Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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.

Young women’s experiences with cancer-related infertility, and HPV vaccine uptake and avoidance in Eastern Europe

May 21st, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This session will explore Cancer and Menstruation 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 Significance of Menstrual Flow for Young Women with Cancer-Related Infertility
Kathryn Nattress, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Although the dominant menstrual discourse is one of pain, mess and unpredictability, interviews with 20 young women who were diagnosed with cancer in childhood and adolescence suggest the possibility of alternative discourses. Five themes were identified:

1) A mark of womanhood: “People would talk about puberty or periods like it’s a foregone conclusion that everybody has them. So I would feel a little like I was orbiting and slightly outside of other women.”

2) Connection or disconnection: “People would talk about their periods and what a pain they were. I loved it because it made me feel more like a woman.” For others their differing experience led to disconnection.

3) Menstruation as a signifier of fertility: “I told everyone when I got my period back, I was so excited.”

4) Considering menstruation as abnormal: “My periods are very odd…It was like a tap, it just did not turn off.”

5) Maintaining a natural cycle: “Here I am, trying to do the natural fertility, and not be on the contraceptive pill, and really do everything to have a good cycle, and keep my hormones balanced.”

These young women strongly resisted contemporary, dominant patriarchal discourses and instead accommodated historical, matriarchal discourses where menstruation is seen as a powerful and sacred symbol of life and fertility. Their experiences provide greater understanding of the significance of menstruation for women with cancer-related infertility and allow alternative discourses to be explored.

Young women’s constructions of their post-cancer fertility
Amy Dryden, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Young women diagnosed with cancer often face compromised fertility as a result of their treatment. However, little is known about young women’s constructions and experiences of their fertility post-cancer, or their interactions with healthcare professionals in discussing fertility concerns.

Semi-structured one-to-one interviews were conducted with 8 women aged 18-26 across a variety of cancer types including breast and brain tumours, leukaemia, lymphoma and sarcoma. Foucaultian Discourse Analysis identified three subject positions associated with fertility concerns: Inadequate woman: Accepting the motherhood mandate; Adequate woman: Resisting the motherhood mandate; and Survival of the fittest: Woman as genetically defective. Implications for subjectivity included feelings of inadequacy, fear and devastation; feeling undesirable to romantic partners due to compromised fertility; and feelings of guilt and worry about passing on cancer-positive genes. For the majority of participants, motherhood was constructed as an essential component of what they wanted to accomplish in their lives. Alternative pathways to motherhood (i.e adoption, egg donation) were constructed favourably by the majority of participants, although some constructed these options as inferior to biological motherhood.

Overall results suggest that issues surrounding fertility were important to this group of cancer survivors, and that compromised fertility can negatively impact on the subjectivity of young women with cancer. As such, the results reinforce the importance of the provision of information about fertility by healthcare professionals amongst a demographic who remain underserved in the area of reproductive health.

Constructing the HPV vaccine in the context of Eastern Europe
Irina Todorova, Northeastern University & Health Psychology Research Center, Sofia, Bulgaria 

An image about the HPV vaccine circulating in Bulgaria. The text reads “Attention: poisonous vaccine!”

This research paper explores the relevance of local context for understanding meanings, discourses and disparities related to uptake and avoidance of a vaccine for the prevention of Human Papilloma virus (HPV) transmission, associated with cervical and other cancers, in Bulgaria and Romania.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide, and differences between and within country disparities are striking. Instead of falling, as in many other countries of Eastern and most countries of Western Europe, cervical cancer morbidity and mortality rates in Bulgaria and Romania have been rising. The vaccine embodies an array of personal and cultural meanings and discourses, including those of responsibility, control, morality, health rights, and gender. It also represents multiple interests of many actors, whose attitudes vary depending on local meanings of sexuality, religious beliefs, stigma, their experiences and trust in the health care system.

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with women, health-care providers and key informants, as well as focus groups with parents, and analyzed thematically. The paper will share dimensions of women’s narratives related to personal experiences, cultural constructions of gender, and the relevant structural and policy contexts in which vaccination behaviors are constituted. The discussion will address the relevance of history, healthcare policy and gendered attitudes in Bulgaria and Romania for the constitution of preventive attitudes and behaviors, and critically reflect on what a consideration of local meanings of medical interventions means for equitable health promotion.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Falzone, Marie & Rehavia

May 20th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Threaded Together” by Johanna Falzone

Johanna Falzone

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” by Elaine Marie

Elaine Marie

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.

 

“Cutting” by Dafna Rehavia

 

Dafna Rehavia

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 survivalidentity 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.

Menstrual representations in religion, bible stories, TV comedy and menstrual education films

May 19th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

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.

Illustration by Elizabeth Kissling

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 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.

 

How do women’s menstrual beliefs impact their contraceptive decision-making?

