Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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?

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.

“The Tampon that’s Right Even for Single Girls”

November 21st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s Throwback Thursday on social media, and we’re joining in with this ad for Pursettes tampons that ran in Cosmpolitan (U.S.) magazine in 1966. Nearly 50 years on, little has changed in femcare marketing: Look at the familiar themes of medicalization of menstruation, secrecy, fearmongering, and the dreaded scourge of odor problems.

The idea that tampons can steal virginity isn’t quite as pervasive today, but one can still find it in tampon ads as recently as 1990 in teen magazines.

Etiquette for menstruation

November 19th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Photo courtesy of sweeteningthepill.com

Recently I was fortunate enough to be asked to lend an excerpt of my recently released book to the UK Sunday Times Style magazine. The mostly fashion-centric Style magazine is not really known for its edginess or risk-taking (except perhaps in the realm of shoe and make-up choices) and so I was happily surprised when the editor told me that the subject matter discussed in my book that she happened to find most interesting was, in fact, menstruation. I had expected her to want to focus on condoms perhaps, or just my personal story, but no, she was keenly interested in what I wrote about periods.

The argument I make in my book is that how we feel about hormonal birth control is inextricably linked to how we feel about menstruation. In a sense, many of the newer methods of hormonal birth control, as well as the newer uses (running packets of pills together, prescriptions for cramps or heavy bleeding) show an effort to get rid of the period completely, rather than just hide it away. I also discuss in the book, briefly, menstruation activism. However, I do defer to the far better work done by the likes of SMCR’s own Chris Bobel who writes on this topic with far more knowledge (not to mention wit).

You can read the feature in full here at my website (it’s otherwise behind an online pay wall and frankly I’m pleased to rob Rupert Murdoch of a few pounds by making it freely available).

In the end, the feature was not exactly an excerpt from my book – more so it was quotes from the book mixed with quotes from a long interview with the editor. Therefore I didn’t quite know what would be published in the magazine. The finished piece covered a range of controversial topics seen here at re:Cycling regularly – menstrual outing, reusable femcare products, the potential health benefits of ovulation…

If the high point of my career was getting the word “patriarchy” into the notoriously right-wing British tabloid The Daily Mail, I think I had another peak seeing this sentence in the Style (notorious for its high priced designer fashion spreads) – “This movement believes the act of stopping and hiding our periods with hormonal contraceptives and sanitary products is a mark of corporate ownership of our bodies.” I take great pride in also getting a discussion of menstrual extraction on to Style’s pages, and therefore onto the breakfast table of approximately one million British people – “an entire period’s worth of menstrual blood could be removed in a few hours instead of being experienced over days.” Well, if we can have Page 3, why not menstrual extraction?

The editor who did such a great job on this piece was Fleur Britten and in a funny twist of fate I realized, during our conversations, that in my first full time working position after college, at the publishing company Debrett’s in London, I worked as a production assistant on one of her books – Etiquette for Girls. At that time controversy surrounded Fleur’s section on the proper etiquette for one-night stands (I think it was something about getting out quickly, quietly, but leaving a nice handwritten note). So, it made me smile to see her skewer the etiquette of menstruation in the opening paragraph of this piece: “Many women are bored with having to take a whole handbag into the ladies rather than carry a tampon in their hand. Men say “I’m going to take a dump,” but we don’t say, “I’m just going to change my tampon.””

When I was carrying the proofs of Fleur’s book to the printers back some seven years ago, little did I know we would be conspiring to get the British public to say “I am menstruating” today over tea and toast.

Sustainable Cycles: 4624 miles, buckets of sweat, and 90 menstrual cups

September 30th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by Rachel Horn of Sustainable Cycles

All photos courtesy of Owen Gorman.

Last month, I returned to California after my friend Owen and I rode our bicycles from San Francisco to New York City. We rode 4,624 miles through 12 states over 3 months. We carried our essentials (about 70 lbs, bikes included), met hundreds of people, received incredible amounts of kindness, and talked a lot about periods.

