Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Little Girls! Just Say Yes to Your Dreams!

March 18th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Seen this one yet? (or the (eerily) related “Birth Control on the Bottom“?)

We posted “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” (written by Carissa Leone in 2011) in our regular installment Weekend Links on Feb 2. I had a mixed reaction. And when a couple re:Cycling readers described the video as “nasty,” I knew we needed to dig in a bit.

Let’s discuss.

There’s something very absurdly funny about eating birth control, even if the women are still tweens and the birth control is merely mulit- colored jelly beans intended to get young girls in the pill-popping groove before they are saddled with a baby and an half-finished high school education.

First of all, women CAN eat their birth control, donchaknow… Warner Chilcott brought to market their chewable, spearmint flavor oral contraceptive, Femcon Fe, for women who have difficulty swallowing pills and apparently, find stopping for 30 seconds to swallow water.

But I digress (I guess I just want to be clear that we are ALREADY munching our pills).

It is hard not to love how this sketch takes down the pandering to the girl tween market. Oh lordy. There’s so much potential there! (one estimate figures that kids aged 8-12 years are spending $30 billion OF THEIR OWN MONEY and nagging their parents to spend another $150 billion annually!) Little girls quickly move from Disney to diets, from fingerpaint to fake eyelashes, from tutus to belly shirts…..I have seen it with my own girls and it feels, frankly, like an inexorable force.

Viral sketch writer Carissa Leone graciously replied to my questions regarding the piece. When I asked her what inspired her, she channeled her Women’s Studies training (go team!) and supplied her two main reasons:

(1) “I saw a little girl on the subway,holding a baby doll in one of those pretend baby slings…and I thought, “If only she really knew what motherhood was like. I wonder if anyone has explained the authentic experience. I wish she were carrying a briefcase and reading a teeny issue of Ms. magazine instead… “

AND

(2) “The idea that women can/should have it all, in terms of relationships and families and career still seems to be put forth as a tangible (and”correct”) goal in Western culture. It’s a pressure I and many other peers feel, and one that I don’t think is truly possible, or necessarily awesome.”

And Big Pharma takes a hit, too, per the spot’s director, Brian Goetz, who offered this when I asked him about what led to the sketch:

“I wanted to do the video because the script spoke so well to the branding of pharmaceutical commercials, where no matter what the product, as long as you say there’s a problem and that you have the solution, throw some happy people and fun b-roll in it, you’ve got a successful campaign. On top of that, it’s always fun to legitimize terrible ideas in sketch comedy. And if that means having multi-colored jelly bean birth control pills, all the better.”

But I think there’s more to it that that.

Why do I find myself laughing and crying at the same time? Well, I just finished my advance copy of Holly Grigg-Spall’s forthcoming Sweetening the Pill  or How We Became Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (out this Spring with Zero Books). In it (and here as well, on this blog), Grigg-Spall makes the case the hormonal contraceptives have become so normative that we, as consumers, permit an imperfect (at best) product to flourish even while other options may be more appropriate. The one-pill-fits-all mindset is so pervasive and bores in so deep, so young, Grigg-Spall argues, that when someone says, ‘hey! I don’t want to be on the pill,’ these—what she calls “pill refugees” — are hastily branded as irresponsible, antifeminist, or just plain dumb. That is, the pill gets constructed as our savior, our liberator, our saving grace, even when its not.

And that’s where this spoof enters….since the pill IS all these things, let’s get those girlies on board NOW! Why wait? Good habits start young, after all. And product loyalty is not just for toothpaste and laundry detergent….

And so, “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” is super smart feminist critique. It calls out the enduring wrongheadnessness of romanticizing motherhood and co-opting what I would call a tragically hollowed-out pseudo feminism harnessed to push product:

  • Little girls playing Mommy is cute, and kinda bullshit!
  • Its never too early to teach little girls about options!
  • She’ll know that birth control means winning a college scholarship

Yup. There’s lots of problems with that. Thanks to the feminist satirists to help us see.

But I have to say one more thing.

