Four presenters discuss Menstrual Representations on Friday, June 5th at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.
1) Menstrual Mystery: Female Bodies in Catholic Theology
Doris M. Kieser, St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta
A good deal of contemporary Catholic theological focus has to do with women’s capacity to control their bodies regarding reproduction (e.g., various contraceptives, abortion, reproductive technologies). By contrast, feminist and other liberation theologies (e.g., mujerista, queer, womanist) face the moral questions regarding reproduction from the direction of the whole health and flourishing of particular women, autonomy and choice in decision-making, and the place of intention and conscience in personal faith life. However, between these two perspectives, mysteriously little mention is made of menstruation, particularly menarche, as an embodied aspect of female sexuality.
In this paper I suggest that more meaningful consideration of actual menstruating female bodies could bolster both the traditional and the feminist theological perspectives on control and reproduction while, most importantly, empowering young females through their sexual development. Regardless of future choices regarding birth control, females who learn the practicalities of menstrual awareness have the opportunity to experience an embodied sexual self, based on the connection of body and spirit in their reproductive lives.
2) Biblical Blood: Image Representations of Menstruation in Bible Stories
David Linton, Professor Emeritus, Marymount Manhattan College
How do you tell important stories that involve a detail fraught with taboo, a detail that might discomfort the narrator or embarrass the audience? Such a challenge confronted artists and illuminators faced with the task of illustrating Biblical stories that involved mention of women who were menstruating. Social engagement by menstruating women during that phase of their cycles was (and in many settings still is) severely restricted. This paper describes how Biblical menstruators were treated in image art.
There are only three specific references in the Bible to an actual woman’s menstrual flow, two are explicit, the other somewhat veiled. One is found in the Genesis story of Rachel’s confrontation with Laban, her father, regarding her theft of his household gods. Another is in the story of King David’s sighting of Bathsheba taking a post-menstrual bath. The other is embedded in the brief recounting, told in three of the Gospels, of Jesus’ healing of a character who has come to be known as “the bleeding woman.” This paper traces the various treatments the three menstrual stories have received.
3) All Postfeminist Women Do: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Television Comedy
Elizabeth A. Kissling, Eastern Washington University
This essay explores how women’s sexual and reproductive health issues are represented in four television comedies by, for, and about young women – Girls, The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls, and New Girl – in ways that fill in some of the gaps of abstinence-only sex education that has been dominant in U.S. public schools since the passage of Title V of the Social Security Act 1996. Simultaneously, these shows reproduce the postfeminist sensibility of late 1990s television programming and align with the same neoliberal values.
Citing multiple specific scenes from these four current television series, and using a material-semiotic analysis and a critical, feminist lens, I show how postfeminism is deployed and reinforced, along with important information about women’s sexual and reproductive health. Examples include characters from Girls discussing the transmission of HPV, the gradual realization among characters on New Girl that PMS is socially constructed, Dr. Mindy Lahiri of The Mindy Project educating high school students about birth control, and more. This health information is frequently presented in realistic interpersonal scenarios and is largely medically accurate, leading to the conclusion that it may be a valuable source of information about sexual and reproductive health for viewers.
4) Menstrual Documentary: Menstrual Education Films of the 1970s
Saniya Ghanoui, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Menstrual educational films are used widely in American school curricula to educate and prepare girls both practically and emotionally for the changes they are about to undergo. This presentation explores the mediated treatments of the first period and examines the ways girls are told to prepare for its arrival.
The 1960s produced little new sex and menstrual hygiene films aimed at girls since The Story of Menstruation (1946) and Molly Grows Up (1953) were both used in schools through the decade. However, the 1970s saw a rash of menstrual education films with new form and configuration.
This paper examines the social underpinnings of menstrual education films and how they were directed at young girls to exemplify the evolution of menstrual hygiene education that embodied the public sphere. By focusing on the 1970s I conclude that the new style of menstrual hygiene film mirrors the new style of sex hygiene instruction.
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
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.