I am a spokeswoman for a project called Sustainable Cycles—I rode from town to town, facilitating discussions about menstrual products. Women, men, people, bookworms, students, graduates, clinicians, mothers, teenagers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, passers by—we all gathered to talk about the cost (~$2000 over a lifetime), waste (~260 lbs of trash), and content (synthetics, pesticides, & dioxins) of conventional pads and tampons. I carried a slew of products with me—a pad, a tampon, a cloth pad, sea sponges, and menstrual cups—to show, and we created a space where any question could be asked and any story be shared. Each event was a space for open, honest, and unashamed conversation about anything menstruation-related. As party favors, people who wanted to make ‘the switch’ from disposables left with a new menstrual cup.

Owen and I had never done a long-distance bike trip before, but by now we’re pretty good at it. Our farthest day was 123 miles from Cleveland, OH to Erie, PA; the longest stretch without services was 84 miles in Utah; our tallest summit was 11,400 feet in Colorado; and we only ran out of water once (which was enough) in Nevada. I organized discussions along the way using public library computers and fast food restaurant wifi. At night we stayed in parks, campsites, at friends of friends places, with online hosts, and with random strangers we met in bike shops. I found people all across this country to be incredibly giving and hospitable. We were treated to countless meals, showers, beds, laundry, great conversations, and all kinds of support. If I had a nickel for every time I was told, “this is your home”, I could buy all 30 jars of peanut butter we consumed.

Sustainable Cycles is small, it’s young, and it is one of the most amazing projects of our time. I happened to stumble upon it earlier this year as I was brainstorming about how to fund my cross-country cycling adventure. I found a blog about two young women who bicycled from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2011, hootin’ and hollerin’ about menstruation and giving away free menstrual cups as they went. Toni and Sarah were “sparking a grassroots movement toward more sustainable approaches to menstruation” and, armed with almost 300 cups donated to them, started Sustainable Cycles. A satisfied cup user myself, I contacted them, began to fundraise, received 90 cups generously donated by DivaCup, and on May 4, 2013 began spreading the gospel as I pedaled east.

Most of the people we encountered were supportive and surprised by the project. I got anywhere from a pensive “Um…that’s interesting…I’ll tell my wife” to a passionate “Thank you so so much for doing this”. The purpose of this bike ride is to combat the shame and taboo that keeps us silent and ignorant about issues surrounding menstruation. It is about calling attention to the environmental, economic, and health impacts of conventional products and creating a space where people can question exactly what they support with their dollar, be it Tampax tampons or cut-up T-shirts. It is about sharing knowledge and empowering each other; everyone is invited to the discussion, no matter what they do or do not use. I see menstruation as a phenomenon that connects us despite race, color, gender, socioeconomic status, language, ethnicity, culture, ability, education level, shape, size, etc. It is a conversation we do no have often enough. During my three months on the road, I held discussions in all of the states I pedaled through, gifted cups to interested persons, and met a lot of people I otherwise may never have. Like a professional taxidermist in Nevada, a man in Nebraska who’s first and last name are exactly the same, and a solo bike tourist who became our dear friend.

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]

Awesome period video “Camp Gyno” refreshingly anti-shaming

August 1st, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Therese Shechter

Have you seen this video Camp Gyno making the rounds of social media today much to the delight of anyone who is sick of the shaming and secrecy and perceived ickyness of talking about our periods? It’s a totally exuberant and delightful story of tween/teen girls and periods and camp and tampons that includes the phrase “red badge of courage” (which will now replace “crimson tide” as my favorite menstruation euphemism).

People are clearly loving it, with headlines like “An Amazing Breakthrough In Tampon Advertising” and comments like:

“Maybe now men can start to accept that periods are normal and not freak out if a girl does something as scandalous as carry a tampon IN HER HAND… and not her purse”

“It’s nice to see people are finally breaking down the walls and making menstruation a normal thing and not something to be ashamed of.”

