Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Breaking the Silence

February 3rd, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

When I read Chris Bobel’s recent post about silent menstrual suffering, I was instantly drawn in. Although her experiences are independent of my own, this particular experience felt familiar, as though I was reading a story about my own life. I can close my eyes and instead picture myself in her place. I can hear my silence. I can feel my frustration mounting. It made me wonder why I, and many others, feel compelled to hide the menstrual suffering. After all, we rarely hesitate to utter complaints of a cold, a poor night’s sleep, a stomachache, a headache, an injury, a hangover.

I’m menstruating. I’m hurting. I’m late to a meeting. I’m not fully engaged in a conversation. I leave work a little early. I am not feeling at ease. I am exceptionally in tune with my emotional state. And people are noticing that something is off. Eager to make excuses, I open my mouth to displace the blame that has no doubt been cast upon my character. But reactions to my secret race through my head, so I choke down the words. I, like Chris, suffer in silence. Why?

This is a question I was asking myself for days after reading her piece. Why do I–why do we–remain silent?

Is it because of the jokes? The jokes about PMS, menstruation, emotional instability, and “that time of the month” that are so casually and readily fired off at the sound of a woman who speaks with confidence? Maybe I won’t be taken seriously if people know that I’m menstruating. Maybe the quality of my work will be questioned. Or maybe it will be my competence, intelligence, or character.

Is it because of the media and its portrayal of women as objects meant for pleasure and servitude? As something to be controlled by men? Would the mention of menstruation hinder this oh-so-carefully crafted image? Perhaps my menstruating status would get in the way of my objectification. Surely I wouldn’t want that.

Is it because of a society’s past filled with male dominance and female domestication? Where the only true power is male power? Is it the legacy of female obedience and male ownership? Of female weakness and male strength? Maybe I only want to speak out about my suffering simply because I am too weak to suck it up. Have I been conditioned to feel weak?

Is it because of our unattainable standards of beauty? The expectations of wrinkle free and blemish-free skin, a super-model body, and perfectly-shaped breasts? Perhaps I’m not beautiful enough or perfect enough when I am menstruating.

Is it living in a society that undervalues, and often trivializes, the accomplishments and experiences of women? Is my menstrual pain not familiar enough? Is it not painful enough? Is it not real enough to be worth mentioning?

Yes, maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why we give into the “silent suffering,” as Chris called it. As conscious and as critical as I am of our society’s flaws, I cannot fully escape the overwhelming force of the words, the images, the actions, and the inactions. We cannot escape them until we defeat them. I feel a great sadness for the younger generations of women. I feel as though I have failed them. If I, as an adult woman, fall victim to our social pitfalls, then what hope do they have? Where does that leave them? We must break the silence. Next time, I will not be silent.

Will you join me?

Making Room for Menstrual Shame

January 20th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

This fall, our family TV indulgence was Master Chef Junior. My 10 year old, a master of scrambled eggs, pancakes and experimental smoothies, was into it, her enthusiasm contagious. So once a week, we sat on the couch– Mom, Dad, and Kid—and watched a dwindling number of freakishly talented miniature chefs slice, dice and sauté their way into our hearts.

Photo credit: Stuart Miles
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I enjoyed this respite and low-output family time,  but, there was a price.

The commercials. Oh! Damn those commercials. Because we watched the show online (we don’t have TV), the commercial breaks typically repeated a small set of ads. Over and over again.

In a single episode, we screened some combination of ads for these products a dozen times. According to my crude math, by the time the Master Chef Junior (Alexander, in case you are a fan) was handed his trophy, we watched around 100 different glossy messages that pointed out just how inadequate we are, or would be, soon enough.

I began calling our ritual of watching Master Chef Junior “Self-Consciousness Hour.”

Here is a short list of what’s wrong with me:

My eyelashes are stumpy, thus, my eyes are ugly. 

My teeth are yellow. Yellow teeth are gross. Why bother to dress nice when my teeth are so unsightly? 

My skin is flawed and if I fix it, I will have more friends and a happier life. 

My deodorant is embarrassing me. I might have my disgusting animal smell under control but white powder under my arms can make me the laughing stock of the nightclub. 

Obviously these messages unnerved me (I am not immune to feeling inadequate in spite of my fierce feminism, let’s be honest).

But I really worried about was my daughter. I watched her watch those commercials, her brain processing how she measured up to the standards.