Four takes on Fertility Control at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston
Not A “Real” Period: Redefining Menstruation and Reconfiguring Birth Control
Katie Ann Hasson, University of Southern California
Menstruation, as a “natural” bodily process, seems self-evident, despite a great deal of feminist work that has highlighted menstruation as culturally constructed. Yet even in this work, how menstruation is defined or what “counts” as menstruation is rarely questioned. Examining menstruation alongside technologies that alter it highlights these definitional questions.
I examine the case of menstrual suppression birth control as a technology that regulates menstruation, drawing on an analysis of medical journal articles and FDA advisory committee transcripts paired with websites used to market menstrual suppression to consumers. Across these contexts new definitions of menstruation converged on a distinction between bleeding that occurs when women are taking hormonal birth control and when they are not. This distinction was previously known but became newly salient as it helped to normalize menstrual suppression contraception. Redefining menstruation was an important step in reconfiguring birth control pills into menstrual suppression pills, and thus in reconfiguring co-constructed uses and users of birth control pills. This paper seeks to broaden a sociological understanding of gendered embodiment by attending to the co-construction of users, bodies, and technologies through processes of reconfiguration.
“Bringing Down My Period” – Metaphors Around Ending an Unwanted Pregnancy
Susan Yanow, MSW
Around the world, including in the United States, women are self-inducing miscarriage/abortion using medicines obtained via the Internet, friends, etc. While some women consider this practice “DIY abortion’” others frame it as “bringing down the period” or “menstrual regulation.”
This presentation will share information on prevalence of this practice in the U.S., legal issues, and the disproportionate impact of these restrictions on low income and rural women will be highlighted. Participants will be invited to consider what the role of clinicians and activists could/should be in supporting women who choose to self-induce to end an unwanted pregnancy.
“I would not recommend it to anyone.” – What can we learn from women who share their bad experiences with Depo-Provera?
Laura Wershler, Women’s Health Critic
In three years my blog post Coming off Depo-Provera can be a women’s worst nightmare, (re:Cycling, April 2012) gathered 900+ comments, many suggesting that the title was an accurate statement of experience for many women. A later post, Stopping Depo-Provera: Why and What to do About Adverse Effects, a Q&A with endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, received almost 400 comments.
Analysis of these comments (excerpts to be presented) revealed four recurring themes: 1) Uninformed choice 2) Lack of body literacy 3) Feelings of anger, fear, regret, betrayal and solidarity 4) Frustration with health-care providers. I’ll present arguments as to why this contraceptive method, as currently provided, does not serve reproductive choice or justice and offer suggestions for criteria required to ensure Depo-Provera is a contraceptive method that respects informed choice, body literacy, and women’s well-being.
“I Won’t Have What She’s Having!” – Menstruation Suppression, Illusion of Choice, and the Lure of Posthumanisms
Diana Álvarez, Student, Texas Woman’s University
This paper explores why women choose to take menstruation cessation birth control pills and how this “choice” influences the way women view themselves. I am interested in understanding how the current cultural rhetoric on menstruation serves as a type of coercion for women to take these drugs. The analysis represents women’s eliminated cycles as a type of (dis)placing of the female body. Women are being convinced that the natural physiological occurrences of their bodies are at best inconvenient but at worst completely unnecessary and in need of elimination. Menstrual suppression will be discussed as a step towards posthumanism which as defined by Richard Twine is the “belief that the human race should be ‘enhanced’ using technological means.” I’ll address how the practice of not menstruating embraces a cyborg feminine identity.
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
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.
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.
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.
Guest Post by Jen Lewis
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.
Dear Readers: The following post first appeared on July 25, 2012, during the media think-piece flurry over the soaring popularity of E.L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. With the movie opening on Valentine’s Day, 2015, I can’t wait to find out if or how Depo-Provera is referenced as the contraceptive choice made for heroine Anastasia Steele by ob-gyn Dr. Greene, a character I have confirmed via IMDb is in the movie. I argued in the post that Depo-Provera as Ana’s birth control method was an unrealistic plot device. Commentary on Fifty Shades has again started to snowball, but I doubt anyone besides myself will have the slightest interest in this facet of the story. I invite readers who get to the theater before I do to report back in the comments section.
Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey
Fine literary fiction it is not, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James can certainly claim to be libido-boosting storytelling. Deirdre Donahue at USA Today summarized the books’ appeal in 10 reasons ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has shackled readers. She pretty much nailed it. And she’s read the books, which is more than can be said for other writers, including this one who implied that heroine Anastasia (Ana) Steele signs a contract to become hero Christian Grey’s submissive in a BDSM relationship. She doesn’t.
Until he meets Ana, Christian’s sexual history has included only BDSM relationships, those involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism. BDSM plays a role in their love story, but the most sadistic thing that Ana submits to is a shot of Depo-Provera. re:Cycling readers know what I think of this contraceptive: I. Am. Not. A. Fan.
As a menstrual cycle advocate, I pay attention to menstrual mentions wherever they appear. It was impossible for me NOT to hone in on how James handles menstruation and birth control.
Christian quickly ascertains that Ana, a virgin when he meets her, is not using birth control. (His unflinching communication about sexuality is one of the books’ most appealing aspects.) As their sexual affair begins, he uses condoms. Within a week or so he asks when her period is due and says, “You need to sort out some contraception”. But our hero is a rich control freak, so he arranges for “the best ob-gyn in Seattle” to come to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Ana, the narrator:
“After a thorough examination and lengthy discussion, Dr. Greene and I decide on the mini pill. She writes me a prepaid prescription and instructs me to pick the pills up tomorrow. I love her no-nonsense attitude — she has lectured me until she’s as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day.”
Alas, Anastasia, just 21, is the perfect example for why researchers with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project are recommending that women under 21 use long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. She forgets to keep taking her pills when she and Christian briefly break up. It’s back to condoms for this couple, until Dr. Greene reappears, confirms Ana is not pregnant, and, after Depo-Provera’s side effects are dismissed as irrelevant because “the side effects of a child are far-reaching and go on for years,” gives her the shot. I almost had to stop reading.
I get it that James uses Depo-Provera as a plot device, as becomes apparent. But the author’s decision to give Ana Depo-Provera is not in keeping with either Dr. Greene’s or Christian’s characters. I don’t believe for one minute that the best ob-gyn in Seattle would give Depo-Provera to any patient; she’d recommend a Mirena IUD. As for control-freak Christian, he is adamantly committed to Anastasia’s safety, evidenced in many ways. He would never consent to her taking a drug with these potential side effects: weight gain, digestive problems, depression, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, and — especially — loss of sexual sensitivity and desire. Never! And he’s too smart not to know this.
Christian’s occasionally expressed distaste for condoms also seems to be a plot device considering he uses them so skillfully, and without obvious diminishment to either his or Ana’s pleasure, through 986 pages of the 1594-page trilogy. The tearing of foil condom packets is a leitmotif that in no way hinders this man’s exceptional “sexing skills.”
But James gets full marks for this: Christian Grey is not afraid of blood. While making love in a spacious hotel bathroom, he gently removes Ana’s tampon and tosses it in the toilet. Later, sitting on the bathroom floor, Ana remembers she has her period:
“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.
“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.
Guest Post by Jen Lewis
From inception to the present, my art project Beauty in Blood has been a positivity-fueled whirlwind. In the very early stages I shared my concept with just two people, my husband and one of my dearest feminist friends. The positive and open way in which they received the message behind my concept helped me flesh out my thoughts and forge ahead with the execution without concern for any potential nay-sayers. Based on my preliminary research into menstrual art, I expected to face hateful trolls every time I introduced a new person to my work but that hasn’t been the experience at all. In the real world, when I tell people about Beauty in Blood their faces typically brighten in response to the casual mention of such a taboo topic. In fact, at social gatherings it can actually take over an entire conversation; I’ve watched women have micro feminist revelations in front of my eyes when discussing the secrecy and silence around menstruation. If that’s not a testament to the power of art, I don’t know what is.
