Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual management for women with disabilities, menstrual hygiene taboos, and menstrual cycle awareness

May 28th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

These two concurrent sessions address the menstrual-related challenges of women with disabilities, menstrual hygiene taboos and practices around the world,  and the concept of gynaecological self-help 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 Management, Friday, June 5th:

Women with Spinal Cord Injuries Talk about Menopause
Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University

Using data from interviews with 20 women with spinal cord injury, I illustrate how disabled women may think about and experience menopause. Overall, interviewees think positively about menopause as a release from the hassles of menstruation, but face unique experiences when dealing with perimenopausal symptoms. I also discuss their concerns about aging.

“Kahani Her Mahine Ki” – A Menstruation Kit for the visually impaired women
Sadhvi Thukral, National Institute of Design

“I am constantly worried that my dress will stain during my period, I cannot see.”

“I will never be able to tell the colour of my discharge during menstruation or when I need to change my cloth. To be safe, I change every few hours.”

These are unique anxieties of visually impaired young women.

A large gap exists in the area of “Communication for Menstruation” for the visually impaired. This design degree project was an attempt to fill this gap by developing a product for menstruation that would meet the needs of visually impaired girls and women.

The kit “Kahani Her Mahine Ki” (The Same Story Every Month) covers the subject of menstruation and how to manage during periods and has the following features:

1. Tactile diagrams and material in the form of Information Slates, with labels of the different body parts. Each slate has text for the sighted and Braille for the visually impaired. 2. A life size human body model for demonstration.

What they do, what we do, what I do: A critical review of five contemporary international surveys of menstrual management practices and technologies. How can these surveys inform Western practice? What areas remain to be surveyed?
Susannah Clemence, Independent researcher

This critical review compares the catalogues of contemporary menstrual management techniques from around the World, presented in Sommer et al (2013), House et al (2012), Kjellen et al (2012), Bharadwai and Patkar (2004) and Finley’s (1995-2015) Museum of Menstruation.

The purpose is to test how well-documented are contemporary practices across the World, and what areas remain yet unrecorded. The rationale is that diverse technologies and conduct, with their implicit beliefs and attitudes, grant us reference points from which to examine, critique and improve our own practices.

The review shows that there are large gaps in documented knowledge. Furthermore, other than the Museum of Menstruation, existing surveys tend to be rooted in development agendas of Western origin and tend to a deficit perspective of non-Western practices.

 

Menstrual Hygiene, Saturday, June 6th

A Vicious Cycle of Silence: The perpetuation of the menstrual hygiene ‘taboo’ and the implications for the realisation of the human rights of women and girls
Emily Wilson-Smith, Kampala International University & Robyn Boosey, University of Bristol 

Despite the impact of poor menstrual hygiene on the rights of women and girls it has remained largely neglected by International stakeholders. A document analysis of the core international human rights treaties and relevant human rights body reports found an overwhelming silence and an analysis of the existing references revealed an inadequate framework for addressing menstrual hygiene.

Improving Menstrual Health and Hygiene in India: Another critical path way for women emancipation
K Yadagiri, Centre for Economic and Social Studies,UNICEF Division for Child Studies 

Gynecological Self-Help Isn’t Just a Good Feeling – What we learned when we systematically studied our own menstrual cycles – and how you can learn MORE now!
Kathy Hodge, Feminist Women’s Health Center

In 1975, nine members of the Feminist Women’s Health Center collective met daily for over a month, recording changes in our vaginas and cervixes and their secretions, for PAP and ferning smears, charting moods and basal body temperature. We raised questions, some of which remain open and ripe for future woman-controlled research.

 Menstrual Hygiene Management practices in Slums: It’s impacts on the Women and Adolescent Girl’s Health – A Case study of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Slums, Telangana State, INDIA
Venu Madhav Sharma, Centre for Economic and Social Studies

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Menstrual education perspectives from Africa, India, Bangladesh, and the United States

May 22nd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 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.


Menstrual Education Concurrent Session Friday, June 5th:

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.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Menstrual Hygiene, Human Rights, and Gender Equality – A Focus on the Global South

May 18th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Scholars and practitioners from the fields of human rights and water and sanitation will discuss menstrual hygiene from the perspective of gender equality on June 4th 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.

