Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Two or three things I know for sure (about menstruation)

August 19th, 2014 by Breanne Fahs

On June 7, we posted a video of slam poet Dominique Christina performing a poem combating men’s shaming of women and their menstrual cycles. In the “Period Poem,” which she dedicated to her daughter, Christina encourages women who are confronted by men’s negativity toward menstruation to bleed, and bleed, and bleed on everything he loves. It is a fierce, bold, rebellious poem that has garnered much attention on social media, which received upwards of 6 million “likes” when it later appeared on Facebook. There is something magical and inspiring about menstrual art—poetry, paintings, songs, stories. For myself, who most often addresses menstruation in academic work—mired in journal edits, statistics, interviews, and such—I am in awe, somehow, by the similar themes that art, activism, and academia all address around the topic of menstruation.

To borrow a title from Dorothy Alison, here are two or three things I know for sure (about menstruation):

(1) First, the disgust directed toward women’s bodies serves as a powerful regulatory force to direct, contain, control, and denigrate women’s bodies. By eliciting disgust, we can summon people’s sense of outrage, moral judgments, visceral reactions, and “irrational” fears and funnel them toward a particular target. I continue to be amazed at how disgust about menstruating women (and, specifically, menstruating vaginas) permeates popular culture, social media, news media, and informal interactions. My research on disgust and menstruation has found that people find menstruation more disgusting than nearly any other bodily product or bodily occurrence. A recent pilot study I conducted found that this normal, healthy monthly cycle weighs in as more disgusting than open wounds, diarrhea, used diapers, and vomit. Dominique Christina’s response to the “dummy on Twitter” that dissed his girlfriend for starting her period during sex is tapping into this same phenomenon. Disgust is dangerous, and it connects powerfully to the undercurrents of misogyny in this country.

(2) Resistance to men’s shaming of menstruation is everywhere, hidden in simple acts of rebellion all over the world. Whether through poetry, art, the refusal to use commercial menstrual products, the impulse to fight back against the idiocy that permeates online culture, the commitment to love one’s body no matter what, the embrace of cycles and changes in the body, the refusal to be silent or unseen, the desire to connect to other women, the communication with daughters and grand-daughters about their cycles, and in a thousand other simple and elegant and (often) hidden ways, women resist the bullying, misogyny, and shaming of menstruation all the time. We can and should expect such resistance.

(3) Menstruation is no trivial subject. We are taught, as women, that our concerns, thoughts, fields of study, feelings, and attitudes are trivial, silly, not relevant, not important. (The journal, Trivia: Voice of Feminism, exists to combat this very assumption, publishing some of the most engaging and interesting feminist creative writing around). Menstruation is no exception. We learn very early that our menstrual cycles are either wholly invisible or targets for ridicule and misogynistic humor. And yet, what could possibly be more powerful than women’s reproductive capacities, their ability to bleed and give birth? Where are political, social, personal, cultural, and institutional intrusions more keenly felt than in women’s decisions about, and relationship to, their menstrual cycles? There is much at stake in resisting the stories we are told about our bodies, and, as I have too often found in my own work, doing so can make people frothing-at-the-mouth angry. My prediction: the more we continue to resist and fight back against menstrual shaming—whether through art, activism, or academia—the more clear it will become that menstruation is far, far, far from trivial.

Ms. August—Menstruation Pin-Up

August 15th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. August: Red Reeds
Cycle: August 2013 
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

The Blood They Cannot Show

August 14th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

re-blogging re:Cycling

In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post originally appeared July 2, 2009.

As I’ve written elsewhere, entertainment media in the U.S. aren’t squeamish about showing us blood: gunshot wounds, horrific vehicle accidents, and surgical procedures can be seen in fictional narratives as well as nightly news. It’s only menstrual blood that must remain hidden.

