Free access to Women’s Reproductive Health, the journal launched by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in 2014, is available to all SMCR members. To become a member of the society or to obtain a subscription contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For media, submission, and other inquires about the journal contact editor Joan C. Chrisler at email@example.com.
Guest Post by Joan C. Chrisler
The spring 2015 issue of Women’s Reproductive Health contains our first special section: on postmenopausal hormone therapy. The section contains a thought-provoking anchor article by menopause expert, psychologist Paula Derry. It is followed by short commentaries by a multidisciplinary group of menopause experts–a physician, a sociologist, an anthropologist, and a nurse. This set of papers would make an excellent reading assignment for a women’s health course, and it is sure to generate class discussion. The issue also contains two other research reports: one on women’s experiences with gynecological examinations, and the other on the relative absence of mentions of menstruation in novels aimed at adolescent girls because publishers are worried about challenges by parents and school boards that could hurt sales. The issue is rounded out with three book reviews.
Women’s Reproductive Health
Special Section on Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy
Evidence-based Medicine, Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy, and the Women’s Health Initiative – Paula Derry
The Science of Marketing: How Pharmaceutical Companies Manipulated Medical Discourse on Menopause – Adriane Fugh-Berman
Medicalization Survived the Women’s Health Initiative…but Has Discourse Opened up? – Heather Dillaway
Animal Models in Menopause Research – Lynette Leidy Sievert
Lost in Translation? – Nancy Fugate Woods
A Multi-method Approach to Women’s Experiences of Reproductive Health Screening – Arezou Ghane, Kate Sweeny, & William L. Dunlop
The Censoring of Menstruation in Adolescent Literature: A Growing Problem – Carissa Pokorny-Golden
Investigating the Ubiquitous: The Everyday Use of Hormonal Contraceptives – Marie C. Hansen
Menstruation’s Cultural History – David Linton
WomanCode: Caveat Emptor – Elizabeth RoweJoan C. Chrisler is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and the founding editor of Women’s Reproductive Health. Her special areas of interest include PMS, attitudes toward menstruation and menopause, sociocultural aspects of menstruation, and cognitive and behavioral changes across the menstrual cycle.
“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artists & Panel Speakers: Alvarez, Boros, Goldbloom Bloch, Kyle & MadelineJune 3rd, 2015 by Jen Lewis
I believe my project fulfills the call for art because I use menstrual fluid as the primary source for the art and encouraged participants to confront their discomforts with menstruation. Empowerment was my main goal with the art, both for myself and for menstruators as a whole. The project was called “Cup of Flow” and involved my inviting a group of women over to my home to watch me interact with my menstrual blood and my menstrual cup. I interacted with the blood in a hands-on way that involved touching it, smelling it, wearing it as lipstick, and tasting it. My goal was to push the boundaries of what most of the attendees had probably experienced before. I also used a speculum to allow the attendees to watch me menstruate directly from the cervix, the source. I had accumulated some menstrual blood in a mason jar prior to the event that had coagulated and allowed for the guests to pass it around and examine it. The menstrual cup was an important element because we took the conversation into a broader spectrum of environmentalism. Everyone was allowed to take pictures and post to social media using the hashtag (#cupofflow). The images were flagged by Facebook users as “obscene,” but when threatened to have them removed we launched a formal complaint asking Facebook to reconsider by explaining that menstrual blood is natural and not trauma induced. The pictures ultimately remained posted to the website. In the revolution there will be blood!
Niddah: The topic of female victimaztion has been covered in the news with alarming frequency in the past year. This provoked me to turn to my own religious roots and learn about the Judaic tradition of Niddah, the14 day separation of women during and after menstruation. In traditional homes, women cannot have contact with their husbands nor participate in religious observation during Niddah. In this project, I project both the negativity that is inherent in the Talmudic view of women’s cycles as well as my own ambivalence to the bodily process.
Niddah: Seven Days: Over the course of seven panels an overprinted image emerges both reaching out and inaccessible. The last print shows a complete hand in black against a watery background, a visual reference to the tradition of ritual immersion that marks the completion of Niddah.