I. LOVE. IT.

Surprisingly (not surprisingly) there are also a significant handful of commenters who are wondering why tweens are using tampons because, you know, VIRGINITY! Um, because some people find them more comfortable, you can swim in them,  you don’t feel like you’re wearing a wet diaper, and tampon use has nothing to do with virginity because hymens have nothing to do with virginity. Virginity is my business, BUT I DIGRESS from what’s really confusing me…

The video is for a new company called Hello Flo which creates “a customized solution” to “deliver the right products at the right time” for your period. Unfortunately, they sell the service with lines that read to me like the same old shaming we’ve been hearing since ladies got sent to huts at the edge of the village:

“I didn’t want to trek through my office with a practically see-through plastic bag with tampons.”

“We do it with care and appreciation for the sensitivity of this purchase.”

“All your tampons and feminine supplies delivered right to your door in a discreet box.”

You know, like back when your druggist wrapped your sanitary pad purchases in brown paper so you wouldn’t be embarrassed taking it home from the  store. Also, how does a tampon delivery service help that office worker with the practically see-through plastic bag? What she clearly needs is a Vinnie’s Tampon Case!

So what’s this disconnect between the exuberant little girl and all that embarrassment over taking-tampons-to-the-ladies-room stuff? It reminds me of companies using feminist language to draw consumers into non-feminist products. Like back when the “Dove Real Beauty” campaign first rolled out those billboards about loving your body… to sell anti-cellulite creme, which Jenn Pozner wrote about for Bitch Magazine.

So, what’s up, Hello Flo? Your video rocks! Its message is a hit! Why go and muddle the issue with that contrary copy? Here’s my proposal: Your follow up video should be a woman in an office taking her tampons out of that plastic bag and tossing them exuberantly at her menstruating workmates. No more plastic bags. We’re carrying them in our teeth! Office Gyno!

Update: The Hairpin just did an interview with the creators of the video. Commenter ChevyVan, with whom I’ve been talking, put it well:  “They want as many customers as possible. The ones that think the video is awesome, and the ones who want discreet packaging, and they’re betting on most people not paying attention to the contradictory messages those 2 approaches are sending. And again, it’s the sales pitch out both sides of the mouth that’s the icky part to people like you and me.”

Therese Shechter just completed the new documentary “How to Lose Your Virginity”; go to virginitymovie.com for more info on sales and screenings.

Cross-posted from “How to Lose Your Virginity” blog.

Giving birth in ditches

July 30th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

The second week of July began with a post at The Daily Beast titled ‘Are Tampons Anti-Feminist’ and ended with my own post for Dame ‘5 Facts About Menstrual Suppression.’ In between there was ‘Not Everything is a Feminist Issue for Chissakes,’ and ‘I Do Not Think Tampons Are Anti-Feminist, for Chrissakes.’ Meanwhile, towards the end of that week, women were having their tampons and pads confiscated by security guards at the Texas Senate as they entered to protest the proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks. It was a perfect storm for a debate around menstrual shame.

With notable foresight the first article mentioned ends with, “For women who can’t break the silence, there are other ways to protest. Just ask DiFranco. “I didn’t really have much to say/the whole time I was there,” she sings in “Blood in the Boardroom,” “so I just left a big brown bloodstain/on their white chair.”” Later, women at the Texas Senate shared responses that were similar to this statement (“No tampons allowed? Guess we’ll just have to bleed all over the seats” and “Maybe it’s time for a bleed-in”), although there were an equal number remarking on their feelings of humiliation and horror at having their tampons and pads exposed in public.

Somehow, along the way, these threads of discussion were merged – if we’re considering tampons as anti-feminist, or menstrual shame culture as anti-feminist more accurately, then surely what we’re saying is that women should just bleed all over their furniture and clothing, right? Right?

Texas native and high-profile feminist writer Amanda Marcotte weighed in on the debate: “I used to joke that anti-choicers would start considering bans on menstruation,” she wrote.