Human Rights in the Private Sphere: Menstrual Hygiene as a Priority for Gender Equality and Human Dignity
Inga Winkler, Scholar-in-residence, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, NYU School of Law 

In many countries, menstruation is shrouded in taboo and secrecy. Removing the taboos and ensuring better access to menstrual hygiene is essential for achieving gender equality and realizing human rights. The presentation seeks to explore human rights obligations to create an enabling environment for women and girls to practice adequate menstrual hygiene. It discusses various strategies including awareness-raising and breaking taboos, promoting good hygiene, and embedding menstrual hygiene in policies and programs by using examples from different country contexts. With a topic as personal and culturally specific as menstruation, incorporating women’s and girls’ views and preferences into programs and policies cannot be overestimated.

Poor menstrual hygiene, stigmatization, or cultural, social or religious practices that limit menstruating women’s and girls’ capacity to work, to get an education, or to engage in society must be eradicated. Considering menstruation as a fact of life and integrating this view at all levels will contribute to enabling women and girls to manage their menstruation adequately, without shame and embarrassment—with dignity.

Investigate and Expose: Challenges in Building an Evidence Base around Menstrual Hygiene as a Human Rights Issue
Amanda Klasing, Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Menstrual hygiene has emerged recently as a human rights issue, but this recognition alone does not mean that human rights practitioners will take up the issue. One barrier is the perceived or real limitations in their methodology.

This paper considers how human rights fact-finding methods may not readily lend themselves to building the evidence base for menstrual hygiene as a human rights concern. It will explore examples of how, despite challenges, menstrual hygiene concerns can be exposed within the context of broader investigations and it will address how practitioners can more deliberately incorporate menstrual hygiene in their investigations.

An important first step is for researchers to recognize the impact of menstrual hygiene on a broad array of women’s and girls’ human rights. Next, researchers should consider how best to expose this in the course of their research. Finally, researchers should consider how to include menstrual hygiene in the recommendations it makes to governments and other duty bearers.

Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools: Meeting Girls’ Rights and Needs in Zambia
Sarah Fry, Hygiene and School WASH Advisor, USAID WASHplus Project

Image by Sarah Fry

Zambia’s schools fall short of acceptable standards and ratios for access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The ratio of girls to toilet can be as high as 200:1. These shortfalls are believed to be factor in the high rate of school drop-out among girls, many of whom do not even finish primary school. As in other low-income contexts, dropout rates for girls in Zambia appear to increase after puberty. Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is burdened with cultural taboo and myths. Girls are still excluded from school for as long as one month at their first menses.

USAID/SPLASH in Zambia address girls’ right to education by removing barriers to menstrual hygiene management in schools. SPLASH and the Ministry of Education research cultural norms, improve girl-friendly facilities and access to menstrual products, break taboos, and integrate MHM in the education system through water, sanitation and hygiene in schools

Menstruation is still a sensitive topic, but experience in Zambia has shown that taboos can break down rapidly and MHM can become a normal part of discourse around girls’ rights at local and policy levels.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

 

Menstrual education and hygiene management initiatives seek collaborators

May 15th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 Two experiential workshops on Friday, June 5th, invite participants to collaborate in menstrual health initiatives 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. With one in the morning and one in the afternoon, you can take in both!

Menstruation Matters: Period! – A Public Education Campaign Whose Time Has Not Yet Come
Presenters:
Heather Guidone – Director, Center for Endometriosis Care; Medical Writer; Women’s Health Educator
Diana Karczmarczyk, PhD – Adjunct Professor, George Mason University and Senior Analyst, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Evelina Sterling, PhD—Visiting Professor, Kennesaw State University and Public Health Consultant, Southern Research and Evaluation Institute
Peggy Stubbs, PhD— Professor, Chatham University

How might menstrual arts and crafts be included in menstrual cycle education campaigns?
Photo by Laura Wershler

 

 

 

As menstrual cycle educators and advocates, we know all too well the frustrations and inadequacies related to menstrual cycle education targeting the general public. This hands-on workshop provides participants the opportunity to contribute to designing effective public health education messaging grounded in health education theory and strategies which address the importance of menstruation to girls’s and women’s health and well-being.

Building Better Solutions for Monitoring and Evaluation in Menstrual Hygiene Management
Presenters from Pasand (USA), @PasandTeam, Pasand on Facebook:
Rebecca Scharfstein, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Ashley Eberhart, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing
Allison Behringer, Director of Partnerships
Lacy Clark, Monitoring & Evaluation Project Lead, MBA Intern

According to often-cited data, 88% of women do not have access to sanitary protection (instead using “cloth, husks, mud, and ash”), and 23% percent of girls drop out of school upon menarche. In the field, however, questions come to mind, such as: “Who are these women using rags because we can’t find them!” While shocking statistics about menstrual hygiene management have been used successfully in recent years to generate an unprecedented level of interest in the topic, how can we avoid inflammatory statements, recognize geographical and socioeconomic nuances, and develop quantitative rigor in a relatively new field?

