Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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.

Period Positives, Menstrual Hygiene Management, and The Feminist Issue of Our Times

May 1st, 2015 by Laura Wershler

An international panel will lead a discussion 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 on Menstrual Hygiene Management Campaigns & Menstrual Activists: What can we learn from each other?


1. Stiff Lower Lips: Challenging and changing British attitudes to menstruation
Presenter: Chella Quint,The #PeriodPositive Project, Sheffield, UK

Chella Quint offers at least 28 ways to disrupt narratives of menstrual shame globally and locally by recounting her #PeriodPositive methods: using comedy, activism, research, education, and, more recently, as part of a wider discourse around improved sex and relationships education, at grassroots, local school board and national policy levels. She developed #PeriodPositive to counteract the mainly negative public discourse. She accepts that people both love and hate periods, but tries to unpick how big an influence the media plays in these attitudes. She aims for ‘period neutral’, using a positive approach.

@chellaquint  #periodpositive

2. The Feminist Issue of Our Time: The role of menstruation in achieving better reproductive health for women worldwide
Presenter: Dr. Emily Wilson-Smith, Irise International, University of Sheffield—School of Health and Related Research, Kampala International University 

Women’s reproductive health begins with their experience of menstruation, influencing their health-seeking behaviors for life. With the lifetime risk of maternal death over 200 times greater in poor countries compared with Western Europe and North America, an over-romanticized view of a women’s natural state is damaging in this context. Wilson-Smith believes that the fate of the 800 women who die every day during childbirth from preventable causes is the feminist issue of our age. All who aspire to advance women’s rights need to engage in a meaningful way with the realities these women live, their struggles to access healthcare and information, control their fertility and survive childbirth. We may have to leave some appealing myths about the female body behind if we wish to extend the freedoms that many women in the west currently enjoy to women around the world.
@irise_int

 3. Menstrual Hygiene Day – Uniting Partners
Presenter: Danielle Keiser, WASH United, Berlin, Germany 

In addition to deeply enshrined socio-cultural taboos about menstruation, the ability to hygienically manage menstruation is a major struggle in many parts of developing countries. This is largely due to the lack of access or limited affordability of hygienic products and/or the lack of private and clean facilities with water, soap and a safe place to dispose of menstrual waste. Such an environment prevents girls and women from being able to practice ‘healthy’ habits around menstruation, have ‘positive’ attitudes about menstruation or lead ‘normal’ lives on menstruating days.

Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) is an initiative with a vision to ensure that all girls and women, wherever they are, can hygienically manage their menstruation – in privacy, safety and with dignity. Initiated by WASH United, Menstrual Hygiene Day is a global and open platform that unites the many different actors and sectors by coordinating and strengthening efforts to make this vision a reality. Since 2013, over 200 organisations worldwide have joined the partner network.

@WASHUnited

4. Experiences from India—Reclaiming a positive & celebratory outlook towards menstruation
Presenter: Sinu Joseph, Mythri Speaks

In India, practices around menstruation, such as women taking time off during their period, eating and drinking from separate vessels, and not visiting religious places or ceremonies during menstruation, are rooted in the cultural context. It is nearly impossible to talk about menstruation in India without understanding the traditional cultural practices. Throughout Joseph’s journey of discovery, the positive celebratory attitude of early religious texts towards the experience of menstruation has been enlightening. Ancient societies have much untapped wisdom that could benefit menstruators and inform our views today.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Boodoo-Fortune, Leeming & Serena

April 29th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Burden of Bearing” by Danielle Boodoo-Fortune

 

Danielle Boodoo-Fortune

I think of my art as an exploration of the under-layers of women’s experiences, the intimate innerscapes that can only be expressed in the visual language of symbol. My work, primarily done in watercolour, ink and collage, and often including lines of my writing, is vibrant, half-wild, illustrative and poetic. It is rooted deeply in the natural landscape of the Caribbean, and connects personal, everyday experiences with the divine, and with myth and memory.

The writer Gloria Andalzua says “I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails.” Through my paintings, I am building my own map of myth and memory, my own god(desses), new ways of understanding myself as a young Caribbean woman of colour.

I believe that my work relates to this call for art in its intimacy and focus on the complexity of personal experience, particularly as it relates to how we experience our own (female) bodies.

