Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Why (Menstrual) Children’s Books Matter

March 10th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on display at the NYPL. Photo courtesy Saniya Lee Ghanoui

For those living in or around New York City, the New York Public Library currently has an exhibition called “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” As the title suggests, the exhibit looks at popular children’s stories—consisting of The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins to Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) and Goodnight Moon—from a historical perspective and examines the cultural impact of books and stories on society.

When I visited the exhibit one section caught my attention: books that have been censored. There were the usual “culprits” including Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so censored because of its use of racial epithets and stereotypes. Also represented was The Diary of a Young Girl in which Anne Frank describes her own genitalia. The library highlighted that portion of the diary so visitors could read Anne’s description:

Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down, and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.

Anne’s narrative of her own body is an honest picture of the female body and I was pleasantly surprised that the New York Public Library decided to enlarge the text and bring such attention to it.

Another book mentioned is an obvious classic in the menstrual world, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. As a menstrual scholar I was waiting to read how the discussion of puberty and menstruation was deemed too much and the book was censored for such depictions. However, the enlarged book page that accompanied the exhibit was from the section where Margaret laments her lack of breasts and eventually asks her mother for her first bra:

All through supper I thought about how I was going to tell my mother I wanted to wear a bra. I wondered why she hadn’t ever asked me if I wanted one, since she knew so much about being a girl.
When she came in to kiss me goodnight I said it. “I want to wear a bra.” Just like that—no beating around the bush.

I was a bit surprised that the library chose this portion of the book to use as an example. The seemingly tame thoughts about wanting a bra counter the more graphic description of the female body that Anne Frank mentions in her diary. Furthermore, menstruation was never mentioned as for the reasons why Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was censored (the word “puberty” was mentioned, though).

The Physical Body and the Lived Body

March 28th, 2013 by Heather Dillaway

I’ve been writing about disabled women who engage in reproductive experiences, and have been inspired by some of the ideas in the disability literature and literature on the sociology of the body in the past few weeks. Some scholars of the body argue that we should pay attention not only to the physical body and its functions, but also we should pay attention to the “lived body”. That is, we are in the world through our bodies, and therefore our bodies are what allow us to engage in the world and make sense of the world. Thus, the more subjective body, the one that forms our personal experience, is as important as any physical body or bodily function we may have. (For example, what does our first or last menstrual period mean to us?) We can also look at the “governmentality” of bodies – that is, all the rules that surround bodies, all the norms that suggest exactly how our bodies should be and behave. We can think about how those rules affect our experience of our own bodies. (For instance, what if we have a hot flash in public and people see us sweat, or we leak during our menstrual cycle and people see the leak? What happens to us in those instances, and how do we respond to these bodily happenings in the face of societal rules?)

Photo by Matt Wootton // Creative Commons 2.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattwootton

Disability scholars suggest similar things, arguing that to truly understand disability we must separate out physical impairment from the “subjectivity of disability” or the actual experience of living with an impaired body and society’s rules about which bodies are “normal” and “abnormal”. To truly understand something like menstruation then, we would need to separate out the natural, normal bodily function from the actual lived experience of menstruation and the societal rules that affect menstrual experience. We cannot comprehend menstruation until we separate the physical body from the lived body and also pay attention to the social constraints that shape physical and lived bodies.

All of this makes me think that we have a long way to go before understanding menstruation, or any other reproductive process for that matter. Not only do we need to understand the physical body but, even more importantly, we need to understand the lived bodily experience. What’s it like to live with menstruation? What are the issues that arise day to day? What are the rules that really conflict with women’s day to day experiences? What are the parts of the physical experience that take on meaning? What are the meanings that are created? And then how do women live in the world through menstruating bodies? How do women make sense of menstruating bodies as both physical and lived entities?

This blog entry is more conceptual, and it really is just me thinking out loud. I’d love comments though on how readers think about their physical versus lived bodies. When we really think about it our physical body is only one dimension of our much more comprehensive and complicated bodily experience.

It’s something that’s happening to me; it’s not part of me

November 22nd, 2012 by Alexandra Jacoby

You don’t know what my cramps are like…So RELIEVED I am not pregnant…Tampon commercials: it is not. like. that.

It’s something that’s happening TO me; it’s not part of me.

It struck me when she said that. 

 

It happens to you.
It’s not part of you.

What do you think about that?

Is that how it’s like for you?

Your menstrual cycle.

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.