Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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

February 14th, 2013 by David Linton

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui, New York University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shameless, Part 2

February 7th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

So I like the new Mooncup ad for lots and lots of period positive reasons.

Here it is again:

I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:

“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.

Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.

Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.

Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).

I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.

When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:

“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”

I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.

With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.

The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.

“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”

Do You Want to Have Kids?

December 18th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’m sure by now most of you have seen this video by Jonathan Mann and Ivory King, which went viral last week. Or at least I hope you have, because it is wonderful.

I went to Bennington College with Jonathan and have been enjoying his music for years. He’s been writing a song a day for over 1000 days straight, and he shows no signs of stopping.

Usually he writes about fun or silly things, like kittens in space. So naturally I was surprised on December 5th to see that his 1,435th song was called ‘We’ve Got to Break Up.’ It was, appropriately, a song about him and his girlfriend of five years, Ivory, deciding to break up because only one of them wants to have children.

I think this is one of the best videos I’ve ever seen, not just out of the Song A Day files, but anywhere, and not just because it’s catchy.

The choice to have children or not is immensely personal, and if a couple is mismatched in their desire to have children, one or both members of the relationship will ultimately be unsatisfied, regardless of the many loves, joys and other interests they may share.

This is a topic that needs to be discussed more openly and honestly, with each member of the relationship being clear about their needs and desires. If your life won’t be complete without hearing the pitter patter of little human feet, staying with someone who doesn’t want to have children is not fair to either person.

I think this is why ‘We’ve Got to Break Up’ has received so much attention. This important topic is so rarely talked about, especially in public, that to see a couple expressing their views on the subject is unexpected and compelling. The pain on both of their faces as they realize they must say goodbye to a loyal, loving, wonderful partner in order to lead the lives that ultimately will bring them happiness is heartbreaking, yet also inspiring.

In my opinion it deserves mentioning that it is Ivory who doesn’t want to have children. This goes against the grain of popular culture, where I feel like women are the ones who are expected to want to have children. One million extra bonus points for Ivory for being clear about what she needs. The fact that women can now choose when, if ever, to have children is freaking sweet! That’s why it’s so important that women realize they have this choice, and learn about how their bodies work, so they can have children if, and only if, they want them.

I hope that Jonathan and Ivory’s brave and open-hearted song to their friends (and, as it turns out, the world) will give more people the courage to have these difficult conversations with their partners.

Christina Aguilera, Etta James, and a Lesson in Uncontrollable Bodies

February 2nd, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

It was Etta, Christina, Los Angeles. Was that menstrual blood or a melting spray-on tan running down Christina Aguilera’s legs during her performance at Etta James’ memorial service last Saturday? The verdict is still out. Regardless, word on the internet is that Aguilera’s bodily event, and not her heartfelt performance of James’ hit song At Last, stole the show.

 

When will we realize that bodies are sometimes uncontrollable? Think about all the ways our bodies demonstrate this, and often in public. Our noses run, our throats need clearing, we sweat when we’re nervous, burp after we eat, pass gas without meaning to, leak milk when we breastfeed, throw up when we have the flu, lose our balance, bump into walls, break out in acne, and yes, evil of all evils, maybe even menstruate.

Yet cultural norms suggest that we can, or should, control our bodies in all moments and that we can have the bodies we desire if we work hard enough. But when we really think about it, who can believe this is true?

Seriously, bodies are uncontrollable. They are leaky. They react to the things we do to them and inevitably carry on natural, physiological processes – like digestion and menstruation — even when we want to pretend that they don’t.

And we can be vicious in our response when real life drives this lesson home. Visit YouTube, celebrity news columns and even mainstream news sites and you can read about Aguilera’s outstanding performance at James’ memorial service, only to find out about the “disgrace” she caused while singing. The incident is being called Aguilera’s most recent “mishap”, a “wardrobe malfunction,” or a “disgusting accident,” depending on which article you’re reading.

I find it interesting that almost all commenters on this story imply that Aguilera should have been able to control her body. Says who?  What makes Aguilera so different than any of the rest of us who have been unable to control our bodies in public at times? Despite what cultural norms tell us, bodies are sometimes uncontrollable. The very event – Etta James’ memorial service – reminds us that bodies are at times in control of themselves, even telling us when life is done. The idea that we can completely control natural processes is ridiculous.  We can try to control our bodies as much as we want, but sometimes they just do what they want, when they want.

I also find it fascinating that Aguilera’s publicists (and plenty of commenters on this story) are so intent on discounting the idea that Aguilera might have started her period. To them, a dripping spray tan is the “better” story. Really? So, a natural process that almost all women experience for a good portion of their lives is more “embarrassing” and “gross” than spraying oneself with a fake tan?

Commenters on this story seem appeased by the possibility that Aguilera was simply trying to beautify (tan) herself, indicating to me that the natural (menstruation) has now become unnatural and the unnatural (fake tans) is the new natural. It is now more acceptable (“natural”) to fake a culturally condoned physical appearance than to menstruate? This seems a bit backwards. Why is evidence of a fake tan better than evidence of menstruation? Why has the unnatural become natural and more acceptable here?