 

 

 

“grapes” by Tory Leeming

Tory Leeming

Inspired by the history around societal views of menstruation and the female body, ‘Menses’ is a four look, fashion collection that references the abstract views of ancient philosophers and practices. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who himself saw women’s menstrual cycle as the product of insufficiently produced sperm, believed menstruation made women the ‘lesser’ sex, while Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder described menstrual blood as one of the most dangerous fluids in existence (Hiltmann, G. 2005).

In the Greek myth of Medusa, the gorgon whose look could turn a man to stone, a horrifying woman with a crawling, bloody, and repulsive head of snakes was described by ancient folklore not only to mark the danger of a menstrual woman, but also to demonise menstruation itself (Mulvey-Roberts, M. 2005). These ‘menstrual taboos’ created through history have not only distorted the current day views around a woman’s body, but have also prevented both the comfort of body literacy and the advancement of all women’s overall health.

Through the relation of fabrics to the flesh tones of menstruation and anatomy, and the links of nature to our own bodies with the use of plant-based dyes, ‘Menses’ prompts us to address the fear of menstruation applied by ancestral misunderstanding, creating a calm atmosphere that welcomes the discussion of our bodies, from our own perspectives.

 

“Blood On My Hands #1″by GiulianaSerena

Giuliana Serena

What does it mean to have “blood on one’s hands?” Generally, the idiom is used to implicate or accuse a person of being either personally or tangentially responsible for the death or injury of another. This comes from the obvious fact that often when someone is killed, in close contact, personally, their blood can end up on their assailant’s hands in one way or another.

And yet, all around the world, far more women will invariably have blood on their hands, than those whose hands are bloodied by aggression  Each time a woman changes a pad, tampon, she may get blood on her hands, and certainly if she is changing a sponge or cup or applicator-less tampon, and when washing reusable pads, sponges, cups, and undergarments.

In this way, “having blood on one’s hands” is a perfectly normal experience for the majority of women.

However, our language reflects our great fear of blood. The way we speak about blood and use blood-related imagery is most often in terms of violence, death, and disgust. How could this not have a negative influence on those for whom being bloody, and coming into close contact with this blood, is a fact of life?

I am a woman. I experience a menstrual cycle. I bleed. To occasionally have blood on my hands is a fact of life which I do not begrudge. To accept this, and appreciate my cycle as a whole, my bleeding especially, is to accept and appreciate myself. Bloody and messy and human and all.

For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.

Experiencing Menopause: Sexuality, desire and literary exploration

April 27th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three paper presentations on Menopause 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 will explore sexuality and the menopausal woman, as well as personal menopausal experiences as collected in a literary anthology.

1. Sex and the Menopausal Woman: Resisting Representations of the Abject Asexual Woman
     Presented by Jane Ussher and Janette Perz, Centre for Health Research, School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney 

Drawing on qualitative research conducted with women at midlife, and those who have experienced premature menopause after cancer, we argue that sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age.

Medical discourse has traditionally positioned the menopausal transition as a time of sexual atrophy and loss of femininity, with hormonal replacement as the solution. In contrast, feminist critics have argued that women’s experience of sexual embodiment during menopause is culturally and relationally mediated, tied to discursive constructions of aging and sexuality, which are negotiated by women.

This paper will present a critical examination of women’s experiences of sexuality during and after the menopausal transition, drawing on in-depth one-to-one interviews we have conducted with 21 women at midlife, and 39 women who have experienced premature menopause as a consequence of cancer treatment.

Theoretical thematic analysis was used to identify three themes across the women’s accounts: ‘Intrapsychic negotiation of sexual and embodied change’; ‘Feeling sexy or frumpy: Body image and the male gaze’; ‘Indifference or desire? The relational context of sexuality during menopause’. Through this analysis, we challenge myths and misconceptions about the inevitability of sexual decline at menopause, as well as normalise the embodied changes that some women experience–whether menopause is premature, or occurs at midlife. We argue that sexual difficulties or disinterest reported by women during and after menopause are more strongly associated with psycho-social factors than hormonal status, in particular psychological well-being, relationship context and a woman’s negotiation of cultural constructions of sex, aging, and femininity. However, sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age, with many menopausal women reporting increased sexual desire and response, as well as re-negotiation of sexual activities in the context of embodied change. This undermines the bio-medical construction of menopause as a time of inevitable sexual atrophy and decay.