The Women Series: I reflect on how traditional women experience societal exclusion during their periods. The ghostlike images roughly flesh out each woman’s shape, their presence described by their absence. I gave these women a strong stance, unafraid and proud, yet their isolation is undeniable. Whether the isolation is societal or self-imposed it is unclear.
The Curses: These embroidered depictions show some of the physical manifestations of menstruants. The banners refer to a family coat of arms which displays negative sideffects with the pride that one hangs a family crest. At the bottom of every banner are bdikah cloths painted with abstractions. These are used by Jewish women to check for purity in the seven days following menses.
Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch
I love hardware stores. As a little girl, I would accompany my father on his errands and get lost in the aisles imagining all the things I could make from the bits and pieces I came across. Since that time, hardware stores have been the inspiration for many of the mixed-media sculptures I create. I see the beauty in common objects. Each bit and piece is a mini-sculpture to me. The shape of each singular object, the texture and the transformation of grouping small bits into a larger whole is what drives my art. By using everyday items and transforming them into something entirely different from their intended purpose, I try to draw the viewer in to take a closer look at materials and objects that ordinarily go unnoticed.
At the root of all my work is a fundamental belief in the power of image and an understanding of the body as the primary site of knowing the world. I see images and image making as a practice in magic as much as theory: I have found that by simply re-appropriating the female form through my work, I am able to simultaneously re-appropriate the female experience. I take back both personal cultural space through the making of alternative images of the abstract and literal female figure.
My work takes a critical view of societal, political and cultural issues, focusing on identity, gender binary and the human mind. Reflecting the emotional dimensions of personal memories, collected histories, and cultural myths, I constantly search for new possibilities, thriving on chance outcomes and the connections (physical and virtual) that link nature and the overlooked realities of our lives. As an artist concerned with real life stories, I am affected by those with untold, sometimes overwhelming, hidden perspectives.
These themes are often combined into experimental installations, employing different techniques which include: video, sound, photography, installation and site specific art. I am a curious artist using diverse exploratory technics, all of which I self produce.
Inspired by repetitive dreams and underpinned by memories , driven by my understanding of the female conditions and the manifestation of injustice in patriarchy, the issues of woman’s social and sexual conditioning have all formed the foundation of my current work.
Surreal quality images, revealing glimpses of potential possibilities, what latently exists in nature, suggesting different views of our external world, inviting the viewer to move into a space of speculation.
If I have learned anything over the last two years of producing Beauty in Blood, it is that menstruation matters more than most people in society are willing to recognize; it is deeply embedded in our global body politics and is a major contributor to the vast gender inequity between men and women today. Institutionalized hierarchies maintain and support the outdated patriarchal belief that menstruation makes the female body inferior to the male body. Billions of dollars are spent annually trying to make women’s bodies conform to male “norms” by suppressing the natural menstrual cycle through hormonal birth control. The feminine “hygiene” industry perpetuates taboo thinking by suggesting the monthly cycle is dirty and socially impolite; it should be concealed in frilly pink wrappers like candy and only very loosely referenced with blue liquid in product commercials. In my experience, women and men are hungry for an authentic dialogue about menstruation and all that encompasses. It is clear the time is now to stand up and speak out on behalf of menstruation. It is a natural, messy but beautiful part of life. Just because it is not a shared experience doesn’t mean it needs to be a divisive topic that aids in gender inequity. Beauty in Blood asserts that menstruation needs to be seen to help normalize the female body and to acknowledge this part of the female experience by inviting the viewer to take a closer look and reflect on their personal gut reactions to the subject of “menstruation.”
Menstruarte – Showing the Abjection
As feminist I’m concerned primarily with woman as a theme, or the showing of the ways women are discriminated against in this patriarchal society. Menstruation is a stigmatic condition (Erving Goffman). Women are regarded as of lesser value, as the Other (Simone de Beauvoir). I’m concerned with showing this mechanism and at the same time with undermining it.
By using menstrual blood in my informel and monochrome work, I draw attention to the negative taboo and publicly show something that is usually kept secret – everything is done to make the time of menstruation as invisible as possible. Cleanliness and discretion are foremost. The leaking women were seen as unclean, and the unpure blood contrasted with the masculine, healing blood of Christ. So I called a serie of menstruation pictures „That’s the blood I’ve spilled for you”, the other simply “Menstruarte”. “Hidden Abject” shows blood through a small cut in the canvas. I try first through the completed abstract structure of the menstrual blood to make the viewer aware of the theme, and second, I use the aesthetic work to reverse the negative value. Menstrual blood is abject: “Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either” (Julia Kristeva).