In this workshop, participants will discuss challenges in monitoring and evaluation in the menstrual hygiene management sector through an interactive human-centered design workshop approach. We will use Pasand, a social venture that partners with schools and NGOs in India to teach women’s health and provide access to affordable sanitary protection, as a case study and present four challenges the organization faces with respect to data collection.

Participants will be divided into facilitated “challenge teams,” each assigned with the task of collaboratively identifying solution(s) to one of the challenges presented. At the end of the session, groups will share their solutions, and individuals will come away with a deeper understanding of effective monitoring and evaluation in the sector, as well as new ideas that can be implemented in their own work.

In the days following the conference, Pasand will compile a summary of the ideas and major themes coming out of the workshop and send to participants so that they can take the results back to their own organizations, expanding the reach beyond the walls of the workshop.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan. 

Religious and cultural menstrual traditions, Jewish ritual around menstruation, and abortion rights in Israel

May 11th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three papers will explore the theme Religion and Reproductive Rights and Traditions on June 4th at 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

Tour a Jewish ritual bath on a Mikveh Visit with Mayyim Hayyim, a pre-conference event on Wednesday, June 3, 3:30-5:30 p.m. The Jewish ritual bath is intended to mark transitional moments, including niddah (the practice of monthly immersion following menstruation). This event it open to the public.

Menstruation and Reproductive Practices: Religion and Traditions and the Influence of Immigration on Mother-Daughter Dyads across Cultures
Sheryl Mendinger, PhD, Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice, Northeastern University &
Julie Cwikel, PhD, The Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion, 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

A menstrual hut in Ethiopia. Image provided by Sheryl Mendlinger.

“In Ethiopia there is no rest until you go to the hut, only during menstruation the women rests.”

This paper presents a theoretical analysis of in-depth interviews with multicultural mother-daughter dyads and quantitative data that examines how women from different cultural and religious backgrounds view menstruation and family planning practices. Both of those practices changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters following immigration to Israel.

Some of the themes identified in this analysis include traditions, ceremonies and religious observance in relation to menarche, such as European women and ‘the slap’ and Ethiopian women going to the menstrual hut during their menstrual cycles. In terms of family planning, the data show how women from Ethiopia practiced extensive breastfeeding and women from the CIS used therapeutic abortions as birth control. Both of those practices—menstruation and family planning—changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters, following immigration to Israel. The move away from a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter may also reflect a movement from a ‘mother to daughter’ model of knowledge transmission to a ‘peer to peer’ channel of transmission.

The Jewish Ritual around Menstruation: How “Family Purity” Laws Affect Modern Women
Naomi Marmon Grumet, PhD, The Eden Center, Jerusalem, Israel

The Jewish rituals surrounding menstruation are complex. For those who observe the religious framework, these rituals affect and circumscribe actions throughout the monthly cycle. This lecture will explore the scope of these rituals, and how modern women make meaning of the practice of these ancient laws.

The presentation will give voice to a range of Jewish women’s experiences with the framework of these laws, often known as taharat hamishpacha. This aspect is based upon formal interviews with more than 70 religious women (as well as separate interviews with their husbands) who are observant of taharat hamishpacha, and informal discussions with dozens of others.

Abortion Legal Rights in Israel: Reproductive and Sexual Health
Yael Magen, Esq., Multigenerational Family Law and Taxes

In Judaism a fetus is not considered a “nefesh”, a soul, or a human being, until it is born.

This presentation will present an overview of the abortion issue in Israel including Israel’s legal system, Jewish legal position of the fetus vs. the mother, Israeli legislative history, and its applicability and practicality in Israel today.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

State of Wonder–Part 1: Wondering about missing menstrual mentions in literature

January 22nd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

In her novel State of Wonder Ann Patchett explores, among many broad themes, the question: What if there were a drug women could take to extend menstruation and fertility into their seventies? Not evident on the dust jacket, this storyline grabbed the attention of this menstrual cycle advocate.