2. Writing Menopause: Creating an Anthology
     Presented by Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin

The editors will discuss their process of envisioning and creating a new literary anthology that considers the diverse experience of menopause from various points of view. The anthology is composed of new works of poetry, short fiction, interviews, creative non-fiction, and cross-genre pieces, along with several previously published creative works that were chosen to round out the collection.

Although the editors make no claims that this work is in any way definitive, their focus instead was to create a venue for more stories and to encourage a richer vocabulary about this important transition within a literary context. The editors have observed that few literary representations of menopause exist. They will explain how they arrived at wanting to create this collection, as well as the submission process, the criteria used in accepting submissions, and how the shape of the collection shifted organically with the nature of submissions received. They will reflect on what types of submissions they would not accept, what they think the volume says about menopause, and how their own ideas about menopause were changed during the process. A few excerpts will be read.

3. Sexuality and Post-Menopausal  Women:  Desirability and Desire
     Presented by Maureen C. McHugh, and Camille J. Interligi,  Department of Psychology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Ageist cultural messages portray old bodies as ugly, asexual and undesirable (Calasanti & Slevin, 2001; Furman, 1997), and yet not engaging in sufficient partner sex is viewed as a sexual dysfunction.  How do contradictory cultural messages about the sexuality of older women impact their sense of themselves as sexual beings?

Sustainable Cycles: Cross Country Activism and Menstrual Health Education on Bicycles

April 24th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Presenters Sarah Wilson, Ruby Gertz, Rosie Sheb’a, Rachel Horn, Olive Mugalian and Rachel Saudek will present the workshop Sustainable Cycles: Cross Country Activism and Education on Bicycles, 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, USA.

Read more about their journey in Biking 2000 Miles to Talk Period published by Jamaica Plain News.

In March of 2015 seven women from three different countries are biking across America for one reason: because they are passionately period positive. The purpose of Sustainable Cycles is to catalyze a grassroots, person-to-person revolution away from single-use, disposable menstrual products to reusable sustainable options. We want as many women to make the switch as possible and for users to become advocates—“spokeswomen” – in their communities. We see our work as a feminist, social and environmental justice project.

Sustainable Cycles was started in 2011 by Sarah Konner and Toni Craige, who biked down the West Coast meeting with groups of women to discuss the cultural taboos of menstruation and pass around a show-and-tell kit of alternatives to single-use pads and tampons. The project has since gained momentum, making the 2015 tour the third and largest trip. This year the trip will be taking three simultaneous routes: through middle America via San Francisco, Southern America via San Diego and from Florida up the Eastern Coast. The project has been supported by multiple re-usable companies including Diva Cup, Ruby Cup, Party in My Pants, Glad Rags, Lunette and My Own Cup.

As the culmination of our 2015 tour, it is a privilege to present our travels with other menstrual enthusiasts at the 2015 SMCR conference. We will be presenting our project in three parts. Firstly, reminding and educating about the presence and importance of alternative menstrual products. We will then be sharing the details, triumphs, and difficulties of holding these workshops with women across America. This will include pictures from our journey, a report of current attitudes about menstruation and alternative products and our personal growth during our journey. Lastly, we will be discussing ways that women can access their own inner activist and combine their passions to make a difference in the world. We are thrilled to be sharing our passion and products with women across America and to share our story at the upcoming conference.

Follow Sustainable Cycles on Twitter @bikeperiod and on Facebook 

Media Release for 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, USA

Register here for the Boston Conference.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Byrd, Man & Speciale

April 22nd, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Bloody Jesus” by Byron Keith Byrd

 

Byron Keith Byrd

I have had numerous group and solo exhibitions of my paintings, drawings, sculptures, and art-constructions nationwide in leading and cutting-edge galleries, as well as several select museums. I strive to provoke and provide opportunities to see society anew by challenging entrenched social mores. Most recently, I have created work that is even more controversial, because I’m tackling the confines and atrocities of organized religion. I have used various other body fluids in my work before, so the inclusion of menstrual blood in my art is a natural progression. As a man who can’t possibly know the experience of menstruation and as an artist working to reveal the damage done by religion, I need only point to the Book of Leviticus, which is the Old Testament’s “rule book,” filled with many references to menstruating women as unclean and saying that any man who touches them or even sits where they’ve sat becomes unclean. There has also been extensive theological discussion about the Virgin Mary, concluding she never menstruated prior to birthing Jesus – without a trace of blood or afterbirth, because both would have tainted her and Him with unholy uncleanliness and sin! If “menstrual art” can help heal the personal shame and confusion women feel about their bodies, I am honored to be part of this exhibit.