May 16th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

I’m looking forward to chairing this panel presentation exploring the intersections of contraception and menstrual health beliefs on Friday morning, 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.  The conference theme is Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Photo courtesy of Jen Lewis

Dueling Medicines: Contraception and Deeply Rooted Beliefs in Menstruation as a Health-giving Process

This panel will address women’s poor use, misuse, and rejection of medical contraception in Africa, the U.S., and other parts of the world. The first panelist will focus on Sub-Saharan women who either reject or stop using contraceptive pharmaceuticals when they become aware of the irregularities in their periods caused by the drugs. Next is an examination of how women in the U.S. who use natural family planning misuse or stop using medical contraception because of their desire for “normal” and “healthy” periods. The last presentation will work to connect Sub-Saharan women’s faith in a pan-African water spirit called Mami Wata to their reluctance to use contraception; the paper will hypothesize that that this popular divinity is ultimately rooted in a sophisticated prehistoric cosmology that analogized menstruation to universal, life-giving patterns of flow in nature and, thus, saw it as the hermeneutic that established and sustained human culture.

Method Mistrust: How women’s mistrust of family planning methods which interfere with their menstrual cycles leads to unmet need, incorrect contraceptive use, and method discontinuation
Ann Moore, Guttmacher Institute, @Guttmacher

Many hormonal contraceptives alter women’s menstrual cycles, making periods last longer, flow heavier or lighter, spot throughout the month, or simply stop. Because women widely mistrust such methods, they often resist, misuse, or stop using them. Based on data from developing and developed countries, this paper shows how wanting “normal” periods adds to their risk of unwanted pregnancy.

I shouldn’t mess around on those days: How women’s’ beliefs about their fertility and their menstrual cycles affect their contraceptive use
Lori Frohwirth, Guttmacher Institute

While modern contraception allows women to think about their cycles only in terms of hygiene and convenience, data show that many women view menstruation as a sign of good physical and reproductive health. This paper explores how the beliefs of American women about menstruation affects their use of the Fertility Awareness Method in combination with hormonal and barrier methods.

The Rainbow Goddess and the Rainbow Snake: Mami Wata Worship as a Source of African Women’s Belief in Menstruation as Medicine
Jacqueline Thomas, PhD, Independent Researcher 

Sub-Saharan women often reject hormonal contraceptives, citing belief in the salutary/reproductive benefits of regular periods. This paper argues that this belief likely reflects faith in the snake-entwined Mami Wata, a popular pan-African wealth/fertility deity. It hypothesizes that Mami Wata (aka the Rainbow Goddess) is a modern-day expression of the Rainbow Snake—a prehistoric menstruation-regulating African/Australian water spirit embodying a sophisticated cosmology that held women’s cycle-based solidarity as responsible for earthly order and human happiness.

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

This post was revised and updated on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 12:35 p.m. MST.


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. 

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Dragoon, Gonzalez & Rouncefield

May 13th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Power” by Stephanie Dragoon

 

Stephanie Dragoon

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.

 

 

 

 

“Hybrid I” by Suzy Gonzalez

 

 

Suzy Gonzalez

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.

 

 

 

 

“She’s Got the Painters In” by Suzy Gonzalez

 

Mary Rouncefield

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.

 

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.

Menstrual suppression, regulation and metaphors

May 8th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Four takes on Fertility Control 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

Image by Diana Álvarez

Not A “Real” Period: Redefining Menstruation and Reconfiguring Birth Control
Katie Ann Hasson, University of Southern California

Menstruation, as a “natural” bodily process, seems self-evident, despite a great deal of feminist work that has highlighted menstruation as culturally constructed. Yet even in this work, how menstruation is defined or what “counts” as menstruation is rarely questioned. Examining menstruation alongside technologies that alter it highlights these definitional questions.

I examine the case of menstrual suppression birth control as a technology that regulates menstruation, drawing on an analysis of medical journal articles and FDA advisory committee transcripts paired with websites used to market menstrual suppression to consumers. Across these contexts new definitions of menstruation converged on a distinction between bleeding that occurs when women are taking hormonal birth control and when they are not. This distinction was previously known but became newly salient as it helped to normalize menstrual suppression contraception. Redefining menstruation was an important step in reconfiguring birth control pills into menstrual suppression pills, and thus in reconfiguring co-constructed uses and users of birth control pills. This paper seeks to broaden a sociological understanding of gendered embodiment by attending to the co-construction of users, bodies, and technologies through processes of reconfiguration.

“Bringing Down My Period” – Metaphors Around Ending an Unwanted Pregnancy
Susan Yanow, MSW

Around the world, including in the United States, women are self-inducing miscarriage/abortion using medicines obtained via the Internet, friends, etc. While some women consider this practice “DIY abortion’” others frame it as “bringing down the period” or “menstrual regulation.”

This presentation will share information on prevalence of this practice in the U.S., legal issues, and the disproportionate impact of these restrictions on low income and rural women will be highlighted. Participants will be invited to consider what the role of clinicians and activists could/should be in supporting women who choose to self-induce to end an unwanted pregnancy.

“I would not recommend it to anyone.” – What can we learn from women who share their bad experiences with Depo-Provera?
Laura Wershler, Women’s Health Critic

In three years my blog post Coming off Depo-Provera can be a women’s worst nightmare, (re:Cycling, April 2012)  gathered 900+ comments, many suggesting that the title was an accurate statement of experience for many women. A later post, Stopping Depo-Provera: Why and What to do About Adverse Effects, a Q&A with endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, received almost 400 comments.

