- We are big fans of Sarah Haskins Target Women series here at re:Cycling, and were sad to see her leave Current TV in 2010. So sad that we failed to notice the talents of her successor, Erin Gibson.
- A longitudinal population study of 2102 women over 20 years found that copper intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) did not increase pain during menstruation, and levonorgestrel-releasing IUDs did reduce dysmenorrhea. The full study is available online and in downloadable PDF at the link.
- Think Before You Pink, the activist arm of Breast Cancer Action, is offering a free webinar about media literacy related to breast cancer news and health journalism on Wednesday May 29 and Thursday May 30 (it’s the same program offered twice for your convenience – sign up for one or the other, not both).
- Dr. Jen Gunter reports on an Australian study that shows the HPV vaccine to be highly effective in eliminating genital warts. She notes that at least 83% of girls ages 12-18 have received one dose of the vaccine and 73% in this age range have received all three doses in Australia, compared to the Unites States where only 32% of girls ages 13-17 have been vaccinated.
- Sociologist Lisa Wade reports that finances are a larger factor in the choice to remain childless for young women than for previous generations.
- Another outcome of the terminated Women’s Health Initiative hormone study in 2002? Researchers found that ovarian cancer rates were falling by about one percent each year before 2002, then dropped by more than two percent per year. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, as we all learned in basic statistics, but “the association is compelling”, said Hannah Yang of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
- A group of about 60 Ontario women, among whom there have been 40 unwanted pregnancies and four abortions, are suing the manufacturers of Alysena birth control pill, recalled April 8 when it was discovered that some packs contained two rows of placebo pills instead of just one. The class action suit is seeking $800 million in damages.
- This week’s TMI at The Vagenda: What is it like to have a transvaginal ultrasound?
- In the onslaught of all the coverage of Angelina Jolie’s breasts this week, Susan Goldberg asks some important questions about her ovaries at Ms. magazine’s blog.
How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?
Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:
These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.
Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”
Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask: Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?
Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of periodwise.com, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.
“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”
Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.
“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”
A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at Rookie. Read the comments. Readers loved it.
She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to beinggirl.com for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!
The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.
Menstruation appears far more frequently film and television than you might think — Lauren Rosewarne recently identified more than 200 scenes in her study, Periods in Pop Culture. Other scholars, including David Linton, Chris Bobel, and me, have also written frequently about how menstruation is represented in media and pop culture. Certain themes recur, such ideas about fear, illness, shame, secrecy, and premenstrual craziness, to name just a few.
But this scene from the independent film Rid of Me is one-of-a-kind. A woman sees her husband’s new girlfriend in the grocery, and after a moment of icy stares, she quietly slips her hand into her jeans and then wipes it on her romantic rival’s face, leaving a wide streak of menstrual blood. No words are exchanged, and when the other woman discovers what is on her face, she runs screaming from the store.
Rid of Me is described on its website and on Netflix as a ‘black comedy’, which seems to mean comedy which doesn’t make you laugh. It’s the story of Meris, a socially awkward young woman who moves to with her husband to his suburban Portland hometown, where he is soon reunited with his high school girlfriend. He leaves Meris for his ex, and alone in an unfamiliar place, she makes friends in the local punk scene.
When Meris is baffled at being terminated from employment at the candy shop a few days after the menstrual scene shown above, her officious co-worker Dawn tells her that it’s because of the disgusting thing she did: not only the assault, but “touching your own menses”. But the menstrual assault gives her street cred in her new community. When her BFF Trudy asks why she did it, Meris sighs and says, “It had to be done”.
But did it? While the new punked-out Meris is more confident, the use of her menstrual blood doesn’t read as an empowering act in the way of riot grrrls throwing used tampons on stage. This seems meant to embarrass or punish a sexual rival, a reinforcement of menstruation as a stigma.
I’d love to hear what re:Cycling readers think.
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.
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.
The Huffington Post published a story last week titled “Last Menstrual Cycle Could Be Predicted With New Model”. The story stated that a research study had just been published about a new method for predicting the end of menstruation in which researchers developed a formula for using the levels of two hormones, estradiol and follicle stimulating hormone (abbreviated FSH), to make this estimate. This “new method for predicting a woman’s last menstrual cycle could have broader implications for menopausal women’s health”. Since “in the year leading up to the final menstrual period, women are met with faster bone loss and a greater risk of heart disease”, if the end of menstruation could be predicted, medical monitoring and interventions would become possibilities. The research was also reported as news on the medical website Medscape.
Research results are often reported as news stories, as though these results are facts. However, “dog bites man” and “man bites dog” are facts, but research results are not facts in the same way. They are “evidence” that most often must be evaluated, understood, and put into the context of many other studies. There could very well be disagreement about whether a study’s methods really did accurately make a point, or whether the conclusions the researchers drew from their work were justified. Sadly, it happens all too often that research does not make the point that the headlines claim.
Here, we have a study by a respected researcher at a major institution, UCLA, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and other prestigious grantors. However, we do not have the information with which to understand what the researchers actually did. UCLA issued a press release which states that the study “suggests” a way to predict the final period. The Medscape article states that “A new model MAY [my emphasis] help physicians determine how far a woman is from her final menstrual period”.
Suggests? May? I have no idea what this means. As a researcher, I want to look at the published article to see what was actually done. However, the publisher does not make a free copy of the article available. Anyone who wants to look at the published article—a researcher or an informed consumer—would need to pay the publisher $37.00 to access this 20-page article for one day. Predicting the last menstrual period from hormone levels, which is what is claimed, is something other researchers have tried but failed to do, so how these researchers worked with the difficult problems is an important question.
Assume for a moment that the model was a big success, and it did predict the last menstrual period. The idea that this has important implications for women’s health is stated as though it were another fact. However, this is not a fact; this is a complicated and controversial area. Bone density does decrease in the years surrounding menopause, but professionals disagree about how big an effect this has on bone disease. For example, current guidelines recommend testing bone density beginning at age 65, 15 years after the average age of menopause, because this is when the fracture rate has significantly increased. Heart disease risk factors may increase on average in the years surrounding menopause, but professionals disagree about whether menopause is important compared with other factors associated with aging.
Assume for a moment that bone disease really is an important negative health consequence of menopause. Whether interventions would be found that must be started in the year or two before menopause is another speculation. Such interventions might be found or might not. Predicting the last menstrual period, even if the claim is valid that a method to do so has been found, is a long way from preventing disease.
The medical satirist Andrew Vickers wrote an article called “News On Cancer Drug Fails to Raise False Hopes”, which begins: “A recent article on a novel cancer therapy has rocked the newspaper industry by giving a balanced and cautious review of an early-phase trial”. Satirists make extreme statements to make a point. Media reports are often written to sound definite and to portray a study as really important. A cautious approach to medical news is to withhold judgment unless the methodology of the study is clear and the context of the study is understood.