Finally, the shaming of the individual (here, Aguilera) is so blatantly obvious that I am reminded of how distanced most of us are from our own bodies but how, simultaneously, we are so ready to gaze on others’ bodies to critique them for being just that, bodies!

Women and their bodies are shamed in very specific ways. Plenty of feminist researchers have written about menstrual shaming and menstrual taboos. Others have written about the power of Western beauty norms. We know that women are told they are dirty, evil, ugly, untrustworthy, irrational, etc., when they are menstruating, and must hide any evidence of menstruation. At the same time, we know that women are held to unattainable beauty standards and are critiqued for not meeting these standards. Aguilera was doomed to be derided for this bodily event. Regardless of what it was running down her legs, she is at fault for not being able to control her body. Which brings me back to my original point and question:

Blood on Screen: The Runaways

March 23rd, 2010 by Giovanna Chesler

Last July we posted photos from an unnamed film set where Dakota Fanning stood, ready for camera, with blood running down her thighs and a blood stain on the back of her skirt. Were these menstrual markings or the next era of horror film misogyny? The answer can be seen in the newly released film The Runaways, a drama about a 1970′s all girl rock band fronted by Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) and guitarist, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart.)

Here, menstruation is a framing element, as the film begins with a screen sized image of a red blood drop falling to the pavement. Cut to Fanning wiping blood from her thigh in disbelief. Her sister, Marie rushes her to the bathroom to attend to their first period, for Marie whines “Everything happens to you first!” Cherie packs her undies with paper towels, ties a sweatshirt around the stain, and in stunned disbelief of what has just transpired, tags behind her sister and her sister’s creepy dude date. He leers at her, “You’re a woman now.”

Later that evening, Cherie crops her hair, paints a David Bowie red streak across her face, and begins to come into herself. Becoming a woman in this film, does not include being soft and desirable for boys. Rather, menarche signifies entrance into glam rock iconography.

As Cherie meets up with Joan, and the two launch The Runaways, Cherie’s early entrance into womanhood seems to have come too soon. Still a child, Cherie is pushed into the front of a stage and asked to groan into a mic about her bursting sexuality in the song Cherry Bomb. The demanding manager, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), yells at her to give more to the song “This isn’t woman’s lib. It’s woman’s lib-ido.”

In the coming weeks on tour, Cherie will partake in her first kiss, first sip, first line, first pill – revealing how womanhood has not “dropped” upon her. It arrives in waves through her choices, or her inability to make them. And there is still more growing to do.

High Tide – menstruation positive art

February 20th, 2010 by Chris Hitchcock


In honour of the fabulous Laurie Anderson (whose Delusion performance I will be attending this evening), I wanted to share a link to her song Beautiful Red Dress from the Strange Angels album. It’s full of powerful imagery, and, as always for her, that bit of strange.

Cause the moon is full and look out baby -
I’m at high tide.

I’ve got a beautiful red dress
And you’d look really good
standing beside it..
I’ve got some beautiful new red shoes
and they look so fine
I’ve got a hundred and five fever
and it’s high tide.

And here’s a nice piece of rich poetry about menstrual cyclicity of mood:

Well they say women shouldn’t be the president Cause we go crazy from time to time
Well push my button, baby
Here I come
Yeah, look out, baby
I’m at high tide

I’ve got a beatiful red dress and you’d look really good standing beside it..

I always love the way she plays with words, and she captures both the power and the double-edge of being a menstruating woman, being a woman at all. What can I say, I’m a fan, and looking forward to tonight. I hope you enjoy it.


Menstruation and Music Don’t Mix

January 29th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cartoon illustration of opera singerThat’s the report from this arts blogger at the New York Times. Yesterday, doctors from the Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine of the Methodist Hospital in Houston held a daylong symposium on the management of medical problems among musicians specifically and performing artists more generally. Performing-arts medicine is a relatively new specialty, and frankly, I’m not surprised by the need for it. (I know a drummer who has ongoing neck and back problems caused – or at least aggravated – by his art.)

But I was surprised to see a blanket recommendation that female vocalists use oral contraceptives to suppress menstruation. According to Keith O. Reeves, the deputy chief of Gynecology at the Methodist Hospital and a professor at Weill Cornell, premenstrual syndrome “brings vocal fatigue, decreased range, loss of power and loss of some harmonics.” Continuous use of synthetic hormones is quite an extreme remedy for an illness without a clear definition or etiology.

But apparently menopause is much harder on the vocal folds – our intrepid blogger can’t even tell us:

As for menopause, you don’t want to know. As Dr. Reeves quotes the great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, “It was a hell of some years.”


Season’s Greetings

December 23rd, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

Three unidentified men wearing hideous Christmas sweaters.Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. To commemorate the holiday, here is an mp3 download of the only known Christmas song that mentions tampons: Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family”.


Flow (of new posts) will be light at re:Cycling over the next few days. Enjoy the season, and thanks for reading!

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.