Set mainly in the jungle of Brazil, the novel revolves around the decades-long research of Dr. Annick Swenson who has kept the location and progression of her research secret from the drug company funding her work with the fictional Lakashi tribe. When a male scientist sent by the drug company to find Dr. Swenson and deliver a message is reported dead, Dr. Marina Singh, a research pharmacologist, becomes the second emissary charged with finding Dr. Swenson and assessing her progress towards the promised drug.

Finding Dr. Swenson is a formidable task, but when she does Marina eventually learns the complex botanical explanation for the Lakashi’s extended fertility, as well as the justifiable reasons why the research location has been so scrupulously protected.

This literary novel, a satisfying read, powerfully renders the mystique of the Amazon jungle, conveying both the wonder and trauma Marina experiences there. For an insightful review of State of Wonder I’d recommend Lydia Millet’s. This series of posts is not a review, but rather commentary on the niggling details related to the extended fertility storyline. Spoiler Alert: Some plot points will be revealed.

After a few weeks in the jungle—the timeline is fuzzy—Marina is invited by two other female researchers to the grove of Martin trees where she observes Lakashi women of all ages scraping tree bark with their teeth, a practices she is told that begins at menarche and is the key to their lifelong fertility.

Marina learns the women chew the bark every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant; the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. She is told also that although the women don’t all come to the grove on the same five-day cycle, they’re menstrual periods are “pretty much” synchronous so the researchers “get a few days off every month.” That is, days off from observing them in the grove while taking pin-prick blood samples and collecting cervical mucus swabs to monitor estrogen levels that Dr. Swenson has taught the Lakashi to do themselves with Q-tips. Dr. Swenson’s research team charts and studies every cycle of every menstruating girl and woman.

The researchers tell Marina they also chew the bark and invite her to try it. Here is where, in a story that speaks intimately about the tribal women’s menstrual cycles, I wondered why Patchett did not include even one sentence to acknowledge when Marina had her last period. (At 42 she has thought about her fertility and her prospect of having a child someday.) Because she scrapes the bark one assumes she isn’t menstruating, and she’s been in Brazil long enough–weeks spent in Manaus before getting to the jungle–to have had at least one period. Where is she in her cycle? This matters because of what happens later in the story. So, since menstruation is integral to the novel, why not mention it? And why don’t the other female researchers mention whether their cycles, too, have synchronized with the Lakashi’s?

In most novels, probably too many, the menstrual cycles of female characters are invisible unless they figure prominently in the plot. It made no sense to me that Patchett chose to make Marina’s cycle invisible. Even if readers can deduce this missing information, surely this is the wrong novel in which to require us to do so. Again, I ask, “Why?”

Continued in State of Wonder—Part 2: Wondering about missing menstrual femcare products and birth control references

 

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

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?

Why (Menstrual) Children’s Books Matter

March 10th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on display at the NYPL. Photo courtesy Saniya Lee Ghanoui

For those living in or around New York City, the New York Public Library currently has an exhibition called “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” As the title suggests, the exhibit looks at popular children’s stories—consisting of The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins to Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) and Goodnight Moon—from a historical perspective and examines the cultural impact of books and stories on society.

When I visited the exhibit one section caught my attention: books that have been censored. There were the usual “culprits” including Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so censored because of its use of racial epithets and stereotypes. Also represented was The Diary of a Young Girl in which Anne Frank describes her own genitalia. The library highlighted that portion of the diary so visitors could read Anne’s description:

Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down, and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.

Anne’s narrative of her own body is an honest picture of the female body and I was pleasantly surprised that the New York Public Library decided to enlarge the text and bring such attention to it.

Another book mentioned is an obvious classic in the menstrual world, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. As a menstrual scholar I was waiting to read how the discussion of puberty and menstruation was deemed too much and the book was censored for such depictions. However, the enlarged book page that accompanied the exhibit was from the section where Margaret laments her lack of breasts and eventually asks her mother for her first bra:

All through supper I thought about how I was going to tell my mother I wanted to wear a bra. I wondered why she hadn’t ever asked me if I wanted one, since she knew so much about being a girl.
When she came in to kiss me goodnight I said it. “I want to wear a bra.” Just like that—no beating around the bush.

I was a bit surprised that the library chose this portion of the book to use as an example. The seemingly tame thoughts about wanting a bra counter the more graphic description of the female body that Anne Frank mentions in her diary. Furthermore, menstruation was never mentioned as for the reasons why Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was censored (the word “puberty” was mentioned, though).