Leone and I discussed (what I consider) the unfortunate below-the-belt invocation of gender dysphoria to as she put it, “most absurd, heightening beat” in the sketch (here’s another, more recent example of same, on SNL). I don’t think trans or gender queer or otherwise gender variant people should ever serve as punchlines, as I told Leone so in our email exchange. When I inquired about this moment in an otherwise spot-on sketch, she said that is was never intended it as a negative perception of transgendered kids. But still  it is, and I think it points with a big fat finger at how much work we still need to do to move trans issues from margin to center.

Let’s push forward without leaving anyone behind. Let’s laugh at feminist satire that avoids (even unintended) transphobia. Let’s keep our targets clear and our allies clearer. Let’s say YES to that dream, for real.

Pregnant Body Flaunting

December 4th, 2012 by David Linton

There is no end to the variety of ways that men find to express their fascination  fear, discomfort, attraction, or repulsion when it comes to any aspect of the menstrual cycle.  Take, for instance, the bizarre annual event hosted by the DJ’s at a San Diego radio station known as Rock 105.3.

Billed as the Pregnant Bikini Pageant, it constitutes a crude parody of the Miss America show (which is by now pretty much a self-parody) in which pregnant women display themselves in scanty bikinis before a cat-calling, cheering audience.  After the women have all been introduced and interviewed briefly, the crowd selects one who is crowned “Missed Period of the Year.”  The promotional tag line for the event is, “Meet the Lovely Lactating Ladies of Rock 105.3.”

Just as it has long been required for women to hide any sign of their menstrual processes, they have also been historically required to hide signs of pregnancy as well.  However, this smarmy, leering event passes itself off as a celebration of women’s beauty “even” while pregnant, and the participating women appear to revel in the attention.  Is this the dark side of “progress?”

In a fertility flap? Five things you need to know

August 22nd, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Your fertility is not a deep, dark mystery only your doctor can unravel. It’s yours to own, understand and manage. Forget the ticking biological clock, it’s the wrong metaphor. Fertility ebbs and flows, like the phases of the moon. It’s about the cycle – not the clock.

Are you wondering about your fertility status? Will you be able to have a baby when you want to?

Seems these questions are on the rise for 20- and 30-something women who are finally getting the message that putting off motherhood may not be a good idea. Recent news stories report that young adults don’t know the facts of fertility decline and overestimate the success of reproductive technologies.

But as the message gets through, the response makes my eyes roll.

Judith Timsom, one of my favorite columnists, recently pondered the fertility fears many young women are having.  Among them:

A third woman, turning 30, with a committed partner and a great job, made fertility sound like the new “f” word as she glumly remarked to a friend ,“My doctor told told me my fertility just dropped 50 per cent. Crap.”

This is crap. It misrepresents how fertility works. Timson writes that “young women – and men – are crying out for more factual, emotionally neutral information on how their fertility works.”  Forgive me if I, and at least 700,000 others – the number of people who have purchased Toni Weschler’s  Taking Charge of Your Fertility since it was first published in 1995 shake our heads in frustration.

What women need is body literacy, the know-how to observe, chart and interpret our menstrual cycle events so that we – not the doctor, not the lab tech – can confirm our fertility status. Yes, it’s called fertility awareness, and, since the late 60s, millions  of women world-wide, including me – a bonafide pro-choice feminist, have used this life skill to both avoid and achieve pregnancy.

If you’re worried about your fertility, here are five things you need to know:

  1. You can learn to observe and chart three key signs of fertility: a) fertile cervical mucus b) basal body temperature shift  c) adequate luteal phase, or number of days from ovulation to next period.
  2. If you use hormonal contraception (HC), you have been infertile for as long as you’ve been using it. When you stop HC, your body has to establish healthy ovulatory menstrual cycles before you become fertile. Health and environmental factors may impact this process. Factor recovery time into your baby plans.
  3. If you began using HC as a teenager for heavy bleeding, painful periods  or irregular cycles chances are your reproductive system has not fully matured. When you quit HC this maturation process will resume. Depending on the method you used, it could take months before you have ovulatory, fertile cycles. Be patient. Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioners can assist in recovering fertility.
  4. If you began using HC for PCOS or endometriosis, expect symptoms to resume when you stop. The Centre for Menstruation and Ovulation Research describes treatments that manage PCOS  and endometriosis while helping to preserve fertility.
  5. Fertility is individually, not statistically, determined. It can ebb and flow from cycle to cycle. Diet, stress, travel and trauma can result in anovulatory, or infertile, cycles. When it comes to getting pregnant, the more you know about your own menstrual cycle, the better.