I would argue that between menstrual shame culture and the pharmaceutical industry we have a “ban on menstruation” of a kind already.

When asked why it was necessary to keep tampons and pads “private” anyway and why it was that confiscating them in public was being discussed as a power move on the part of the Senate employees, she responded with:

“I’m not afraid to be a urinating human being, but I also don’t just go pee on the street corner. One can want to go about without blood on their clothes and not be ashamed of being female. I promise.”

And then, after some attempts at reasoning, “Convinced. I am going to pee freely now, and anyone who says no is just down on me for having a urethra.”

Never mind that they weren’t confiscating toilet paper, available and publicly displayed in the Senate bathrooms.

Elsewhere she suggested that those who were questioning our acceptance of the menstrual hygiene industry’s messages were just “weirdos.”

Marcotte: “I just want once to make a tampon joke without the weirdos who think women should bleed freely for “feminism” coming at me.”

Response: “Do these people have jobs? Or couches?”

Marcotte: “I have no idea. I just assume it’s part of that crunchy fake feminism that thinks women should give birth in ditches, too.”

I don’t think many women are going to argue that we bleed on our couches and clothes because, considering the statistics on division of housework, it’s definitely women who are going to have to clean that up. And if doing laundry isn’t anti-feminist, well, I don’t know what is.

Elsewhere the writer of ‘Not Everything is a Feminist Issue…’ Erin Gloria Ryan, another high-profile feminist writer, when directed to re:Cycling as a source of knowledge on the issue responded with “Ill read it (the blog) aloud at my next fun social gathering filled with normal people.”

Whether it’s from lack of awareness of the history of oppression of women via their bodies or whether it’s just another symptom of the corporate/capitalist feminism that dominates the mainstream, these are the women considered to be representative of the whole.

I relay the details of this interesting week not to depress, but to galvanize.

I, for one, am proud to be a weirdo, an abnormal person, a crunchy feminist, a fake feminist, oh and a miserable enemy of uteri everywhere, a bitch, and a…err…fish.

Menstruation as a sensory and aesthetic experience

June 28th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

Public domain photo // Wikimedia Commons

I recently attended the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in New York and left the conference with some rekindled inspiration about the importance of seeing menstruation as a shared experience of feminist embodiment. Moreover, after leaving the conference this point was repeatedly driven home by conversations with people who did not attend the conference. One of the most common reactions I have gotten when discussing the SMCR conference was, “Are there enough people studying that to warrant an entire conference?” Somehow the “unmentionable” aspects of menstruation translate for various audiences into surprise that a reasonably large group of people would want to study it. My response is that SMCR brings together people with disparate interests that collide around a solidly feminist understanding that embodiment matters. How we experience our bodies, and the shame and empowerment stories that surround them, informs not only self-understanding but our perceptions and knowledge of systems of oppression. Never have I participated in a more wholly and unapologetically feminist conference; even the National Women’s Studies Association, by comparison, often shies away from showing its feminist politics so blatantly or celebrating its feminist sisterhood so openly. The conference delivered an opportunity to think deeply about feminist embodiment, with the menstrual cycle as its primary target.

My partner and I left New York a few days after the conference to fly to Florida for a few days of swimming in the warm Caribbean waters along the coast of Ft Lauderdale and Miami. We had run around New York for a week by then, dashing from place to place in the chaotic and intense tumble of the city, our heads full of culture and our feet aching. By the time we arrived in the humid, balmy South Florida sun, we needed some repair, some sleep, some time to do a whole-lot-of-nothing. (The SMCR conference bag, doubling as a beach bag in Florida, got some long, long stares.) On our final day of the trip, we had an evening flight back home so we decided to spend the day in the ocean and head straight for the airport for what turned out to be an unusually terrible flight—completely full, broken air conditioning, no food or movie, and seated in the back row next to lines of antsy passengers waiting for the restroom. I remember standing in the smelly tiny box of the airplane bathroom (by then drizzled and perfumed with that familiar mix of urine, water, and toxic cleaner smell) reflecting on the importance of our sensory and aesthetic experiences. Shifting from New York to Florida had transitioned us from the provocative but grueling concrete StairMaster of New York (complete with peeling ceilings in the subway) to the soothing peacefulness of bath-water oceans. To then enter the nasty sensory assault of that airplane provided quite a jolt to the senses.

