioneer of queer cinema, Barbara Hammer. Her 1974 expeimental film Menses playfully interprets, though a group of women enacting their own individual fantasies, what menstruation means to them. 1974!

Menarchists Jaqueline J. Gonzalez and Stephanie Robinson, who founded the Menstrual Activist Research Collective (M.A.R.C) in 2011, and just released their line of menstrual gear (http://www.etsy.com/shop/menarchists) at cost so you can help them spread the good word, or as they put, leave your MARC! We bleed. It is okay. We bleed. 

Then there’s Arunachalam Muruganantham, the self described “school dropout” (and now the subject of a new documentary) who developed a table top machine that rural Indian women can use to produce and sell low cost single use menstrual pads. He wants to make life easier for Indian women (and he is not interested in getting rich). Yes, there are sustainability issues, here, but there’s also a widening of options for women.

Used with Permission

Every teenager who, on the way to the school toilet, ever dared to walk down the hall with femcare-product-of-choice in open view. 

Every menstruator who hangs cloth pads on the clothesline with the rest of the laundry.

Who is using menstrual cycle charting apps and why?

September 18th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

Screenshot of Selene app // Photo courtesy of daringplan.com/selene

Hanging out (mostly virtually) with so many researchers at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, I find myself thinking of research topics I’m curious to see explored. Here are just two that have crossed my mind recently:

1. Who is using menstrual cycle tracking apps and why?

There are so many on the market that this period technology recently garnered it’s own story at The Cut. The story notes that Period Plus “claims more than a million users.” Kati Bicknell, co-founder of Kindara has blogged at re:Cycling , and Amy Sedgewick reviewed another new charting app, Selene, just a few weeks ago.  Now, Justisse Healthworks for Women has launched their app to support women using the Justisse fertility awareness charting method.

So why and how are women using these cycle tracking apps? For pregnancy achievement, avoidance or both? For fun?

In No Pill? No Prob. Meet the Pullout Generation , also at The Cut, Ann Friedman says that some women are quitting the pill and relying on period-tracker apps, condoms, and the pullout method for birth control.

Are others downloading the apps to learn fertility awareness or were they already charting their cycles before using an app? Are app users more or less inclined to seek out a qualified fertility awareness instructor? And how are women’s attitudes about their periods influenced by cycle tracking apps?

2. Who is quitting hormonal birth control and why?

The popularity of cycle tracking apps suggests some kind of trend away from hormonal methods, and dissatisfaction with side effects prompts many women to look for alternatives. As Friedman wrote in the “pull-out generation” piece mentioned above:

“But I know a dozen women in their late twenties and thirties who, after years of jumping from brand to brand and always feeling crazy or depressed, or after years of nagging health concerns about taking hormones, finally said ‘enough’ and told their partners to put on a condom and deal with it.”

Are there common factors that prompt women to stop using hormonal birth control (HBC)? What kind of support are they finding from health-care providers, partners, friends and family for this decision? Are their identifiable barriers to accessing information, support and services to use non-hormonal contraceptive methods? What do women consider to be their alternatives? Condoms? Cycle tracking apps? Diaphragm? Copper IUD? Fertility Awareness Based Methods? Where are they finding services? Are they finding services? What is positive about quitting HBC? What is negative about the experience?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see research papers on these topics presented at the next SMCR conference in Boston, June 2015?

Another Day, Another Shame: Sports Edition

August 5th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

The BODY POLICE just wrote us another ticket.

Sweating through our workout clothes, is a big NO NO, that is, if the sweat shows up (whisper…blush…giggle…) down there. The “solution” to the non-problem du jour is U By Kotex’s Sports Liners. Thank you, Kotex, for reminding me that I am, in fact, a functioning, healthy human. Here’s the commercial. (Prepare your rage).

In response, Australian Humorist Sammy J sent the BODY POLICE back to the station with: “The Crotch Song” He performed the jaunty tune on the new Australian weekly comedy series Wednesday Night Fever, which he hosts.  Then, like good satire often does, it went viral.

Apparently underestimating our hunger for a good solid FemCare smackdown, Sammy J humbly posted to his Facebook page on July 25th:I awoke to discover my song about crotch sweat has gone viral overnight, clocking up over 30,000 views. Power to the sisterhood!”  Well, Sammy J, your fandom is growing. Video views on YouTube alone are at nearly 48K and climbing.

I love the sassy critique of the product, of course, but I especially appreciate the way Sammy J redirects our attention away from the intractable ‘to use or not to use’ debate that quickly devolves into missing the point much bigger than any particular individual’s consumer choice. Instead, he exhorts every woman to steer clear of men (let’s expand that to ANYONE) “ who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.”