 

 

“My Mirror” by Phoebe Man

Phoebe Man

In southern part of China, there is a custom to eat red eggs to celebrate a baby born. I combined the red eggs with sanitary napkins to stress the relationship of menstruation and reproductive ability of women. Arranging these 2 materials into blossoming flowers is to show my positive attitude towards the naturalness of these bodily functions.

The mirror is to invite audience to come closer to be with the works and celebrate the bodily functions together. However, from my own experience, audience usually had great change of their facial expression, some even said “Disgusting!” when they came closer to my work and realize what the materials were. Why did people’s attitude towards the works change so fast?

Monthly period is still a stigma in Chinese society. It is regard as unlucky and dirty. Why? This is something I want to question through my work.

The work “My Mirror” is inspired by my anxiety of period when I was a student. I wanted to enjoy sexual pleasure but unfitted for marriage and had babies. It was a nightmare when the period came late, moreover, I needed to hide my anxiety and my sanitary napkins. “Why do I need to do so?” I asked myself. These experiences made me think of raising the issue and to generate more discussion on the issue.

 

“The Lost Ones” by Nichole Speciale

 

Nichole Speciale

The Lost Ones is a group of 9 small hoops embroidered with white embroidery thread dyed with menstrual blood. The project seeks to bring attention to the gendered practice of embroidery and the shaming of the female body. Thread has for many decades has been associated with feminine home craft, and has often been disregarded as a legitimate art making medium. In its simplest interpretation, thread is a continuous line. Thread like the womb is absorptive; it reflects its environment. It creates new forms from its own tissue. The Lost Ones connects the womb to this gendered material, allowing the thread to act as a conduit for the womb’s unused material. The project, on a more social level, works to expose the artist’s own female body, revealing an otherwise obscured material that is lessened to that of excrement, even though it is a material responsible for creation of life. The depicted fetus shapes serve as reminders for the potential held in the menses.

 

For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Baker, Mohler & Tegeler

April 15th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Self-Preservation” by Dana Baker

 

Dana Baker

My work looks at the contradictions between the culturally sanctioned perceptions of fragile femininity and the strongly transformative and oftentimes grueling physiological experience of menstruation. With imagery that teeters between precariously contained sanitization and suppressed rage as a consequence of gendered subjugation, I aim to convey both the brutalistic realities of biological determinism (maternalistic/reproductive expectations) as well as the frustrations of a gendered body that is restricted by its edifice. My intentions are to re-contextualize menstruation as a rigorous corporeality, one which contains simultaneous emotional states of ambivalence, shame, masochiscm, elation, anxiety, dissociation, as well as a mystical kind of feral liberation. I create figures with superheroine underpinings, nodding to She-Ra and the women cartoonists movement, utilizing dark humor that celebrates the powerful and unedited mess of menstruation while also positing a strong female archtype that rejects the societally imposed physical obligations of someone who posesses a “womb.”

 

“Lunar” by Sadie Mohler

 

 

Sadie Mohler

What threatens from the outside only threatens insofar as it is already within…it is not that the abject has got inside us; the abject turns us inside out, as well as outside in.  – Sara Ahmed

 

Through my artwork I aim to directly confront the culture of disposal that surrounds menstruation. I draw on Julia Kristeva’s theory of ‘abjection’ and use visual representation to evoke an affective response. Menstrual blood is abject as it is neither subject nor object; it cannot be singularly defined because menstruation exists both inside and outside of our bodies, occupying a beautifully liminal space. This ambiguous duality triggers discomfort, disgust and the desire for disposal. However, by painting with my own menstrual blood I challenge this desire to dispose and instead celebrate the complexity and fluidity that is inherent in our periods. When painting, I strive to have as much contact with my menstrual blood as possible. I primarily use my hands, fingernails and my mouth as tools and the shape of every piece is guided by the blood’s natural viscosity. Menstrual blood is distinct as it includes uterine tissue and vaginal lining giving it a variable consistency depending on the body’s cycle. Through each piece, I strive to remove menstruation from the margins and visually center it to provoke a renegotiation of its existence.