Analysis of these comments (excerpts to be presented) revealed four recurring themes: 1) Uninformed choice 2) Lack of body literacy 3) Feelings of anger, fear, regret, betrayal and solidarity 4) Frustration with health-care providers. I’ll present arguments as to why this contraceptive method, as currently provided, does not serve reproductive choice or justice and offer suggestions for criteria required to ensure Depo-Provera is a contraceptive method that respects informed choice, body literacy, and women’s well-being.

 “I Won’t Have What She’s Having!” – Menstruation Suppression, Illusion of Choice, and the Lure of Posthumanisms
Diana Álvarez, Student, Texas Woman’s University

This paper explores why women choose to take menstruation cessation birth control pills and how this “choice” influences the way women view themselves. I am interested in understanding how the current cultural rhetoric on menstruation serves as a type of coercion for women to take these drugs. The analysis represents women’s eliminated cycles as a type of (dis)placing of the female body. Women are being convinced that the natural physiological occurrences of their bodies are at best inconvenient but at worst completely unnecessary and in need of elimination. Menstrual suppression will be discussed as a step towards posthumanism which as defined by Richard Twine is the “belief that the human race should be ‘enhanced’ using technological means.” I’ll address how the practice of not menstruating embraces a cyborg feminine identity.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Larson, Seemel & The Exquisite Uterus Project

May 6th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

The Official Flag of The Exquisite Uterus Project; Artist Jeni Mokren; On loan from the collection of Helen Klebesadel

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.”

 

“Women’s Troubles” by Jessica Larson

Jessica Larson

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.

 

“The Kiss (Bonobo)” from Crime Against Nature by Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel

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.

How Menstrual Rights and Rites of Passage Support Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice

May 4th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Experience community vision sharing and explore the potential of ritual and ceremony in two workshops 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

Bodystorm: A Menstrual Rights Embodied Visioning Council, June 5th
Roxanne Partridge, MA, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, PhD candidate-Pacifica Graduate Institute, @embodyperiod

Bodystorm is a guided brainstorming session with intuitive, interactive, and embodied exploration, provided in a space of expression, deep listening, collective visioning, and movement. Inspired by the community gathering that is the SMCR conference, this workshop welcomes members to come together in a practice of embodied imagination. Rooted in both liberation and depth psychologies, I weave Jack Zimmerman’s Way of Council and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed into an embodied visioning council. In this collaborative space we shall tend the problem of embodied representation of menstrual health and reproductive justice.

Council enacts the sacred practice of a community talking-circle. A vulva puppet talking-stick will be passed around the circle and each council member may respond to opening rounds of questions to heighten connection and intention. Then, the vulva-stick will be placed in the center to be picked up and responded with in a more irregular fashion. Heart-centered expression and listening, spontaneity, and movement welcome collaborative re-visioning, witnessing, and generative interruptions of our habitual positions.

Informed by Boal’s image theatre technique, council members will be asked to sculpt their bodies into images that respond to prompts such as: what menstrual health is like, a menstrual dream image they’ve had, an experience of reproductive justice, relevant questions in the moment, or to mirror an image put forth by another participant. These wordless expressions privilege the images and voices of the body, widen the traditional verbal nature of council, and give flesh and blood to our ideas.

As council leader, I will facilitate the council structure, questions, responses to bodystorm group process, and closing ritual.

Participants will gain an experiential introduction to a practice of community vision sharing and an opportunity to enrich the dream of menstrual health and reproductive justice as a human right, through collaborative embodied imagination.

Rights of Passage: Reclaiming Women’s Rites, June 6th
Giuliana Serena, Ceremonialist, Menstrual Cycle Educator, Moontime Rising

Weaving A Red Web by Giuliana Serena

This workshop will explore examples of modern pan-cultural rites-of-passage for women’s blood mysteries. Participants will be invited to look at their experience of womanhood, identify key rites-of-passage that may or may not have been acknowledged in their own lives—and those of their loved-ones—and gain a new perspective on the potential for ritual and ceremony to increase the awareness of the value of menstrual health and wellness for those worldwide. This session is designed to be relevant and welcoming to those of all faiths, persuasions, and backgrounds.

Rites of Passage, the ceremonial acknowledgement of the crucial transitions in the lives of individuals, families, and communities, have been practiced since the beginning of civilization, and the blood rites, those relating to fertility, menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, and menopause, are among the most ancient. In the modern day, these rites have been largely forgotten, with the exception of some traditional cultures. However, we are now experiencing a surge of interest and enthusiasm for the reclamation and re-imagination of these rites, as is evidenced by the growing menstrual empowerment movement in the west.

Rites of Passage used to be considered “rights” of the people. In keeping with the theme of the conference, Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan, Giuliana suggests that these rites of passage do, in fact, offer a powerful way to support menstrual health and reproductive justice, by providing spiritual and practical preparation, support, and celebration of life transitions.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

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.