Amen.

Here’s the full lyrics here. Every delicious word.

 The Crotch Song by Sammy J 

 I saw a new ad for a new product aimed at women
New panty liners to eliminate crotch sweat.
And though I don’t have degree in feminism
I feel their message is a little hard to get

Cause the assumption seems to be that sweating when you exercise is a major turn off so it’s best to keep sweating in disguise

But that does not address the fact that any guy who judges you for sweating when you exercise is probably a cock-head.

So if we apply the logic they’re using to sell it.
And your crotch is sweaty so you buy a 30-pack

Well then there’s a stronger chance you’ll end up with a douche-bag, and that’s a few years of your life you won’t get back.

In-fact when you think it through
Any guy who talks to you despite your sweaty crotch has already past a very basic test
It means he’s not brain dead.
It means he understands the cause or link between exercise and perspiration.

So take him to the formal

The website says and this is word for word I’m quoting “It’s time we all stop being shy about vaginas” 


And then you click the product tab they’re promoting
 guilt, shame and embarrassment to sell their panty-liners.

So young girls if you’re listening and your crotch is feeling sweaty.
You can chose to use a liner. 
Do whatever sets you free

But as you make your way through life avoid dating the assholes who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.

[Source: LYBIO.net]

“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you exist.”

June 27th, 2013 by David Linton

Photos by Carly Schneider // Gloria Steinem speaks at the SMCR conference.

“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you exist.” —Gloria Steinem on the SMCR.

A few weeks ago the SMCR presented its first Making Menstruation Matter Award to Gloria Steinem at its biennial conference at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. The full video of the ceremony and her remarks will be posted shortly, but Ms. Steinem’s opening statement, quoted above, set the stage for her talk, as she went on to pay a warm tribute to the Society by stating, “Thank you for making it OK to talk about menstruation.”

The entire gathering lived up to the tone and quality of the opening celebration as future posts and video links will demonstrate.

Stay tuned!

“My Daughter, My Advice”

February 18th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Strange ad copy for an actor without children. But it’s celebrity flashback Monday! Brenda Vaccaro is one of a small number of celebrities who appeared in femcare advertising after she was famous. (Others include tennis star Serena Williams and gymnast Cathy Rigby and Mary Lou Retton.) Cheryl Tiegs, Susan Dey, and Cybill Shepherd all appeared in print ads before they became famous models and actors.

It’s the only power that I possess: Ani DiFranco’s “Blood in the Boardroom”

February 14th, 2013 by David Linton

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui, New York University

Perhaps the most well-known song that addresses menstruation is Ani DiFranco’s “Blood in the Boardroom,” a nearly four-minute narrative about a woman getting her period while sitting in a male-dominated business meeting. The song is from DiFranco’s 1993 album, Puddle Dive, and contains lines identifying women who “bleed to renew life every time it’s cut down” and “right now it’s the only power that I possess.” As such, the song connects the period to an occurrence that bonds women from different classes/social standings; recognizes the period as a source of pride and, as bluntly stated in the song, power; points out the period’s use as a tool of protest; and states the union between life and bleeding. The song is a rich text (and I recommend following along with the lyrics if you’ve never heard the song before) with an even richer music video.

The video is a multi-dimensional piece that opens with a satirical address of typical tampon and pad commercials. A blonde wig-wearing DiFranco sits next to a window, sipping coffee, as she admires the beautiful sunny day. A voice-over starts by saying there are days when women need a “little extra protection,” and ends with a nod to products “introducing the ultimate in feminine protection.” As the last line is said, DiFranco turns to the camera, a small “cat caught the canary” smile on her face, and flicks open a switchblade knife. A play on the meaning of “protection,” the violent image of the knife is contrasted with the soft color palate of the frame and indicates that DiFranco is ultimately the one in power and is capable of her own protection.

The video then proceeds to jump between several quick shots of DiFranco in different locations before coming back to her, by the window, as she “stabs” the camera with the knife, and the song lyrics commence. The act of stabbing (and an aggressive one at that) indicates revulsion of the societal norms regarding the idea of protection from the period. Later in the video, DiFranco removes the wig illustrating the shedding of her faux exterior (an act of defiance) and thus the façade. The rest of the video consists of images of DiFranco performing onstage, shots of DiFranco outside skyscrapers (giving the impression that she is literally and metaphorically outside the male-dominated business world), DiFranco playing with an infant, and two sequences that are, in my opinion, the most distinguished visual sequences of the video: firstly, DiFranco wears a tight white dress and blood “spills” on her from the bottom up while in another image DiFranco rolls in blood on the ground, and, secondly, a collection of words that quickly flash on the screen at various points throughout the song.