 

“Bathroom Sculpture” by Jena Tegeler

Jena Tegeler

“Bathroom Sculpture” reimagines the culture of tampons as a playful break from the conventional attitudes of a discreetness associated with menstruation. The sculpture’s ideal hanging place in a private bathroom suggests a sincere acknowledgement of a daily activity, which may be as routine as brushing one’s teeth. The brightly colored tips of the knitted tampons shift away from the passionate, rich, representations of menstruation that seek to reclaim the natural process as something bold and powerful. Rather, these friendly tampons are made precious and in6mate in their hand-knitted softness. This is not an a>empt to erase or shame women and their body fluids by way of products with sweetly scented ointments and pink packaging. It is a celebration of many monthly encounters with these cotton forms.

 

For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Cardenas, Paige & Wiles

April 8th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Silencio de Generaciones” by Mod & Viky Cardenas

Mod & Viky Cardenas

In our culture the menstrual cycle is seen as something that should remain unspoken about, it is a taboo, something to be ashamed of and a sign of shame. Being aware of extreme situations were girls are not even permitted to go to school by their parents when they are menstruating and seeing how most women are extremely ashamed by the fact that they menstruate brought the conclusion that there is a really big problem regarding something so natural and special as the menstrual cycle, and that awareness should be raised and women everywhere need to be free from repressive stigmas brought by the constant instruction generation from generation of how menstruation is something “bad”. In cultures like ours where there is a strong “macho culture” this kind of situations led to the degradation of females of all ages and create a gap between real equality. The art pieces reflect that “generational silence” past down from mother to daughter and the “life stigma” most women are forced to live with, the intent of the art is to bring a reality to as many people as possible and demonstrate a sad truth and by the same time, hopefully, raise questions and give the spectator a chance to reformulate certain paradigms and begin change.

“Season” from Cycle of Paradise Series by Victoria Paige

 

 

Victoria Paige

This series explores the reinvention of a woman’s reproductive and sexual identity. The images display what is very much a part of everyday life. The color for this series was chosen to serve as an allusion to the pastels that are used for the marketing menstrual products; very soft pinks, blues, purples, and oranges. I adopted the characteristics way marketing agencies present menstruation, but use it in a way that can show beauty in something that is traditionally regarded as slightly repugnant. The juxtaposition of pleasant colors and uncensored presentation of flesh and blood is essential to the images. In this way, my hope is to demonstrate that flesh, blood, and normal bodily process, can be perceived as something beautiful.

 

 

“Supergrover” from 52 Ladies at Tea Series by Deb Wiles; Photo Credit: Hailey Kuckein

Deb Wiles

“52 Ladies at Tea” came from an emotional place. That is, I didn’t begin with the intention to produce it, but was led by the piece itself. Production of the work began a discourse with women I knew and new ones I met about how they felt about their vulva and their sexuality. Response to the work, that of the models and the audience becomes part of the work.

 

It has long discomforted me that society shames (us) women when we make choices for ourselves regarding our bodies and our sexuality. Our bodies belong to us. It is our right to choose for ourselves. Choose when we want to have sex and with whom, if and when we want to marry, and if, when and with whom we want to bear children. Indeed these decisions belong to individual women. They do not belong to our fathers or our husbands or our lovers. We choose. For women there is a great deal of power in sexual autonomy.

 

Shame has long been used as a tool to control women’s sexual expression (and our behavior in general). This project is an investigation into the shame we women internalize about our bodies and our sexualities in order to survive in patriarchy. Some people may well feel that in North America, after so many decades of feminism that we are well beyond feeling this sort of shame, but I beg to differ with those people and encourage them to look at things from a more global perspective rather than an ethnocentric one. Currently we live in a global cultural climate wherein some countries, women are undergoing involuntary female infibulation while others are ‘voluntarily’ paying to have surgery on their vulvae so that their genitals will look ‘prettier’, a standard that has been set by heavens knows what, but certainly the criterion has nothing to do with reality or love.

Taxing the Period

April 6th, 2015 by David Linton

Photo courtesy Canadian Menstruators

It seems that Canadian menstrual activists are way out ahead of those in the US with a drive to eliminate sales taxes on menstrual products.  I understand that this issue has come up previously at the Provincial level in Manitoba and British Columbia, but this is a nation-wide drive.

The topic of menstruation is so delicate in the US that it’s unlikely that any party or mainstream candidate would sign on to support a bill to eliminate menstrual sales taxes at any level.  It would surely invite ridicule and smarmy commentary from the uptight media pundits and politicians who run rampant over anything having to do with women’s health, especially when it comes to the menstrual cycle.