With menstruation on my mind, I wondered, then, if a major motivation for convincing people to use alternative menstrual products is simply that it creates a better sensory and aesthetic experience. Mainstream tampons and pads seem a lot like metaphorical airplanes—unintuitive, wasteful, uninspired, bland, and meant to leave us with no sense of individuality or humanity. For me, switching from years of using tampons to instead using funky, super comfortable, eco-friendly Lunapads created the opportunity for a better sensory experience—as they were physically more comfortable and created no unpleasant smells—and aesthetic experience—as they added a bit of individuality and uniqueness to the experience by having visual appeal. Reusable pads also eliminated the problem of worrying about clogging toilets with tampons, filling trash cans with ugly wrappers, and carrying a pile of products along on trips and vacations. For me, Lunapads created a bit of much-needed peace with my menstrual cycle.

At the SMCR conference, two students of mine—Stephanie Robinson-Cestaro and Jaqueline Gonzalez—presented a workshop there on how to “sell” a new menstrual narrative, that is, how to convince reluctant people to try alternative products and ditch mainstream FEMCARE products. (They created an organization called M.A.R.C.—the Menstrual Activist Research Collective—designed to help distribute alternative literature and encourage new coalitions of young activists.) We constantly strategize about how to talk about and recruit women to take the plunge and try “weird” products like sea sponges, DivaCups, and reusable pads. In addition to the important political and environmental dimensions of such a decision, I would add that alternative products typically create a more sensual and aesthetic experience. We should care about this. Our menstrual cycles deserve as much care and attention as do our other “private” rituals—bathing, sleeping, grooming, and so on. When we treat our bodies well, and stop managing our cycles with crappy, cheap, potentially harmful products, we connect better to ourselves and the world in general.

Illustrating menstruation with something other than femcare products

May 29th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

Frances, a woman in her 50s, had never talked about menstruation with anyone before attending Scarlet Summer.

The woman who created this image brought her baby with her to the event.

Bleedy the Period Puppet was created by artist Bree Horel.

Andrea, 25, said this piece depicts the multiple emotions she feels around menstruation.

It was great to see the media attention garnered last week by Red Moon Howl, the menstrual poetry slam happening in New York City on Friday night, June 7, 2013, at Marymount Manhattan College. The event is part of the upcoming Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference – Making Menstruation Matter.

But as re:Cycling noted on our Facebook page, it was a shame the only way Jezebel, The Gloss, and The Frisky could think to illustrate their previews of the event was with stock photos of femcare products.

It made me realize the value of the archive I have of menstrual images created by women who attended the menstrual arts and crafts events we hosted when I was executive director of Sexual Health Access Alberta. At Scarlet Summer [pdf], an event held in August 2007, attendees watched Giovanna Chesler’s documentary Period: End of Menstruation, participated in a discussion, then created visual and tactile illustrations of what menstruation means to them.

In anticipation of the upcoming conference and menstrual poetry slam, here are several menstrual images that may inspire your own periodic creativity.

#Making Menstruation Matter—For All the Wrong Reasons

April 15th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Oops!

Somebody fell in it.

And by it I mean the tired old WomenCan’tDoStuffBecauseTheyAreWomen pit–a veritable snake hole crawling with misogynists, essentialists, and old school protectionists.

Image adapted from public domain photo // Design by Anne Bobel Zelek
[Actual menstrual status of shooter unknown. That's the point, people. You can't tell]

Terri Proud, a newly hired Administrative Assistant in the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, landed in the pit recently when she (allegedly) made comments about women’s menstrual cycles in combat. She was fired, and her boss, Colonel Joey Strickland, was asked by the Arizona governor to resign (apparently, Strickland hired Proud against the Governor’s wishes).