The use of blood in the video is notable thanks to DiFranco’s interaction with it: she rolls around on the floor in it, she rubs it on her body, and she is coated in it (while in a white dress). The latter shots turn DiFranco into a used tampon: her tight white dress becomes saturated in red, her white headband turn red, and her face and hair are streaked with the blood. In nearly all of the blood shots, DiFranco seems to enjoy her interaction with it (I would go so far as to argue that, in certain shots, she seems eroticized by it). As she rolls around in it or rubs it on her body, she takes such delight and joviality in the act that she is, thus, embracing part of her existence as a healthy woman.

Mixed with these images of blood are words that flash across the screen creating interesting connections between the lyrics of the song and the words shown. For example, when the word “tampon” is mentioned in the song the word “Plug” is shown on the screen—linking the slang phrase “plug it up” with the menstrual apparatus. In addition, when DiFranco sings about money, what she deems the “instruments of death,” the word “Instruments” flashes on the screen and then all the letters disappear save for the “men” in “Instruments.” She connects the negative notions associated with financial power to men and death and, on the opposite end, women’s ability to make life (the power of the period) should be celebrated.

The text that appears on screen occurs in the following order (all text is in white with a black background unless otherwise noted):

Bored, Bored, Curl, Corporate (turns to Corpse), BLEED (in red font), Love, Life, Period. (punctuation included), Woman, Plug, Menstruate, Puddle (on left side of the screen) turns to Dive (on right), Instruments turns into Men (the letters in Instruments disappear leaving the word men), Life (white background with black writing), Breath (white background with black writing), Board, Bored, Corporate (turns into Corpse), Blood (on the left) turns into Stain (on the right)

As you can see, DiFranco makes numerous hefty statements including the connection between the corporate world and death (Corporate to Corpse)—a sequence that is used twice in the video. Or the play on the homophone of board/bored that is, again, a jab at the corporate world.

The video contains such visually striking images that reaffirm DiFranco’s theme of power in life, and the end of the video is no exception. However, instead of blood or text she concludes in a simple manner: a young child joyfully plays with DiFranco’s guitar as she smiles in amusement.

Big Breasts, Menopause, and Helena Bonham Carter

January 31st, 2013 by Heather Dillaway


Another sign of menopause to add to the list: big breasts. Or so Helena Bonham Carter suggests in a recent interview. She suggests that she did not have big breasts until menopause and that it is “the one benefit of menopause.” But before this comment, she said that she wished they “didn’t stick out as much.” Apparently menopause and big breasts are a mixed blessing.

I’m fascinated by celebrities mentioning menopause these days. Actresses from the UK recently seem to be much more outgoing about their menopausal statuses than actresses from the US (see my previous post about Sinead O’Connor), at least from my followings of celebrity gossip (which, admittedly, is not very thorough). The idea that they are talking about it in passing, in simple conversation, is illustrative of the fact that menopause is not as hidden as it once was.

On the other hand, in this particular case, reading between the lines, Helena Bonham Carter says very directly that larger breasts are “the one benefit” of menopause, inferring that there are many more negatives. Further, the idea that the only benefit is appearance-based is not only interesting but also problematic in its reaffirmation of gendered norms about the necessity for women to look good for others. Finally, it is also clear from her comment that having big breasts – something that is often sought after in our highly sexualized, male-dominated culture – is maybe uncomfortable for women in public and that women’s bodies are indeed on display and women know it. Sure, she could have said that she wished her breasts didn’t stick out as much because they got in the way of her physical movement through space, but I doubt it. I think she made this comment more because of her discomfort with others’ gazes upon her body.

So, what does this all say about menopause? Or about big breasts? I think Helena Bonham Carter’s comments confirm the following: First, menopausal women are definitely still thinking (for better or worse) about their appearances. Second, women are intimately aware of the size of their breasts and understand that they are for public viewing (whether they like it or not). Third, big breasts are seemingly better than small ones, at least according to our various and intersecting gender norms. Fourth, Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t think there are any other benefits to menopause (a dismal thought), and we know she’s not the only one. (But aren’t there plenty of benefits? Come on….Sinead O’Connor thinks so…) Fifth, and despite some of the above conclusions, women aren’t necessarily hiding their menopausal status anymore.

I know, I’ve taken two sentences out of Helena Bonham Carter’s mouth and inferred lots of things, but am I that off base? I don’t think so, but feel free to comment!

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.