Of course we offered our own critical voice overs at every turn (e.g., You know, human teeth naturally yellow with age. Teeth are not supposed to be pearly white.). We mocked the commercials, trying to expose their absurdity. We initiated more serious discussions of the industry and its nefarious methods, and she engaged these critiques, to some degree. We did what we could (excepting refusing to watch the show, which we could have done, I know). But in spite of our efforts, we doubted our power to counter the power of marketing to manufacture “problems” and sweep in with “lifesaving solutions” all in one (minty fresh) breath.

When all was said and done, between lessons on how to perfectly boil an egg or debone a chicken, my impressionable kid was fed heaping spoonfuls of body shame.

And here’s the menstrual link.

This body shame is the context for her menstrual experiences-to-be. The menstrual taboo, the Grandmother of Body Shame, will slink into her life soon enough, directing her to hide, deny, and likely, detest a natural (and healthy body process). And thanks to  noisy, flashy persistent messages like these, the door is swung open, the lights on, and the pillows fluffed. Come on in, Menstrual Shame! We have been waiting for You! Puleeeze…make yourself at home! Have you met ‘Fat Shame’ sitting here with a throw pillow in her lap? 

I know it is impossible to censor everything my kid sees, hears, reads. I have some experience with this. She is our 3rd kid; we’ve been down this road before and we’ve learned. We tried to do somethings differently this time. Namely, we send her to a crunchy school with an explicit low tech policy (which we observe, on good days). But then the other day, I overheard one of her classmates look down at her feet and exclaim, with horror: “Ewww…My feet look fat in these shoes!” I remind you; she is 10.

Recognizing the ubiquitousness of media messages, our  aim is to teach our kid to responsibly consume what surrounds her. If we equip her with good media literacy skills, she can see commercials through a critical lens. And maybe when her friend complains her feet are fat, she will not take the bait. This is the best we can do, I think.

Global Menstrual Progress

December 31st, 2013 by David Linton

Nicholas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof has for some years been a regular contributor to the op-ed page of The New York Times where he frequently writes about sex trafficking, child abuse, and the lives of women around the world.

In 2009 Kristof and his wife and writing partner, Sheryl WuDunn, published a volume that examined a wide variety of the ways women are oppressed around the world titled, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book moves from Congo to China to South Africa to Cameroon to Afghanistan and many places in between. And though their focus is on the more dramatic and life threatening problems such as maternal mortality, prostitution, rape, AIDS, and economic discrimination, to their credit they also include the role that attitudes and practices surrounding the menstrual cycle play in determining the fate of women. In effect, they have added their own voices to the ongoing project of the SMCR: MAKING MENSTRUATION MATTER.

Half the Sky (the title is an allusion to the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.”) is not reluctant to address ancient, deep-seated cultural traditions, including the vicious practice in Deuteronomy calling for stoning to death of girls suspected of having had premarital sex, and in a chapter titled “Is Islam Misogynistic?” they confront some of the darker portions of that faith’s history. For instance, they cite the writings of a “ninth-century scholar, Al-Timmidhi,” who “recounted that houri [the heavenly virgins who await martyrs] are gorgeous young women with white skin, who never menstruate, urinate, or defecate.”  The chapter goes on to explain how statements such as this are not consistent with other Islamic tenets nor with the beliefs of many Muslims, but the notion that menstruation is equivalent to processes of bodily waste elimination is a deep-seated conception that permeates many other belief systems as well.

Another chapter, “Investing in Education,” addresses the challenges involved in providing adequate schooling for girls and the need for sanitary facilities and products so that girls can manage their periods discretely and hygienically. Mention is made of a Proctor & Gamble project to distribute free pads in Africa, however, surprisingly, insufficient attention is given to home-grown efforts, such as SMCR member Megan White Mukuria’s ZanaAfrica, to provide both products and empowering education to girls in Kenya. One program called Camfed, for Campaign for Female Education, that operates in several African countries is justifiably credited for its thoroughness in addressing girls’ education, including the practice of supplying girls with pads and underwear so they can continue to go to classes during their periods.

Obviously, an entire book could be written about the links between women’s liberation and the menstrual cycle. Half the Sky is not that book, but it does make a contribution that is worthy of applause.

Awesome period video “Camp Gyno” refreshingly anti-shaming

August 1st, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Therese Shechter

Have you seen this video Camp Gyno making the rounds of social media today much to the delight of anyone who is sick of the shaming and secrecy and perceived ickyness of talking about our periods? It’s a totally exuberant and delightful story of tween/teen girls and periods and camp and tampons that includes the phrase “red badge of courage” (which will now replace “crimson tide” as my favorite menstruation euphemism).

