Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Culture, menstrual narratives, and the messy politics of reproductive freedom

May 23rd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Two workshops explore the menstrual health/awareness and reproductive justice connection on Saturday, June 6th at  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.

POLITICS IS A MESSY BUSINESS: Menstrual Health, Reproductive Health Advocacy, Human Rights and Justice
Sharon L. Powell, Artist and Educator, S L Powell Public Affairs Services

Original image by Sharon L. Powell

Menstruation is part of the spectrum of reproductive health. Menstruation and menstrual cycle discourse takes up space as marker in the health and identity of female bodied individuals as well as in constructions of fertility. As such, it is on a reproductive health advocacy agenda. Menstrual health and menstrual health education are cornerstones of a reproductive health advocacy framework. Human rights and social justice movements concerned with self determination, health, human dignity, privacy, and bodily integrity, should pay political attention to menstrual health’s crucial and complicated place in an interdependent web of reproductive health concerns.

Social and chemical control of fertility is specifically connected to the hormones associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstrual shame. Hysteria. Sexualization. Contraceptive and other reproductive technologies. How does one truly consent to the use of reproductive innovations like hormonal birth control if they do not understand the hormonal patterns they are born with or acquire? Reproductive justice groups and reproductive health advocates must look at issues of self determination with an intersectional lens, acknowledging female bodied individuals’s multiplicity. It is important to explore and create opportunities for female bodied individuals to learn more about their bodies, not just lobby for abstract concepts of reproductive freedom.

Twenty years ago, I presented a paper at the Society’s conference in Montreal, Canada called “Better Dead Than Pregnant: Trends in Contraception – A Case for Menstruation Education.” Connecting my critiques of trends in non-user/”woman” controlled methods of contraception with myths of inconvenience regarding menstruation and convenience regarding methods of contraception, I made connections to the messy politics of reproductive freedom, the differences in the experiences for women of color, women with disabilities, and poor women with this focus on menstruation and the menstrual cycle. My contention that women from these communities were “better dead than pregnant” was picked up by other reproductive rights activists (such as Andrea Smith in her book Conquest). Subsequently, Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “John Rock’s Error, ” detailed how a myth of inconvenience regarding menstruation may have played a role in the development of the oral contraceptive pill.

Our Bodies, Our Stories: Celebrating the Menstrual Narratives of Womanhood
Deborah Dauda, LEPA & Kirthi Jayakumar, Red Elephant Fund

This workshop will look at culture and menstruation by sharing stories and testimonies of women from all over the world and the impact of open conversations in creating comfortable spaces for women to celebrate their womanhood through menstruation. In addition, we will welcome participants to share their own testimonies and stories, along with a session on simple “what-if” scenarios to encourage community conduct and resource sharing.

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

May 18th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Scholars and practitioners from the fields of human rights and water and sanitation will discuss menstrual hygiene from the perspective of gender equality on June 4th at the  21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Sarah Fry

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

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

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

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

 

Menstrual education and hygiene management initiatives seek collaborators

May 15th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 Two experiential workshops on Friday, June 5th, invite participants to collaborate in menstrual health initiatives at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston. With one in the morning and one in the afternoon, you can take in both!

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

 

“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.

Full-Spectrum Doula Support and Reproductive Justice

May 2nd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 Emma O’Brien and Sarah Whedon will present the workshop Full-Spectrum Doula Support 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

Learn more about the Boston Doula Project.

The cohort of abortion doulas who participated in the Boston Doula Project’s January 2015 training.

In recent years the full-spectrum doula movement has arisen as an intervention in reproductive health provision in general and abortion provision specifically. Full-spectrum doulas provide free, non-judgmental, and empowering support for people undergoing reproductive experiences. In this one-hour workshop, members of the Boston Doula Project will discuss how full-spectrum doulas engage with the reproductive justice movement; prioritize the voices of marginalized people, including but not limited to people of color and queer, trans*, and gender-nonconforming people; destigmatize abortion by locating it on the reproductive lifecourse; and promote body literacy and empowerment for everybody to be their own best advocate.

Follow the Boston Doula Project on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

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.

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.