According to the Arizona-Sonora News Service, when asked about women serving on the front lines, Proud said “Women have certain things during the month I’m not sure they should be out there dealing with….”

Proud says she was misquoted. Was she or wasn’t she? Even if the quote is verbatim, I struggle to imagine a government official’s capacity  to register the absurdity of this comment, but maybe I am just cynical. Suffice it to say, there is surely more to this obviously political  here, but I’d like to focus on the menstrual dimension.

The assumptions about what women can and cannot do while menstruating make for a long and logic-defying list. The rationale for menstrual prohibitions is sometimes religious  (e.g., bans on menstruating women from religious rites, sex, and food preparation). There’s another category of no-nos beyond the menstrual taboo, though.  Women can’t do [fill in the blank] because their periods render them incapacitated or otherwise put them at risk. Many people still believe a woman should not camp or hike in bear infested woods because their menstrual odor will render them bear bait.  Not true. Often, women themselves are constructed as the predators during their PRE-menstrual period. You know….PMSing women are dangerous, even potentially homicidal. And women can’t be trusted to make decisions (or serve on the Supreme Court) because they are Out Of Control.

But we know differently. Women—during all phases of the menstrual cycle—can do all manner of things,  all the time, thank you very much, including jobs that are not, shall we say, menstrual management-friendly. They fight forest fires. They collect data in remote field sites. They orbit space. They are perform brain surgery.

Yet, PREJUDICE against women is often JUSTIFIED because they menstruate. The Disability Rights/Inclusion Movement has taught us that often, the most pernicious barriers to inclusion are perceptions, not the actual limits imposed by our disabilities. That’s certainly the case here. Let me go out on limb here: if women were respected, if women were valued, if women were seen as competent peers, then the fact of their menstruation would be less of a “disability” and more of a fact of a life.

But you know what? I want to give Terri Proud the benefit of the doubt for a minute. When pressed about her comment by The Arizona Daily Star, Proud said “I don’t have a problem with women being on the front line if that’s their choice….I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘No, you don’t have that right.” In the same story, Proud is described as harboring  a “curiosity”  about “how menstrual cycles are handled” and noted “that whether or not that hurdle is being addressed is a real issue, even if it isn’t talked about. Women are designed differently from men and need to have their needs met on the front lines.” And I say to that: well done Terri Proud, Menstrual Activist.

Because she is right. Menstruation is a reality, and menstruators need support and resources. Managing our menses can be tough when we don’t have access to facilities, or privacy, or both. Anybody that’s been camping while on their period can tell you that (bears notwithstanding) this IS a REAL issue. So she is right to ask (even if she is merely doing so to recover from blurting out something really dumb) What is the US military doing for women in combat? Now with the ban on women in (officially recognized) combat positions is no more, a change in policy that is expected to open 230,000 front-line positions to women, this question demands answers.

One answer: Suppress menstruation through the use of extended oral contraceptive pills. That is an option, yes, but it might not be the right one for every woman. Even beyond many menstrual cycle researchers discomfort with the one-size-fits-all approach to dosing cycle-stopping contraception (readers of re:Cycling are no stranger to concerns about this trend), there is a deeper concern about the implications of just making the menses go away.

Cycle stopping contraception, Liz Kissling has argued, enables a particularly new manifestation of the docile neoliberal subject. The feminine non-mensturating body, is not, as popularly believed, liberated, but rather, one held even tighter to the hegemonic male standard. Place this compliant amenorrheaic body in the context of the military and a curious paradox is revealed. The submissive soldier? The docile woman packing an assault rifle? Really? Seems both oxymoronic, and hardly like a gain in the fight for women’s equality.

Instead, can we imagine an expanded universe of menstrual management options?