People are clearly loving it, with headlines like “An Amazing Breakthrough In Tampon Advertising” and comments like:

“Maybe now men can start to accept that periods are normal and not freak out if a girl does something as scandalous as carry a tampon IN HER HAND… and not her purse”

“It’s nice to see people are finally breaking down the walls and making menstruation a normal thing and not something to be ashamed of.”

I. LOVE. IT.

Surprisingly (not surprisingly) there are also a significant handful of commenters who are wondering why tweens are using tampons because, you know, VIRGINITY! Um, because some people find them more comfortable, you can swim in them,  you don’t feel like you’re wearing a wet diaper, and tampon use has nothing to do with virginity because hymens have nothing to do with virginity. Virginity is my business, BUT I DIGRESS from what’s really confusing me…

The video is for a new company called Hello Flo which creates “a customized solution” to “deliver the right products at the right time” for your period. Unfortunately, they sell the service with lines that read to me like the same old shaming we’ve been hearing since ladies got sent to huts at the edge of the village:

“I didn’t want to trek through my office with a practically see-through plastic bag with tampons.”

“We do it with care and appreciation for the sensitivity of this purchase.”

“All your tampons and feminine supplies delivered right to your door in a discreet box.”

You know, like back when your druggist wrapped your sanitary pad purchases in brown paper so you wouldn’t be embarrassed taking it home from the  store. Also, how does a tampon delivery service help that office worker with the practically see-through plastic bag? What she clearly needs is a Vinnie’s Tampon Case!

So what’s this disconnect between the exuberant little girl and all that embarrassment over taking-tampons-to-the-ladies-room stuff? It reminds me of companies using feminist language to draw consumers into non-feminist products. Like back when the “Dove Real Beauty” campaign first rolled out those billboards about loving your body… to sell anti-cellulite creme, which Jenn Pozner wrote about for Bitch Magazine.

So, what’s up, Hello Flo? Your video rocks! Its message is a hit! Why go and muddle the issue with that contrary copy? Here’s my proposal: Your follow up video should be a woman in an office taking her tampons out of that plastic bag and tossing them exuberantly at her menstruating workmates. No more plastic bags. We’re carrying them in our teeth! Office Gyno!

Update: The Hairpin just did an interview with the creators of the video. Commenter ChevyVan, with whom I’ve been talking, put it well:  “They want as many customers as possible. The ones that think the video is awesome, and the ones who want discreet packaging, and they’re betting on most people not paying attention to the contradictory messages those 2 approaches are sending. And again, it’s the sales pitch out both sides of the mouth that’s the icky part to people like you and me.”

Therese Shechter just completed the new documentary “How to Lose Your Virginity”; go to virginitymovie.com for more info on sales and screenings.

Cross-posted from “How to Lose Your Virginity” blog.

Room for a New Line of Kids’ Books . . .

July 18th, 2013 by Heather Dillaway

Picture taken by me in Wall, South Dakota

I am doing a last minute switch of topic for my blog post this time. I had another post all planned out but I am on a cross-country trip this week and am open to new ideas. I am in South Dakota today (at Wall Drug of all places).

I found myself staring at yet one more kids’ book on poop (see picture). Yes, it was fun and funny, and I thought about buying it for my kids. Then I realized they already own books on poop and farts and do not need another book on this subject. I took a picture of the front cover of the book to show to my kids instead. Now I’m also sharing it with you—enjoy!

But, fun aside, then I got to thinking: what we really need is more kids’ books on all of the other ways our bodies leak. Even the mysterious ways that bodies leak. Like menstruation. Sure, there are kids’ books for teaching about how babies are born and for teaching kids about sex. I’ve seen a book for kids on farts that also included information on burping. So there has been headway made on getting the word out to kids (“Yes, bodies leak!”). But I’ve never seen a real kids’ book on menstruation.

What would be so wrong about a menstruation book for kids—one that made menstruation interesting and fun for kids to learn about?
Why can’t we write this book? Is it that we are scared to really come out and write about this subject? Is it because we ourselves still think it is taboo and gross? I know that many people have tried to put together educational information for girls who are about to reach menarche but that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the need for a book that makes a mysterious subject fun (or at least interesting) for kids to learn about. I’d like to see a book on menstruation that I could read to my kids and they could both walk away knowing more about women’s bodies and be less fearful of menstruation.

I might be living a dream but I’d like to think kids are curious about menstruation just like they are curious about poop.

How do girls learn about periods?