I first began creating artworks incorporating menstrual fluid in 2005, pressing my menstrual vagina to watercolor paper each morning to make a series of monoprints. My purpose in producing and exhibiting these works was to confront the taboo associated with menstruation, demystify this natural function of the female body, and promote thought-provoking discussion among women & men, artists & non-artists alike.
After exhibiting these pieces, I curated a St. Louis based exhibition, entitled Life Blood Exhibit, which traveled throughout the city and to Cape Girardeau, MO from 2011 – 2012. I have also continued to explore female reproductive health, with artworks themed around celebrating women’s bodies to addressing health concerns (my own and others’) to the political and social arena (abortion, birth control, the confiscation of tampons at a July 2013 Texas legislative meeting…).
Two concurrent sessions continue the menstrual exploration with imagination and practicality on Saturday, June 6th at at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.
Menstrual Heterotopias in Spatial Art Practice
Ruth Green-Cole, NorthTec & Victoria University of Wellington
Menstruation is a significant marker of sexual difference; it is ‘gendered blood’ that divides and distinguishes women, and that has made them in many cases by association, the ‘subjects’ of taboo. The contemporary spatial artworks I present are instrumental in undermining this stigma and bring about changes in what we assume to be the function and value of art.
Image credit: Danielle Hogan
Special Edition Playtex, 2006
(from the Value Added series 2003-2006)
Collection of the Artist
Artist website: Danielle Carla Hogan
Blood For Thought: A closer look on contemporary conceptualization of menstruation
Anna Krol, Purchase College
What does it mean to menstruate in our culture? What is said (and not said) about bodies in relation to the conceptualization of periods in Western culture reveals deeper layers of sociopolitical fears and imperatives that involve challenges to traditional, authoritative, privileged-based reason prescribed to all for and by the privileged.
Mucus: The other taboo fluid
Lisa Leger, Justisse Healthworks for Women
While making menstruation matter at #SMCR2013, Lisa Leger asked “Where’s the Blood?” in pop culture’s sexy vampire stories. At this year’s conference, she explores “Where’s the Mucus?” in any form of entertainment or even sex ed. We rarely see references to menstrual blood in stories about women. Cervical mucus is mentioned even less. Our culture’s squeamishness causes an unfair knowledge gap. Let’s decode the mysteries of the mucus. Reproductive justice includes awareness, understanding and acceptance of cervical mucus as a normal, healthy part of female reproductive health.
Social Context and Identity:
In a series of 26 very short, original poems written in the second person, I represent discourses of menstruation through aesthetic performance. Calling on the corporeal body to translate poetic expression from the page to the stage, the performance pursues the meeting of embodied language and language about bodies.
Between weirdness & empowerment: How social class shapes girls’ experiences of menarche and the female body
Theresa E. Jackson, Northeastern University
This qualitative study investigates how girls from diverse social locations make meaning out menarche and their changing bodies. Results indicate that all girls appropriate messages of shame related to menstruation. Discussions of the female body diverged according to social class where working-class participants highlighted vulnerability and middle-class participants acknowledged empowerment.
The optimal choice for menstrual protection for women: Reflections of MHM campaigners of MITU, an NGO, based on their experiences of three years in Rural Karnataka India
Kala Charlu, Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment
This paper presents findings from a Bangalore based organisation, MITU (Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment) on what are the right alternatives for protection during menstruation based on the last three years’ work with over 5000 under-privileged girls and women in Bangalore and Rural Karnataka. Conflicting objectives like health, hygiene, convenience, affordability and Eco-friendliness have made us ponder over the right way forward in this continuously evolving scenario.
Looking back, looking ahead: Two NGOs in India collaborate in a sanitary napkin user trial and critically examine their field interventions
Lakshmi Murthy, Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology & Kala Charlu, Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment
Collaborative reflective studies in the area of menstruation were conducted by two NGOs in culturally diverse rural locations in India. In Study 1, 50 users compared two menstrual products. In Study 2, we interviewed 60 users to assess effectiveness of NGO interventions. Results helped both NGOs to redesign future goals.
