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.