  • Reusable cups and sponges provided for free (with eww-effect reduction training included) ?
  • Cycle stopping contraception offered as an option (not a mandate)—including an honest discussion of risks and benefits?
  • Quality reproductive health care in which menstrual health is a part of a comprehensive whole?
  • Work cultures, even remote ones, that acknowledge cyclical and variable human needs of all sorts?

Otherwise, if women must alter their very bodies to “fit in” and be taken seriously in their jobs, show me the ground we have gained. Cuz when I look down, all I see is the bottom of the same ole stinky pit.

Early German Menstrual TV Advertising

February 26th, 2013 by David Linton

It is axiomatic that advertising commonly reflects and reinforces social values. At other times, by introducing new products or new perspectives on existing products, advertising serves as an agent of social change. Nowhere are these two phenomena more evident than in ads for menstrual products.

On one hand, when ads tell consumers that a particular device will guarantee secrecy or the avoidance of embarrassment, they perpetuate the shame factor that is deeply embedded in the social construction of menstruation. But on the other hand, when ads promise greater freedom of movement and social engagement, they make a contribution to undermining the notion that the period is a physically and socially debilitating event.

It is especially interesting to observe these processes at work in the context of varied social and historical settings. Though the menstrual cycle is a biological universal, its cultural significance is as mutable as any other human condition. For instance, consider the attached TV ad for Tampax, which is the first ad for a menstrual product to appear on German television.

Before we even know what the product is we learn that it has to do with some sort of perfection. Against a black screen the following words appear:

Stets Makellos. . . (Always Impeccable)
Freiheit in Sauberkeit (Freedom via Cleanliness)

Three brief vignettes follow set in countries that only a decade before were mortal enemies and are now depicted as role models for modern women. In the U.S. we see that modern women work in an office and that there’s a peculiar new word that has something to do with relieving work pressure: “Tampax.” Next, we visit a jazz club in Paris where sophisticated women also share the secret magical word that seems to make it possible for them to hang out in nightclubs. It’s some kind of password or incantation. Then we hit the beach in Italy, which was at the time this ad was created in the mid-1950s, was becoming a favorite destination for German tourists. Again the magic word, “Tampax,” has something to do with the fact that these attractive young women in their two-piece bathing suits can frolic in the surf.

Finally, we are told, “And now also in Germany,” accompanied by an image of a damaged Brandenburg Gate and two other German landmarks, and we get to see the product and find out what it is. By now the product is nearly a magic wand which, when waved while whispering the secret word “Tampax,” can result in an easier work day, fun evenings of dancing, and worry-free days at the beach. But while those are the characteristics of American, French, and Italian women’s lives due to Tampax, German women, if they adopt this “world brand, with applicator,” are promised “perfection of female hygiene.” And to drive the point home, a stern looking woman dressed in what looks like a nurse’s uniform, assures the women gathered around her and watching at home on television that if they use Tampax to manage their periods they will be, “Safe and Clean.”

There are many striking things about this ad, not the least of which is the stereotypical view of German concern for cleanliness which, in this case, takes precedence over the hedonism of those French and Italian women — although American women are depicted as hard workers (note the way the office worker assaults her typewriter). And note the specific reference to the fact that Tampax uses an applicator. The chief competition for Tampax in Germany was the o.b. tampon which was invented in 1947 and does not use an applicator. At the time the marketers of Tampax believed that German women would respond to the same appeal to fastidiousness that American women exhibited in their desire to avoid touching themselves too intimately. However, o.b. did become the German tampon of choice, far outselling the American competitor. Though the woman at the end of the ad is costumed like a nurse, the appeal to hygiene and hospital sterility did not tip the scale in favor of Tampax.

About thirty years later a reversal of this tampon competition occurred when the owners of the o.b. brand tried to take on the American market by promoting the superiority of using a tampon without an applicator. That campaign also failed, though its story reveals more nuances regarding the ever-evolving role of menstrual perspectives across cultures. A future post will delve into that chapter of menstrual history.

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.