Two workshops explore the menstrual health/awareness and reproductive justice connection on Saturday, June 6th at at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.
POLITICS IS A MESSY BUSINESS: Menstrual Health, Reproductive Health Advocacy, Human Rights and Justice
Sharon L. Powell, Artist and Educator, S L Powell Public Affairs Services
Menstruation is part of the spectrum of reproductive health. Menstruation and menstrual cycle discourse takes up space as marker in the health and identity of female bodied individuals as well as in constructions of fertility. As such, it is on a reproductive health advocacy agenda. Menstrual health and menstrual health education are cornerstones of a reproductive health advocacy framework. Human rights and social justice movements concerned with self determination, health, human dignity, privacy, and bodily integrity, should pay political attention to menstrual health’s crucial and complicated place in an interdependent web of reproductive health concerns.
Social and chemical control of fertility is specifically connected to the hormones associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstrual shame. Hysteria. Sexualization. Contraceptive and other reproductive technologies. How does one truly consent to the use of reproductive innovations like hormonal birth control if they do not understand the hormonal patterns they are born with or acquire? Reproductive justice groups and reproductive health advocates must look at issues of self determination with an intersectional lens, acknowledging female bodied individuals’s multiplicity. It is important to explore and create opportunities for female bodied individuals to learn more about their bodies, not just lobby for abstract concepts of reproductive freedom.
Twenty years ago, I presented a paper at the Society’s conference in Montreal, Canada called “Better Dead Than Pregnant: Trends in Contraception – A Case for Menstruation Education.” Connecting my critiques of trends in non-user/”woman” controlled methods of contraception with myths of inconvenience regarding menstruation and convenience regarding methods of contraception, I made connections to the messy politics of reproductive freedom, the differences in the experiences for women of color, women with disabilities, and poor women with this focus on menstruation and the menstrual cycle. My contention that women from these communities were “better dead than pregnant” was picked up by other reproductive rights activists (such as Andrea Smith in her book Conquest). Subsequently, Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “John Rock’s Error, ” detailed how a myth of inconvenience regarding menstruation may have played a role in the development of the oral contraceptive pill.
Our Bodies, Our Stories: Celebrating the Menstrual Narratives of Womanhood
Deborah Dauda, LEPA & Kirthi Jayakumar, Red Elephant Fund
This workshop will look at culture and menstruation by sharing stories and testimonies of women from all over the world and the impact of open conversations in creating comfortable spaces for women to celebrate their womanhood through menstruation. In addition, we will welcome participants to share their own testimonies and stories, along with a session on simple “what-if” scenarios to encourage community conduct and resource sharing.
Menstrual Education perspectives from around the world will be presented in two concurrent sessions at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston. The conference theme is Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice.
Confident Girls in Charge of their Own Lives
Chantal Heutink, Bilhah Anyango, Jackline Obado & Goretty Obure, Afri-Can Trust
Girls grow up feeling ashamed due to limited knowledge about menstruation and lack of proper sanitary means to take care of themselves during this period creates a huge backlog to these girls hence denying them the opportunity to take their place in the society. Menstrual Hygiene Management matters are important to bridge the gap and provide a pathway towards confident girls in charge of their lives.
Factors impacting on the menstrual hygiene among school going adolescent girls in Mongu District, Zambia
Anne Mutunda Lahme, Akros Global Health, Zambia
The research showed that in a Zambian context the process of menstruation can turn into a threat to girls’ social, physical and mental well-being and ultimately their school careers, causing gender discrimination and violation of their rights. It also creates an atmosphere of emotional stress, leading to poor school performance.
GrowUp Smart: Demystifying the link between menstruation, fertility and sexuality
Jennifer Gayles, Kim Ashburn & Marie Mukabatsinda, Georgetown University Institute for Reproductive Health, @IRH_GU
GrowUp Smart is an interactive puberty education program for adolescents, parents and communities that links knowledge of the menstrual cycle to improved understanding of fertility and better reproductive health outcomes. This presentation will discuss findings from evaluation of the intervention’s effect on sexual and reproductive health knowledge, attitudes and behaviors.