Yet it’s surprising that, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a law suit filed on the basis of gender discrimination against state and local taxation of menstrual products since they are a necessity used almost exclusively by women.

Perhaps it’s time for more activists in the US and elsewhere to pick up on the lead of the Canadian feminists and raise a fist clutching a tampon, pad, or cup (whichever one prefers) and demand the elimination of this discriminatory levy.  Readers are invited to propose appropriate slogans.  And perhaps in Boston in June we could stage a new version of the revolution’s tea party.  Boston harbor afloat with tampons!  Now there’s an image sure to get coverage.

Widening the Cycle: A Menstrual Cycle & Reproductive Justice Art Show

March 31st, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

The Lost Ones (2014); Artist: Nichole Speciale

When I scroll through my library of menstruation-related media coverage, I’m truly impressed by the volume of articles and blogs being published. It’s amazing to see a human rights article about chaupadi practices in Nepal one day and a sexual wellness article about period sex the next. However, I am continually disappointed by the images that accompany these articles. I don’t know about you, but I’m completely over seeing women frolicking about in the world appearing completely unaffected by their menstrual cycle clad in white skirts and bikinis. I’m tired of red cartoon lines tying into knots to symbolize my menstrual cycle. I’m sick of the clear blue liquid and the complete omission of blood in menstrual product commercials. I’m tired of receiving Google Alerts about menstrual art only to be directed to articles that were too cowardly to post an accompanying image. What kind of mixed message are we sending with this increase in menstrual discussion but continued erasure of menstruation from the visual landscape?

For all of these reasons, I was compelled to curate an art exhibit that exclusively looks at the menstrual cycle and reproductive justice through the eyes of contemporary artists. Widening the Cycle is a social justice art show that threads together global voices to raise consciousness about menstruation and reproductive justice through feminist art. Its mission is to energize the public menstrual dialogue by making the menstrual cycle visible through thought-provoking visual imagery. A diverse collection of 40 artworks will be installed throughout the common areas and four pop-up galleries at the meeting of SMCR and the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, MA. Together, we aim to disrupt the status quo and make menstruation visible through this collection of painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture, fiber and video created by artists residing in 10 countries.

Join participating artists Diana Álvarez, Gabriella Boros, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, Lucy Madeline and Kyle Peterson for a lively discuss about the power of art on Friday, June 5th during the lunch session entitled Beyond “Menstruation Bathroom”: Stimulating Social Change Through Visualizations of Gendered Blood.

Additionally, there will be an opening reception, open to the public, on Thursday, June 4th from 5 PM – 7 PM. Widening the Cycle will also be open for general public viewing the evenings of June 4th, 5th and 6th.

State of Wonder–Part 3: Wondering about menstrual cycle misconceptions in a fictionalized theory for extended fertility

March 27th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

In Parts 1 and 2, I wondered why author Ann Patchett chose not to include information about menstruation, femcare products and birth control that, logically, would have enhanced her novel’s inciting premise—lifelong menstruation and fertility—while retaining the literary integrity of State of Wonder. I believe just a few sentences could have accomplished this.

Now, I wonder about the menstrual cycle misconceptions that underpin Patchett’s proposed explanation for the extended fertility experienced by the Lakashi tribe.

The reader learns with Dr. Marina Singh, the novel’s protagonist, that the Lakashi women continue to menstruate, ovulate, conceive and give birth into their 70s because they regularly chew the bark of Martin trees found in the Brazilian rainforest. The bark is so effective there are no post-menopausal Lakashi.

The women chew the bark once every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant, because the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. The researchers, led by Dr. Annick Swenson who has been studying the Lakashi for decades, observe the women chewing the bark and collect cervical mucus swabs to monitor their estrogen levels. They dab the swabs on slides for “ferning.”

“No one does ferning anymore,” Marina said. It was the slightly arcane process of watching estrogen grow into intricate fern patterns on slides. No ferns, no fertility.

Dr. Saturn shrugged. “It’s very effective for the Lakashi. Their estrogen levels are quite sensitive to the intake of the bark.”