Don’t get me wrong, detractors cross my path but they are few, far between and significantly politer than the hateful trolls in the comments sections of online articles. Typical detractors suggest I alter my art in order to follow the “sanitary” path laid out by menstrual product manufacturers, i.e. “It would look better if the blood was blue; the red is so offensive and difficult to digest.” Or “You’d probably sell a lot more if the prints were black and white.” Or “The message is great but people don’t want to talk about this stuff; they’re not ready even if you are.” Overall, the latter does not represent my experience in the least. Men and women alike have expressed curiosity, support and encouragement to continue developing and growing the scope of Beauty in Blood.
As Jenny Lapekas discussed last month on re:Cycling, there are many, many menstrual art haters online with vile things to say about women and our bodies. However, there are also many women who will not be silenced or, is more likely the case, who will not hear the trolls. Just about any student who took a 20th Century American Art survey course can tell you that menstrual fluid, along with a wide variety of biological substances, are nothing new in modern art. Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll” and Judy Chicago’s “Red Flag” are often referenced in basic art survey texts as examples from the feminist art movement of the 1970s and 1980s. However, what I discovered when I started digging around the internet in search of “menstrual art” was that there are many women artists both from the past and presently working with menstrual fluid. Their visual art spans thematically from addressing political issues that pertain to women’s bodies to linking women’s bodies to natural earth cycles to simply creating something positive from an occurrence that is usually negative. Artist Vanessa Tiegs even coined a term for this art, Menstrala. The number of young women taking to livejournal.com and Tumblr to share their menstrual creations or DIY tips is as surprising as it is inspiring. Regardless of the haters and trolls, contemporary art made with and/or addressing the menstrual cycle are popping up across the globe. In Sweden, SMCR’s own Josefin Persdotter curated Period Pieces, a wildly successful travelling exhibit that features the work of 13 artists including Arvida Bystrom, Chloe Wise, and Petra Collins. In 2013, the Sunday Times Magazine introduced us to British artist Sarah Maple and her incredible oil painting “Menstruate with Pride”. In Australia, Casey Jenkins made headlines with her 28-day performance, “Casting Off My Womb,” where she knits one skein of wool that unravels from her vagina daily to mark a full menstrual cycle. Most recently, Egyptian feminist artist Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (photo NSFW) shocked the world by using her nude body and biological substances, her menses and excrement, to make an extreme political statement about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Trolls and haters be damned! Women have some things to say and there will be blood, lots of menstrual blood.
Despite the large number of emerging, professional, and outsider female artists whose work focuses on the menstrual cycle specifically or even “women’s issues” more broadly, opportunities for these artists to show their work in galleries and/or museums is extremely limited due to gender discrimination in the art market, dealer priorities and collector bias. The Guerrilla Girls famously advertised this gender discrimination with their billboards directed at major museums, such as their original campaign against the Metropolitan Museum (New York City) and more recently taking aim at the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston):
In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we are republishing some of our favorite posts. This post by Elizabeth Kissling originally appeared September 29, 2009.
Apropos of Chris’ most recent post, the video of Serena Williams’ new ad for Tampax just popped up in my RSS feed. You can check it out at right.
I’m so torn on this. I’m pretty certain that this is the First. Time. Ever. that the word “blood” has been used in an ad for menstrual products. Do you know what a huge step forward for body acceptance and menstrual literacy that is? When I was growing up in the 1970s, pads were advertised by showing how well they absorbed BLUE fluid. (So were diapers, by the way.) Kotex was the first company to use the color red and the word “period” in ad campaign less than ten years ago. So there is a part of me that is delighted when Catherine Lloyd Burns, playing Mother Nature, smiles slyly and says, “Well, there is plenty of blood, but none of it’s bad”.
I also enjoy seeing a powerful woman say that she isn’t afraid of menstruation, and shown succeeding athletically while menstruating. Kinda reminds me of when Uta Pippig won the Boston Marathon while menstruating.
But the core message and most troubling element of this entire “Mother Nature” campaign is the idea that menstruation is the gift nobody wants. Can’t P&G (and Kotex, and every other femcare advertiser) just promote the damn products without promoting shame and body hatred? Women will buy menstrual products without being told that periods should make them feel “not so fresh”. In fact, the ads might be more compelling if they emphasized the absorbency of the product and treated menstruation as a fact of life, rather than a secret disaster. Just spare us the blue fluid, please.
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.”
[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.