Menstrual Education Concurrent Session Saturday, June 6th:
Health Education and Menstruation: What’s happening in the classroom?
Jax Gonzalez, Brandeis University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Preliminary research on educator’s familiarity teaching health education in elementary schools suggests that teachers experience a multitude of limitations when administering the curriculum. By using sociological theory through an intersectional lens this qualitative study provides an important insight into the lived experience of teaching the taboo.
Making Schools Menstrual Friendly: Enhancing experience of girls in public schools
Dhirendra Pratap Singh, Azadi Inc.
A presentation of findings and analysis from the Menstrual Friendly School Program in Balrampur District, Uttar Pradesh, India – an initiative to address the menstruation management needs of girls’ at school so that puberty does not result in school drop out, a risk facing ~30% of India’s 87.5 million adolescent girls.
Menstrual Hygiene Practices of Girls in Rural India
Rita Jalali, American University
The purpose of this study was to understand menstrual hygiene practices of poor girls living in rural India; their unmet menstrual management needs; and knowledge and awareness about menstruation and commercial napkins. Data were collected through survey, focus group discussions and diary entries and show how poverty and water deprivation impact hygiene.
Borohawa | Grown Up Girl – A short film on managing menstruation in rural Bangladesh
Sara Liza Baumann, Old Fan Films & Richard A. Cash, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Whether you live in South America, Africa, Europe or Asia, all women undergo a natural experience that signifies their transition from childhood to adulthood. It may have different cultural significance, and women have a variety of different experiences, but menstruation is a biological event that women around the world share. Setting out with the goal of increasing understanding of these questions, we traveled to a school in Mymensingh, Bangladesh to gather perspectives from adolescent school girls through this short film project.
Threaded Together is a Site-Specific Installation work previously on view at a Howard Johnson Motel. This work symbolizes how all women have a common thread, being through menstruation. Each pad and tampon is stitched differently to show how each woman may feel about this cycle. Images range from loving, reproductive, to squiggle blobs interpreting these impressions on what menstruation symbolizes. The installation was placed with the toilet because this is where women go to change tampons and pads. The toilet is also where fortunate or unfortunate reproductive events may take place such as miscarriage or using a pregnancy test. No matter how a woman feels about reproduction, this is a cycle women all have in common. It is why women must empathize with one another and also celebrate despite what one’s personal beliefs may be.
Death of Fertility is part of the Talitha Cumi series. This painting is about menopause and the end of procreation. The woman in this painting ponders her reproductive years. The fertility doll, anthurium flower, stagnant water, Sande statue, and grass skirt provide clues to the hidden messages in the painting. The fertility doll represents the years I spent battling infertility prior to the birth of my son. The anthurium flower blooms in Hawaii where I lived immediately after my marriage. It represents the birth of my first born. The stagnant red water represents menopause. The African statues on the left are from the Sande Society. The Sande Society promotes women’s’ political and social status and solidarity. Inspired by Surrealist and Symbolist art, the painting is infused with other symbols the viewer must interpret and discover.
I am an Israeli-born artist and art-therapist, living in Pittsburgh PA, US.
My work is informed by a critical, feminist, and multicultural approach. I deal with themes that are related to survival, identity and healing, and their complex relationship to women’s experience. Through my art work Cutting I challenge the objectified and dehumanized phenomenon of Female Genital Mutilation that is still practiced in various cultures which respond to authoritative discourse. It is through the artistic object that I would like to bring recognition, awareness and visibility to what is a fundamental violation of womens’ bodies and rights. The use of art exposes the viewer to what is so hard to face and tolerate. This body of works is made of molding clay that was kneaded, shaped, pocked, cut and stitched with dry leaves and strings and stained in reddish-brown tint.
For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.
Four presenters discuss Menstrual Representations on Friday, June 5th at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.