Fertility awareness is empowering, but Toni Weschler says that in her decades long experience she has repeatedly seen the sense of excitement that women feel evolve into anger. “Women want to know why they weren’t taught this when they were teenagers.”

The young women Judith Timson writes about have yet to acquire this knowledge. When they do, will they be angry enough to teach their own daughters? Weschler has a book for them, too - Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body Fertility isn’t a mystery if you know where to look for the clues.

The Eternal Feminine: Focused, Goal-Oriented, Practical, and Loving

April 30th, 2012 by Paula Derry

Visiting colleges became part of our repertoire of family trips back when my daughter was a senior in high school.   We visited many schools to get a sense of the range of possibilities that existed.   As was typical, Vassar offered a tour of the campus for groups of prospective students and their parents, led by tour-guides who were undergraduate students.  Vassar’s tour had one unique feature.  An original campus building, which dated to the post-civil war era, had an exceptionally wide hallway.  This, we were told, was because the all-woman student body needed to be able to walk back and forth repeatedly in the halls in their wide skirts, as part of a college program in physical fitness. Vassar, founded on the idea that the education of women should equal that of men, had a program of physical culture to offset criticisms that the school was endangering women’s health by educating them.

Sheila Rothman describes Vassar’s history in her book “Woman’s Proper Place,” published by Basic Books in 1978.  The common wisdom in the second half of the 19th century was that people have a limited amount of biological “vital energy.”  Rothman (p.24) quotes a contemporary physician:  ”Woman has a sum total of nervous force equivalent to a man’s” but the force is “distributed over a greater multiplicity of organs…The nervous force is therefore weakened in each organ…it is more sensitive, more liable to derangement.”  Menstruation and pregnancy were times of special danger, when the demands on her system were greater and the possibility of physical and mental disorder increased.  Menstruation was a time when women were irrational, even insane.  Caution, however, was always called for, as when intellectual activity or other exertion used up nervous energy.  Thus, when Vassar was founded, a program was put in place to overcome women’s predisposition to illness through a structured environment and programs of physical exercise.  Later, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae conducted a survey to provide research evidence as to whether female college graduates were normal.

Image by Thiophene_Guy // CC 2.0

Back in the Vassar of the present, our student tour guide wondered:  “How could anyone believe anything so silly?” It’s true that we no longer talk about a “vital force.”  Yet, broad generalizations about the nature of women and reproductive physiology continue to exist that have an air of plausibility, based today on a different scientific language, one of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other players.   Not very long ago, menopause was defined as an “estrogen deficiency disease” that had a uniquely powerful effect on health.  Heart disease was a disease of civilization for men and a disease of the ovaries for women.   The idea that the menstrual cycle destabilizes women’s minds, creating mood and intellectual changes, continues to exist.

One of my favorites is the idea that women are somehow receptive, loving, and self-denying because of their maternal role, which is somehow mediated by estrogen.  Thus menopause may be said to be a time that women regain the ability to focus more on themselves, liberated from a physiological preparedness for reproduction and its needs.   Pregnancy is a dreamy time when women are moody and unable to think clearly.

Sure, mothers are receptive, loving, self-denying, but they are also many other things.  I love being a mother.  My relationship with my daughter has been powerful, unique, and wonderful.  However, I know that a mother who is lost in a dreamy connectedness to her child or reflexively puts her child before herself can’t do everything she needs to do.   A mother is emotionally connected to her child but also must be an individual who perceives the child accurately, as a separate person, in terms of the child’s motivation and perspective, in order to provide both a sense of connection and the mirroring needed for a child’s emotional development.   Further, children misbehave, make mistakes, and must be taught all kinds of things; mothers must have clear-headed, pragmatic, problem-solving skills.

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.