May 1st, 2013 by Laura Wershler

How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?

Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.

Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”

Photo courtesy of Laura Wershler

Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask:  Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?

Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of periodwise.com, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.

“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”

Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.

“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”

A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at RookieRead the comments. Readers loved it.

She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to beinggirl.com for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!

Moms shouldn’t be waiting for their daughters to talk to them. They need to find their own period coaches. Other mothers like Suzan Hutchinson and the mom who started bepreparedperiod.com.

The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.

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.

#periodtalk: Let’s keep talking about menstruation

November 14th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Bloggers at re:Cycling often challenge and invite readers to open up and talk about our menstrual experiences.

In a September post, Heather Dillaway asked : “Why don’t we talk about the important variations in our menstrual cycles?” In another, she wrote about the “second talk” Poise ads that encourage women to share their perimenopause experiences.

Chris Bobel wrote in defense of hating her period, sparking a lively discussion and much support for both her honesty and her call for “a more (not less) pluralistic menstrual discourse.”

Alexandra Jacoby has been writing a series of posts exploring things about our bodies we tend not to talk about.  From Tell me again why we can’t talk about body stuff to her last post asking readers for suggestions on How to menstruate while camping , she is opening the door ever wider to menstrual cycle conversations.

We do our bit at re: Cycling to get people thinking and talking about menstruation from a broad range of perspectives, including the personal.  And, happily, we are not alone in bringing “period talk” out in the open.

Last Friday, I participated in a #periodtalk Tweet Chat, a monthly event hosted by Be Prepared Period, a website dedicated to providing accurate, helpful information about menstruation to girls, women and parents. One of Friday’s guests was Suzan Hutchinson (@periodwise), the Director of Connectivity for You Are Loved, a non-profit organization “focused on raising awareness about tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and providing factual information about menstruation.” You Are Loved has been an ongoing #periodtalk participant. Suzan, a self-described “menstrual cycle activist since youth,” herself experienced TSS.

Suzan’s topic was menstrual understanding; her introductory Tweets shared some of her story:

I began my menstrual journey at age 15 with a belted pad & knowledge that a week each month my body would betray me.

No one talked about periods. I thought my experience was unique – that I was odd. Embarrassment kept me silent.

Suzan eventually came to view her period as just one part of her menstrual cycle, and she brought this cycle perspective to the Tweet Chat. In a post-chat phone conversation, Suzan told me that she has seen how #periodtalk has helped others lose their embarrassment in talking about periods. “I’ve watched women who started out not being able to contribute become menstrual activists, bringing other women to the chats.”

She also told me about the day #periodtalk trended worldwide on Twitter. It was September 14, 2012 and the topic was Back to School: Periods101. A blog post at Lunapads.com describes what happened:

 Today #PeriodTalk had it’s big moment when it reached trending topic status worldwide. A pretty big accomplishment for a bunch of folks chatting about a topic which is usually so “hush-hush”. Of course the taboo-nature of the topic brought the trolls out of the woodwork and some pretty nasty things were said by a few crass individuals. Participants in #PeriodTalk were admonished for talking openly about something, which was in their opinion, not appropriate for the internet….seriously? Not appropriate for the internet? Have these people *seen* the internet?

Too bad for the trolls. Talking openly about our menstrual cycles is here to stay. We’ll keep doing it at re:Cycling and #periodtalk is thriving at Be Prepared Period. They have also launched an online Period Talk  forum where girls and parents can ask questions and get answers about anything related to menstruation and puberty.

The next #periodtalk Tweet Chat – on the topic of Non-Profits and Menstruation – is on Friday, December 14, 2012. Check it out.

Where have all the menstruators gone?

July 18th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne

Exploring missing menstruation on screen

Periods are depicted far more often on screen than I could have ever imagined; perhaps the biggest surprise I got from spending a year researching the topic.

Less surprising however, was that most presentations depict menstruation as the messy, embarrassing, sex-interrupting, mood-swing-inducing week-long hell ride that women have grown to expect from Hollywood.

While 200 scenes were many more than I expected, given that nearly all women will menstruate monthly for some thirty-odd years, 200 scenes actually isn’t all that many.

While most of Periods in Pop Culture focuses on what those scenes themselves reveal about society’s fraught relationship with periods, one chapter in fact explores the why so few portrayals. Given how very common and normal it is, why is the topic so frequently eschewed?

I proposed a handful of reasons including Hollywood’s aversion to telling female stories, narrative distraction, and the show don’t tell nature of the screen. In this post I offer  two other explanations: menstruation as a non-event and political correctness.