1) Menstrual Mystery: Female Bodies in Catholic Theology
Doris M. Kieser, St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta
A good deal of contemporary Catholic theological focus has to do with women’s capacity to control their bodies regarding reproduction (e.g., various contraceptives, abortion, reproductive technologies). By contrast, feminist and other liberation theologies (e.g., mujerista, queer, womanist) face the moral questions regarding reproduction from the direction of the whole health and flourishing of particular women, autonomy and choice in decision-making, and the place of intention and conscience in personal faith life. However, between these two perspectives, mysteriously little mention is made of menstruation, particularly menarche, as an embodied aspect of female sexuality.
In this paper I suggest that more meaningful consideration of actual menstruating female bodies could bolster both the traditional and the feminist theological perspectives on control and reproduction while, most importantly, empowering young females through their sexual development. Regardless of future choices regarding birth control, females who learn the practicalities of menstrual awareness have the opportunity to experience an embodied sexual self, based on the connection of body and spirit in their reproductive lives.
2) Biblical Blood: Image Representations of Menstruation in Bible Stories
David Linton, Professor Emeritus, Marymount Manhattan College
How do you tell important stories that involve a detail fraught with taboo, a detail that might discomfort the narrator or embarrass the audience? Such a challenge confronted artists and illuminators faced with the task of illustrating Biblical stories that involved mention of women who were menstruating. Social engagement by menstruating women during that phase of their cycles was (and in many settings still is) severely restricted. This paper describes how Biblical menstruators were treated in image art.
There are only three specific references in the Bible to an actual woman’s menstrual flow, two are explicit, the other somewhat veiled. One is found in the Genesis story of Rachel’s confrontation with Laban, her father, regarding her theft of his household gods. Another is in the story of King David’s sighting of Bathsheba taking a post-menstrual bath. The other is embedded in the brief recounting, told in three of the Gospels, of Jesus’ healing of a character who has come to be known as “the bleeding woman.” This paper traces the various treatments the three menstrual stories have received.
3) All Postfeminist Women Do: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Television Comedy
Elizabeth A. Kissling, Eastern Washington University
This essay explores how women’s sexual and reproductive health issues are represented in four television comedies by, for, and about young women – Girls, The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls, and New Girl – in ways that fill in some of the gaps of abstinence-only sex education that has been dominant in U.S. public schools since the passage of Title V of the Social Security Act 1996. Simultaneously, these shows reproduce the postfeminist sensibility of late 1990s television programming and align with the same neoliberal values.
Citing multiple specific scenes from these four current television series, and using a material-semiotic analysis and a critical, feminist lens, I show how postfeminism is deployed and reinforced, along with important information about women’s sexual and reproductive health. Examples include characters from Girls discussing the transmission of HPV, the gradual realization among characters on New Girl that PMS is socially constructed, Dr. Mindy Lahiri of The Mindy Project educating high school students about birth control, and more. This health information is frequently presented in realistic interpersonal scenarios and is largely medically accurate, leading to the conclusion that it may be a valuable source of information about sexual and reproductive health for viewers.
4) Menstrual Documentary: Menstrual Education Films of the 1970s
Saniya Ghanoui, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Menstrual educational films are used widely in American school curricula to educate and prepare girls both practically and emotionally for the changes they are about to undergo. This presentation explores the mediated treatments of the first period and examines the ways girls are told to prepare for its arrival.
The 1960s produced little new sex and menstrual hygiene films aimed at girls since The Story of Menstruation (1946) and Molly Grows Up (1953) were both used in schools through the decade. However, the 1970s saw a rash of menstrual education films with new form and configuration.
This paper examines the social underpinnings of menstrual education films and how they were directed at young girls to exemplify the evolution of menstrual hygiene education that embodied the public sphere. By focusing on the 1970s I conclude that the new style of menstrual hygiene film mirrors the new style of sex hygiene instruction.
Menstrual paintings challenge traditional conceptions of art. It is an invitation to see the value and depth of the body, to create meaning where mainstream discourse allocates shame or silence. This series incorporates statements from Bikini Kill’s Riot Grrrl Manifesto (1991) and personal pieces inspired by powerful women and period positivity.