Another reminder of this phenomenon can be seen in the brief internet buzz last month, when teen actress Dakota Fanning was photographed on a movie set with blood running down her bare legs. I read about this at Broadsheet, Salon.com’s blog about ladybusiness. Broadsheet’s take was uncertainty over whether the photos are real or from the film, and disgust with the
reactions from internet commenters at Livejournal:

Is the blood part of the movie’s plotline — in which Fanning plays rock chick Cherie Currie — or just a run-of-the-mill monthly mishap?

Probably the latter. But that hasn’t prevented the Internet from erupting in an astonished, OMG! WTF? reaction, summed up best by the Livejournal poster who offered a pithy “Ew. Blood.”

Dakota Fanning holds still while an assistant cleans up her menstrual blood.Actor Dakota Fanning waits while an assistant cleans her legs.

[Click on photos to embiggen]

Of even greater interest is the comments at Broadsheet. Although I read Broadsheet every day, I usually skip the comments. (To borrow a term from Kate Harding, I find I can rarely spare the Sanity Watchers points). The overwhelming consensus of Broadsheet commenters was that OF COURSE it’s fake blood from the movie being filmed, because if it were a real period, no one would stand there looking so blasé while someone else cleaned her up. Apparently, if it were REAL blood, young Ms. Fanning would have run from the set to the nearest ladies room to plug it up, and not stood still for so many photographs, much less allow someone else to handle WetWipes duty.

Telling, no? It’s only OK for us to see this menstrual blood because it’s FAKE.

Call for Menstruation & Reproductive Justice Visual Art

July 16th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

“Widening the Cycle: A Menstrual Art Exhibit”
Menstrual Health And Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across The Lifespan

Submission Deadline: November 1, 2014 11:59PM (MST)
Exhibit Dates: June 4-6, 2015

Event Co-Sponsors, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR) and the Center for Women’s Health & Human Rights (CWHHR), seek visual art to enrich and further strengthen the multidisciplinary focus of the upcoming conference Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights across the Lifespan. Art has the ability to challenge society’s deepest assumptions by sparking new ideas, catalyzing critical thinking, and inspiring individuals to take steps in new directions that facilitate social change. “Widening the Cycle” will explore visual art’s ability to alter social perceptions and reactions to menstruation with a particular interest in art created using menstrual fluid.

For more details, including eligibility and submission guidelines, please visit: http://www.beautyinblood.com/call-for-art.html

Ms. July—Menstruation Pin-Up

July 4th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. July: Twists & Turns
Cycle: July 2013 
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

 

Menstrual History Research

June 23rd, 2014 by David Linton

A noteworthy addition to the menstrual canon was published last year by Sara Read, a professor in the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University in England, titled Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan). As the title suggests, the book delves into the menstrual ecology of 16th and 17th Century England in order to discover the nature of attitudes and practices of the time. Given the fact that the prejudices, myths, taboos, and emphasis on discretion and even secrecy were present as they are today (though sometimes taking different forms), it is a daunting challenge to unearth evidence of how the menstrual cycle was viewed centuries in the past. However, despite the secrecy surrounding the topic, Read has unearthed nearly 150 primary sources ranging from journals, sermons and letters to midwife instructional manuals which she subjects to close analysis assisted by more than 100 secondary scholarly references. In doing so she has revealed a complex set of social practices and has critiqued them with insight.

There is a striking symmetry between Sara Read’s documentation of Early Modern menstruation and Lauren Rosewarne’s Periods in Pop Culture (Lexington Books) published the previous year. Though they examine eras separated by 400 to 500 years of history and vast changes in practices and attitudes, their projects compliment each other in surprisingly felicitous ways. Both authors capture the nuances of the subject in their respective realms and invite readers to think more deeply about how menstrual values are formed.

Following the publication of Read’s book, she is one of the organizers of a conference in July at her home university titled “Early Modern Women, Religion, and the Body” that will include several presentations with menstrual themes, including my own paper titled, “The Early Modern ‘Period’ and Biblical Stories of Menstruating Women.” A report on the conference will be posted after its completion.