As one of the millions of girls who got an (albeit long outdated) menstrual education from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?, I learnt that some girls apparently eagerly await their first period kinda like Christmas. I wasn’t like Margaret. I didn’t pine for it, and when I got it I didn’t look down at my underpants and throw my head back in delight like Debbie (Nell Schofield) in the Australian film Puberty Blues (1981): for me it was a non-event.

The non-event nature of menstruation appears a central explanation for its absence.

In an episode of sitcom The Golden Girls (1985–1992), Sophia (Estelle Getty) reflected on her periods: “I got it, no one told me. I didn’t get it, no one told me. I figured, this is life, and went back to my meatballs.” In this scene, Sophia reflects that many women don’t see any overwhelmingly need to talk about menstruation or complain about it or even to honor it, but that it is simply something that needs to be gotten on with.

Aside from those times when pregnancy is feared or desired, there are few occasions when menstruation is experienced as particularly memorable or gets bestowed with any great significance. I think this fact significantly underpins its absence on screen.

Thinking of menstruation as somehow naturally insignificant or uninteresting however, would be premature. In the film To Sir With Love (1967), there is a scene where teacher Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) reprimanded girls who he believed burnt a menstrual product in his classroom: “A decent woman keeps things private. Only a filthy slut would have done this!”  Here, Thackeray refers to the most important rule of menstruation: concealment. On screen, if audiences see menstruation or if a character identifies as bleeding, she has neglected her most important gender burden. By infrequently portraying menstruation, the secrecy imperative is upheld. When women downplay the significant of their periods, when they believe their periods are uninteresting, internalized sexism is highlighted.

Another explanation for missing menstruation is so-called political correctness; that avoiding it reflects the contemporary dictums of liberal feminism: shunning topics which play up differences between men and women.

Given that menstruation is so common and that so many taboos exist surround it, it might be assumed that including it in narratives would be a feminist act. The flipside of this however, is that doing so might do gender equality a disservice; that presenting it reminds audiences of biological inequalities between men and women.

In a scene from the series Californication (2007-), Hank (David Duchovny) is about to have sex with his daughter’s teacher Mrs. Patterson (Justine Bateman). As they undress, Mrs. Patterson says, “Just so you know, I’m on my period.” Mrs. Patterson didn’t – and likely in our culture couldn’t – automatically assume that Hank would be fine and thus gave him an exit strategy. By mentioning menstruation in a sex scene, it existed as a glaring biological power imbalance; that an opportunity was offered for Hank to reject her on the basis of her biology.

By excluding menstruation, a female character can be interpreted as having the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with her male counterpart; that she can be as sexually aggressive as she likes and not have to query whether her partner is bothered by her period. In turn, she doesn’t get limited by her biology.

Predictably, there are some serious limitations to this argument. On screen and off, women’s biology is ever present. Eliminating reference to menstruation certainly doesn’t make female characters any less female; in fact, disproportionate inclusion of, and focus on women who are stereotypically feminine demonstrates that biological differences between men are women continue to be crucially important on screen.

Over 200 scenes of menstruation did indeed surprise me, although admittedly it’s quite a bit sad that it did. Given how common menstruation is, given that the good majority of women cope each month without drama, fanfare or hijinks, one might expect that more presentations – notably more normal presentations – would redden our screens.

 

Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a political scientist based at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of four books; her newest, Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television, will soon be published by Lexington Books.

Sorry, You’ll Never Get the Good Blood…

June 21st, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

Photo by Mark Sylvester, Courtesy of and ©Free Range Stock

How do you tell a preschool-aged boy that he’ll never menstruate?

I thought I was doing a great thing. Ever since my daughter was born I’ve spun a positive story about menstruation for her. Even when she was 2 and 3 years old I’d tell her it was the “good blood,” the blood that meant you were healthy and could maybe have babies some day if you wanted them. Now she is 7 years old and I continue to tell her that the good blood is a healthy thing and that someday soon she will have it too. I came up with the idea to call it “good blood” because I didn’t want her to think of it as something I was hiding or sad about. I wanted her to be informed and think positively about her future as a woman.

BUT, my son is now 4 and he has been listening to the same story. About a year ago he asked me when he would get the good blood. I tried to tell him that he would not get it and he cried and said he wanted to be able to be healthy like us. He said he wanted to be able to have babies some day. Still today he talks to me sometimes about the fact that he won’t get the good blood and he is sad.