To consider menstrual blood an art medium is to acknowledge its natural pigmented elements. It is to praise the menstrual cycle as a means for creativity rather than anxiety. Human and animal bodily objects such as hair, feathers, and blood can be found in my work as an exploration of detachment. Once they’re separated from the being, these materials become purely object. Blood tends to represent outcomes of violence, yet there is tranquility involved in the release of menstruation. I am particularly captivated by the correlation of those beings who bleed cyclically and those who bleed forcefully. I hybridize fragments of humans, animals, and objects into impossible creatures who live in a world that knows no binary. Using the same palette amongst forms allows the dismembered limbs to form a newly birthed being.
These images all feature the use of watercolour which has been allowed to flow and take its own direction, with minimum intervention from myself. I felt that this was appropriate as menstruation is a natural process which takes its own course. Four of the images are framed in an enclosed ‘womb-like’ space, with random flows of paint and water encircling other elements. My least favourite image is ‘She’s Got The Painters In’; but it illustrates an expression from Northern England- which I myself have only ever heard said by men (usually with a snigger). I decided to ‘re-appropriate’ this expression by making the ‘painters’ female rather than male. In the other images I have tried to portray a more ‘dream-like’ state with more positive connotations. It annoys me that men generally tend to ridicule women experiencing menstruation – yet without that process, new life could not be generated. Image 4: ‘Duality’ represents both the ‘glamorous’ side of being a woman and the more uncomfortable processes of menstruation and child birth.
For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.
The Exquisite Uterus: The Art of Resistance
It is a fabulous collection of fiber based artworks that have been created to give voice to shared outrage at ongoing attacks on access to good and affordable reproductive healthcare for all women. Started in early 2012 in reaction to the what is still being called the most current ‘War on Women,’ two artists, known notorious Feminists, and sometime curators Helen Klebesadel and Alison Gates decided to facilitate a collaborative art project to channel their shared outrage at the attacks on women’s ready access to quality general and reproductive health care of their choice.
Interested artists and other motivated participants are again asked to embellish a plain cloth uterus “blank” (a square of organic white cotton canvas fabric with a simple black and gray medical illustration of a female reproductive system printed permanently on its surface.) Final works should be approximately 13″ square. Participation is free except for the cost of purchasing the organic cotton canvas uterus and mailing.
Participants are invited to manipulate the blank uterus in any way their fertile imaginations desire, making their prodigious powers of self-expression and creativity obvious to all.
Alison and Helen only ask that you don’t take your uterus for granted. Claim it! Have fun with it but take your control of your own personal uterus very seriously.
“It is your X#%@# uterus! Do whatever you want with it.”
Combining interests in anthropology, abstraction, and Kiki Smith’s art involving the female body, artist Jessica Larson’s new series mines issues of taboos and attraction versus repulsion. Turning the traditional concept of embroidery work on its head, Woman Troubles begs the question, “Can something be so ugly that it’s beautiful?”
These stitches are working to say something that feels far from the traditional, polite embroidery of the past. Embroidery techniques have been used to “prettify” textiles, yet the less attractive topic of menstrual cycles conflicts with one’s automatic association with embroidery.
Larson’s imagery uses the common language of menstruation—so common that upon viewing, women respond to individual pads with the exclamation, “I’ve had that one”—to facilitate a public conversation about a private topic.
Although the individual pieces may be similar, there is a compulsion to see meaning into them. Akin to reading tarot cards, we may contemplate their messages to better understand the divinations of the female body. It is a funny, absurd exercise, imagining a world where the blood tells your fortune.
I always assumed that I would have children one day. It wasn’t something that I felt strongly about, but I did think I would doit. Then, a few years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a disease that often causes infertility. Suddenly the future I hadn’t cared much about seemed important. The maybe-never of it put me in a should-I-even-try frame of mind.
I’d been told that the urge to reproduce is primordial, so I turned to nature to look for the origins of our baby-making obsession. To begin with, all I found was the animal version of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” But eventually I began to understand that the scientists who described animal behavior could be as stuck in a nursery rhyme version of normalcy as me, and I began to find scientists who weren’t.
As I research, I broadened my question. I could see that this was really about all the things that we think women and men have to do in order to be natural.
For all my investigating, I still couldn’t control whether or not I can have children, but I could decide to have a children’s book, and so I did. Crime Against Nature is that book and it includes these paintings among others. It’s meant for the kid in all of us: the person who hasn’t yet felt the pressure to conform, the one who still sees the infinite possibilities of being.
For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.