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle: Used with permission from Geraldine Matus, Justisse Healthworks for Women

Patchett perpetuates the myth that fertility is all about estrogen. Actually, fertility is dependent upon the cyclic ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone. As the graphic illustrates, estrogen rises in the pre-ovulatory phase, peaks, then drops dramatically just before ovulation occurs. Post ovulation, estrogen continues to be produced but its effect on cervical mucus is suppressed (no ferns) by the substantially higher level of progesterone which acts upon the endometrium in preparation for pregnancy.

It would make more sense for the Lakashi to chew the bark more often during the pre-ovulatory phase but be repulsed by it post-ovulation as progesterone rises. How neat would that have been? The researchers could have pinpointed ovulation in their study subjects. Oddly, ovulation is not even mentioned.

Furthermore, if intake of the bark raises estrogen levels, chewing the bark every five days would interfere with the post-ovulatory rise of progesterone, throwing the hormonal interplay of estrogen and progesterone required to achieve and support a pregnancy out of whack.

Another issue: Marina is told that by chewing the bark “her window for monthly fertility would be extended from three days to thirteen.” What does this really mean? According to the scientific principles underlying the fertility awareness method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy, the fertile phase starts when fertile-quality cervical mucus is first observed and ends when three dry days have passed. The bark would increase the fertile quality of the mucus and the number of days fertile mucus occurs pre-ovulation, thereby increasing the chances for conception. But sperm can only survive five days, kept viable by the mucus that locks it in the cervical crypts until an egg is released. And that egg will remain viable for only 24 hours. Timing of intercourse still matters. The extended fertility explanation in the novel does not suggest the Martin tree bark has any effect on these accepted reproductive factors.

Am I being too picky? Perhaps. State of Wonder is, after all, a work of fiction. But I expect a seasoned novelist to have researched basic menstrual cycle facts so as not to pose an explanation for extended fertility that doesn’t pass scrutiny. Had Patchett consulted with a menstrual cycle expert, perhaps an SMCR member, she might have imagined a much more plausible scenario. In the actual book I read, there were no acknowledgements to those she may have consulted on the subject.

I loved State of Wonder for all it’s literary complexity that goes far beyond the details related to the menstrual cycle that I have wondered about in this 3-part series. But it’s been fun to explore how one novelist wrote about a subject I am intimately familiar with and to suggest how she might have done it differently.

Period Revolution — How Period Apps are Changing Women’s Health

March 13th, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Dr. Lara Briden

My new book Period Repair Manual begins with some warm words about Period Apps. I’m talking about the smart phone applications that let us tap in data about our period start date, bleed duration, and symptoms such as spotting, breast tenderness, and mood.

Of course we could always do the same thing with old-fashioned pen and paper, but period apps are different somehow. They’re right there in our bags. They’re often on our hand. That makes it so easy to check in with our body’s information on a daily basis. That makes it fun to track periods—almost like a game.

I love period apps because they have made periods seem less threatening. They have made periods seem normal (which of course they are). As a naturopathic doctor working with period health for the last twenty years, I perceive that period apps are part of something bigger now in women’s health. More and more women are talking openly about their periods, which is exciting. Even more exciting is the fact that more and more women are saying Yes to their own natural cycles, and No to the birth control pill.

Women are saying No to the pill because they’re finally starting to understand that pill-withdrawal bleeds are not real periods. They want real periods, and they’re ready to have a closer look at what those periods are actually doing. How better to have that closer look than with a period app?

Period apps help women to see how their periods currently are. They also help women to track the way their periods improve over time with natural treatment such diet, supplements, and herbs.

I have one big concern about period apps, and that’s the way they can confuse women about ovulation. I know, because I’ve had these conversations with some of my patients. Their phone tells them that they ovulate on a certain day, and they believe it. Why wouldn’t they believe it? It’s data from a high-tech device. I explain that their phone can only guess at ovulation based on the timing of their last period. It cannot truly know when they ovulated or even if they ovulated at all (it’s possible to have bleeds without ovulating). I teach patients to learn to know their ovulation. I teach them to look for the physical signs of ovulation such as fertile mucus, cervix position, and a shift in basal body temperature. They can enter that data into their period app, and then will they have a truly useful technology.

Periods apps are not perfect, but from my perspective, they’re a step in the right direction. They’re an important tool for body literacy and period health.

Lara Briden is a naturopathic doctor with nearly twenty years experience in women’s health. She is also the author of Period Repair Manual.
Read her blog and learn more at http://www.larabriden.com/.

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.