The Enduring Menstrual Mystique of Carrie

March 6th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

David Linton and Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Since its publication in 1974, Steven King’s story of a young girl whose telekinetic powers are activated by a humiliating menstrual experience has fascinated readers, movie goers, and theater audiences ever since. Now, with the release of a new film (recently out on DVD) treatment of the story by the director Kimberly Peirce (director of another film with powerful menstrual moments, Boys Don’t Cry) the saga is on the popular radar once again. This is at least the seventh rendering the novel has received, beginning with Brian De Palma’s film in 1976 followed by a 1988 Broadway musical, a sequel (The Rage: Carrie 2) in 1999, a made-for-TV version in 2002, an off-Broadway revival in 2012 (previously reviewed on re:Cycling), and, along the way at least two camp parodies in which Carrie is played by a male actor in drag. What makes the story so enduring? Or, in show-biz language, what gives it such strong legs?

There’s something about the mysterious nature of menstruation that compels both awe and fear, particularly in men and others who have internalized the prevailing menstrual phobias. Steven King has claimed that the inspiration for the story occurred while he was working as a janitor’s assistant in a high school and, while they were cleaning the girls’ locker room, asked what the dispenser machine on the wall was for. The man replied, “They’re pussy plugs.” Thus, the girls chant at the panicked Carrie while they pelt her with tampons and pads from a broken machine, “Plug it up! Plug it up!”

In DePalma’s Carrie this “plug it up” scene is a catalyst for Carrie’s telekinetic powers, but that is where the direct menstrual references end. Not so in Peirce’s version. What is most striking about this latest remake is the way Peirce uses technology and social media to further publicize the menstrual horror that Carrie experiences. Chris, the antagonist, uses her smartphone to film Carrie cowering on the shower floor as the girls scream “plug it up.” The clip is later uploaded to YouTube and becomes central to the way the director stages the horrendous prom scene in which Carrie is drenched in pig blood. Peirce frames Carrie between two large projection screens onstage. As Carrie accepts her crown, and the pig blood falls on her, the YouTube clip from the shower appears on the screens having been programmed by Chris as part of her plot to humiliate her.

Why is this so important? In DePalma’s version menstruation is shown only as the facilitator for Carrie’s first use of her powers. In Peirce’s version it is shown not only in the opening shower scene, but in the climactic prom scene where the wrath of Carrie’s powers is truly leashed. Here, Carrie’s first period is meant to serve as a point of embarrassment for her in front of the entire student body, thanks to Chris’s YouTube video. Those who exposed Carrie’s menstrual embarrassment in such a viral way are punished for their actions.

The new version is the first by a woman director, though in a New York Times article she says she had conversations with De Palma about his vision of the story. It remains to be seen if future directors will find new ways to get even more mileage out of this endlessly fascinating story of menstrual mystery.

Making Room for Menstrual Shame

January 20th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

This fall, our family TV indulgence was Master Chef Junior. My 10 year old, a master of scrambled eggs, pancakes and experimental smoothies, was into it, her enthusiasm contagious. So once a week, we sat on the couch– Mom, Dad, and Kid—and watched a dwindling number of freakishly talented miniature chefs slice, dice and sauté their way into our hearts.

Photo credit: Stuart Miles
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I enjoyed this respite and low-output family time,  but, there was a price.

The commercials. Oh! Damn those commercials. Because we watched the show online (we don’t have TV), the commercial breaks typically repeated a small set of ads. Over and over again.

In a single episode, we screened some combination of ads for these products a dozen times. According to my crude math, by the time the Master Chef Junior (Alexander, in case you are a fan) was handed his trophy, we watched around 100 different glossy messages that pointed out just how inadequate we are, or would be, soon enough.

I began calling our ritual of watching Master Chef Junior “Self-Consciousness Hour.”

Here is a short list of what’s wrong with me:

My eyelashes are stumpy, thus, my eyes are ugly. 

My teeth are yellow. Yellow teeth are gross. Why bother to dress nice when my teeth are so unsightly? 

My skin is flawed and if I fix it, I will have more friends and a happier life. 

My deodorant is embarrassing me. I might have my disgusting animal smell under control but white powder under my arms can make me the laughing stock of the nightclub. 

Obviously these messages unnerved me (I am not immune to feeling inadequate in spite of my fierce feminism, let’s be honest).

But I really worried about was my daughter. I watched her watch those commercials, her brain processing how she measured up to the standards.