Obvious Child: The Other Taboo

June 18th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

cervical mucus

 The recently released rom-com ‘Obvious Child’ has been discussed far and wide for its mature, sensitive and funny approach to the topic of abortion and yet I have not seen one comment on the fact that this movie also makes mainstream (and yes, funny) the topic of cervical mucus.

In the opening scene stand-up comedian Donna (played by real-life comedian Jenny Slate) is performing on stage at her local open mic night. She wraps up with a joke about the state of her underwear and how, she describes, her underpants sometimes look like they have “crawled out of a tub of cream cheese.”

She claims that they often embarrass her by looking as such during sexual encounters, something she feels is not sexy.

Of course, by “cream cheese” I immediately assumed Donna meant cervical mucus. Unless she is supposed to have a vaginal infection – which seeing as it is not discussed amongst the other myriad bodily function-centric conversations in the movie, I doubt to be the case – then it’s clear she is detailing her experience of cervical mucus.

Later on that night, when Donna meets and goes home with a guy, has sex and then wakes up in bed with him the following morning, she sees that her underwear is laying next to the guy’s head on the pillow. Not only that, but this is one of those situations she finds embarrassing as the underwear is actually covered in the aforementioned “cream cheese” or cervical mucus. She cringes, retrieves the underwear and hastily puts it back on under the covers.

At this scene we can assume that the presence of visible cervical mucus indicates that the character is in fact fertile at this time during the movie. Even if we didn’t know this movie was about unplanned pregnancy, perhaps we would know now. Apparently Donna is not on hormonal birth control, and she’s not sure if, in their drunkenness, they used a condom properly. So, I speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile and that the “cream cheese” in her underwear was actually one of the handy signs of fertility her body provides, then she may have taken Plan B and not had to worry about an abortion. But, then, of course, we wouldn’t have had the rest of this movie. We would have had a very different movie – a movie someone should also make.

But it goes to show how some body literacy might go a long way in helping women make more informed choices. The abortion sets her back $500 and causes some emotional turmoil. A dose of Plan B is cheaper and easier to obtain, although not without some side effects. Maybe even, we can speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile she might have avoided PIV sex that night.

It’s great to see a movie approach the choice of abortion as though it really were, well, a choice. But isn’t it interesting that in doing so it shows how women can be hampered in their choices by a lack of body literacy?

We often see women in movies discussing their “fertile time” in regards to wanting to get pregnant – and so meeting their husbands to have sex at the optimum time in usually funny, crazy scenarios. Sometimes we have seen women taking their temperature or using ovulation tests and calendars to figure this out. However, I think this might be the first mention of cervical mucus in cinema.

I had the honor of seeing this movie with longtime abortion rights and women’s health activist Carol Downer and getting to discuss it with her after. Carol pioneered the self-help movement and self-examination, adding much to our collective knowledge of our bodies.  

This is what she had to say:

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Ms. June—Menstruation Pin-Up

June 6th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. June: Curves
Cycle: June 2013
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Congressional Action on Menstrual Hygiene Day

May 28th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Maloney press release for the Robin Danielson Act of 2014

As I’m sure you’re well aware, today is Menstrual Hygiene Day and there are activities all across the globe to commemorate this day.

The SMCR is excited to announce that it contributed to the day by endorsing the Robin Danielson Act of 2014, a legislation that would require the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research whether menstrual hygiene products contain synthetic additives that pose health risks (including risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome). What’s more, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced an updated version of this Act today, on Menstrual Hygiene Day! According to Maloney’s office, she first introduced legislation regarding tampon safety in 1997 with the Tampon Safety and Research Act; subsequent versions of this bill were introduced in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011.

Now it’s time to take more action: turning this introduced legislation into law. Stay tuned for more information regarding petitions of support and other forms of activism and assistance. In the meantime, step one is to write your local congressperson and voice your support for the Robin Danielson Act of 2014. You may find a list of Representatives (and search for your local Rep.) on the House of Representatives website and you may read more about Maloney’s bill (in which SMCR member and President-elect Chris Bobel is eloquently quoted)  on her site.

Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

Menstrual Hygiene Day!

May 28th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

As has been documented this week, today is Menstrual Hygiene Day. Please see the official Menstrual Hygiene Day website for more information and to check out the global activities going on to celebrate this day.

SMCR contributed to Menstrual Hygiene Day by supporting the Robin Danielson Act sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). This Act is an important piece of legislation that calls for more research on Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and the risks associated with additives in menstrual management products.

Tell us how you are celebrating today and we wish everyone a happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

Menstrual Hygiene Day: What’s in a name? Why Menstrual Hygiene Day is called Menstrual Hygiene Day

May 27th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest post by Danielle Keiser

Summary: Menstrual Hygiene Day is not only about the biological process of growing up into a woman, but also about addressing the challenges that exist in many developing countries with regards to managing menstruation safely and hygienically. Such challenges include potential vaginal infections caused by poor access to soap and water and toilets, inadequate or unhygienic sanitary protection materials, or infrequent cleaning or changing of these materials. In many cases, this results in adolescent girls missing school and women missing work. Moreover, the continued silence around menstruation paired with limited access to factual guidance at home and in schools results in millions of women and girls having very little knowledge about what is happening to their bodies when they menstruate and how to deal with it.

Is ‘hygiene’ a negative word?

Menstrual Hygiene Day, oh, be some other name! As Juliet famously said about a rose with regards to Romeo being a Montague, what is in a name? That which we call hygiene by any other name would still be (according to the Oxford Dictionary) “the conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness”, would it not?

Since we launched the initiative to make the 28th of May Menstrual Hygiene Day, we at WASH United have undoubtedly started the conversation about menstruation, with social media buzzing as to why #MenstruationMattersand worldwide events and activities set to take place by many of our 135 partner organizations. One recurring conversation has revolved around disagreement with the term ‘hygiene’, a term that has been criticized for not being ‘period positive’ and doing little to ‘honor the menstrual process’.

I’d like to take the time to explain why we chose the word hygiene, focusing on how optimal Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) conditions, or more specifically, access to clean water and soap, toilets, sanitary protection materials and factual guidance are prerequisites to enabling women and girls to embrace their periods and feel positive about the whole experience. When menstruation is managed in privacy, with safety and dignity, women and girls are much more likely to develop the comfort and confidence needed to participate in daily activities. And since all human rights stem from the fundamental right to human dignity, when women and girls are forced into seclusion, taunted and teased, or fear leaking due to inadequate menstrual hygiene management (MHM), dignity is difficult to maintain.

 

4 reinforcing thoughts: It’s about hygiene.

1. Imagine that while menstruating, you are either not allowed to bathe or you simply don’t have a shower to rinse your body.

In parts of Kashmir, India, some menstruating women are prohibited from using water sources and advised to stay away from flowing water in general. Also, they are not allowed to look at their reflections in the water.

2. Imagine unexpectedly starting your period in the middle of an important math lesson. Is your first thought, I need to go to the toilet? Do you go to the one dirty latrine that is shared with 65 other boys and girls, without a lock? And what will you do with your stained panties? There’s no hand-washing facility and not even a wastebasket to throw them away in.

There are still 2.5 billion people who do not have access to adequate sanitation. If roughly half of the world’s population is female, that’s 1.25 billion girls and women who cannot simply ‘go to the ladies’ room’ to check on themselves and change their pad, tampon or cup in privacy.

3. Imagine having no idea, or a very faint one, about what a period is, why it happens, or how to take care of it when it happens.

Worldwide, many girls feel a ‘culture of silence’ around menstruation, including in their families. Often, male family members are clueless about menstruation, treating it as something negative or a curse. Girls do not feel comfortable even talking to their mothers about the subject, and many teachers only skim the surface on lessons about puberty and reproduction because it makes them uncomfortable.

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.