Of course we offered our own critical voice overs at every turn (e.g., You know, human teeth naturally yellow with age. Teeth are not supposed to be pearly white.). We mocked the commercials, trying to expose their absurdity. We initiated more serious discussions of the industry and its nefarious methods, and she engaged these critiques, to some degree. We did what we could (excepting refusing to watch the show, which we could have done, I know). But in spite of our efforts, we doubted our power to counter the power of marketing to manufacture “problems” and sweep in with “lifesaving solutions” all in one (minty fresh) breath.

When all was said and done, between lessons on how to perfectly boil an egg or debone a chicken, my impressionable kid was fed heaping spoonfuls of body shame.

And here’s the menstrual link.

This body shame is the context for her menstrual experiences-to-be. The menstrual taboo, the Grandmother of Body Shame, will slink into her life soon enough, directing her to hide, deny, and likely, detest a natural (and healthy body process). And thanks to  noisy, flashy persistent messages like these, the door is swung open, the lights on, and the pillows fluffed. Come on in, Menstrual Shame! We have been waiting for You! Puleeeze…make yourself at home! Have you met ‘Fat Shame’ sitting here with a throw pillow in her lap? 

I know it is impossible to censor everything my kid sees, hears, reads. I have some experience with this. She is our 3rd kid; we’ve been down this road before and we’ve learned. We tried to do somethings differently this time. Namely, we send her to a crunchy school with an explicit low tech policy (which we observe, on good days). But then the other day, I overheard one of her classmates look down at her feet and exclaim, with horror: “Ewww…My feet look fat in these shoes!” I remind you; she is 10.

Recognizing the ubiquitousness of media messages, our  aim is to teach our kid to responsibly consume what surrounds her. If we equip her with good media literacy skills, she can see commercials through a critical lens. And maybe when her friend complains her feet are fat, she will not take the bait. This is the best we can do, I think.

But “Self Consciousness Hour” really discouraged me. We are outnumbered by the barrage of highly polished and market tested images of “you are not good enough the way you are.” And I fear that Miss Menstrual Shame is already on her way, bags in hand, ready to move in and make herself comfortable.

If you see her, can you tell her we moved?

Global Menstrual Progress

December 31st, 2013 by David Linton

Nicholas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof has for some years been a regular contributor to the op-ed page of The New York Times where he frequently writes about sex trafficking, child abuse, and the lives of women around the world.

In 2009 Kristof and his wife and writing partner, Sheryl WuDunn, published a volume that examined a wide variety of the ways women are oppressed around the world titled, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book moves from Congo to China to South Africa to Cameroon to Afghanistan and many places in between. And though their focus is on the more dramatic and life threatening problems such as maternal mortality, prostitution, rape, AIDS, and economic discrimination, to their credit they also include the role that attitudes and practices surrounding the menstrual cycle play in determining the fate of women. In effect, they have added their own voices to the ongoing project of the SMCR: MAKING MENSTRUATION MATTER.

Half the Sky (the title is an allusion to the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.”) is not reluctant to address ancient, deep-seated cultural traditions, including the vicious practice in Deuteronomy calling for stoning to death of girls suspected of having had premarital sex, and in a chapter titled “Is Islam Misogynistic?” they confront some of the darker portions of that faith’s history. For instance, they cite the writings of a “ninth-century scholar, Al-Timmidhi,” who “recounted that houri [the heavenly virgins who await martyrs] are gorgeous young women with white skin, who never menstruate, urinate, or defecate.”  The chapter goes on to explain how statements such as this are not consistent with other Islamic tenets nor with the beliefs of many Muslims, but the notion that menstruation is equivalent to processes of bodily waste elimination is a deep-seated conception that permeates many other belief systems as well.

Another chapter, “Investing in Education,” addresses the challenges involved in providing adequate schooling for girls and the need for sanitary facilities and products so that girls can manage their periods discretely and hygienically. Mention is made of a Proctor & Gamble project to distribute free pads in Africa, however, surprisingly, insufficient attention is given to home-grown efforts, such as SMCR member Megan White Mukuria’s ZanaAfrica, to provide both products and empowering education to girls in Kenya. One program called Camfed, for Campaign for Female Education, that operates in several African countries is justifiably credited for its thoroughness in addressing girls’ education, including the practice of supplying girls with pads and underwear so they can continue to go to classes during their periods.

Obviously, an entire book could be written about the links between women’s liberation and the menstrual cycle. Half the Sky is not that book, but it does make a contribution that is worthy of applause.

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.