I’ve thought a lot about how to be a good parent to a girl and a boy. I’m a firm believer that gender is mostly created by us and, despite biological or physiological differences between women and men, we can change how people act, think, and orient themselves if we want to. At least in part. Yet I think that talking about the “good blood” backfired on me to some extent. In redefining menstruation as positive for my daughter, I left my son by the wayside a bit. I still struggle with what to do about this. How do I redefine menstruation in a positive way without making my son feel bad?

I’d love to hear readers’ own stories about this, because I think this is something we should talk about more fully. How do moms talk to their little boys about menstruation? And when they talk about it, what do they say? Boys will grow up to have so many privileges that women don’t have but you can’t explain that to a 4-year-old very easily. And sure, you can say, “Everyone’s different and special in their own way,” but that’s a pretty empty statement for a 4-year-old who’s keeping track of all the things that others get that they don’t.

So, starting with the assumption that boys should learn something about menstruation and eventually will find out that they will not menstruate, how do you say, “Sorry, you’ll never get the good blood” in a positive and productive way?
I’m looking forward to the responses on this post!

Menstrual Marketing Around the Globe — Israel

May 22nd, 2012 by David Linton

Scary Little Menstruating Girl

[note: Although re:Cycling has an international audience, the following post is written from the perspective of an North American consumer.]

As is well known, cultural practices and attitudes regarding menstruation vary widely from place to place and time to time. re:Cycling has commented on the variety frequently in the past.  Differences also make themselves felt even in advertising and packaging of menstrual products, as the notorious Kotex Beaver ads from Australia demonstrate, despite the fact that the products are manufactured by global, trans-national corporations. Though the fact that the menstrual cycle itself is a world-wide biological phenomenon might suggest that views of its meaning and management would be universal as well, nothing could be further from the truth.

Kita and package of Kotex YoungConsider an ongoing marketing campaign that originated in Israel that features a cartoon character named Kita. To the best of my knowledge this campaign has not been adapted for use in the United States, nor, in my opinion, is it likely to find a place in American advertising nor on American market shelves. The spookiness of the cartoon girl who resembles a Japanese anime character seems strangely unlike the way that American consumers commonly depict young teens in a menstrual context. Even the lettering of “Young” and the way the term is used are unfamiliar to American eyes. Of course, the term “Normal Plus” is meaningless but that’s not unusual in advertising everywhere. And all the shades of red and the display of hearts across the bottom of the package are unfamiliar to American consumers as well. In fact, the menstrual taboos in America have resulted (with few exceptions) in a near absence of red, other than in carefully planted touches such as the ribbon on Mother Nature’s menstrual gift box in Tampax Pearl ads, the hair and lipstick of the magician in the Always pad ads, and the big red dot in many Kotex ads.

The Kita campaign began with careful planning and design. As this promotional video from McCann-Erickson, the Tel Aviv ad agency behind the campaign, explains, it began with the creation of a character and an internet world based on notions of what the target consumers – 10 to 13 year old girls – are thought to love most: shopping, the Internet, shopping, clothing, and, of course, in addition to shopping, more shopping. The character of Kita (“the coolest friend any girl could want”), who narrates her own creation and success story, speaks in a voice that is derived from the American “Valley girl” model, complete with plenty of “like” phrases, a few “awesomes,” an “as if” and a “duh” or two. How Kita immigrated from the San Fernando Valley to Tel Aviv is a mystery, although her native voice does come through a few times via some non-Valley pronunciations. (She pronounces “Kotex” as though it were spelled “Kodex.”) According to the boastful promotional video clip, Kita has achieved remarkably high market saturation. It claims that, “95% of Israeli girls know me and love me” and that “1 of every 2 Israeli girls (12-15) has a profile in Kita City.” Furthermore, since the launch in 2007, the “Kotex market share grew by 56%.” If this is what it takes — a menstrual role model who babbles in clichés, is consumed with consuming, wallows in the trivial, yet does so with seeming self-confidence and menstrual cycle savoir faire — to break down even an iota of menstrual shame and insecurity, who are we to object? And the fact that Kita has become a transnational, widely identified cultural meme, as the agency seems to claim, then maybe her next assignment should be to promote world peace. Ya never know!

When Menstrual Talk Comes Home

April 16th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

For the last decade or so, like so many others who read and write for this blog, I have been researching, reading and writing about how we think, talk and act (out) about menstruation. My particular interest is the various interventions that some brave activists make to disrupt the dominant narrative of menstruation.

But this post isn’t about my work or even the work of others. Not exactly.

This post is about my daughters and what sometimes happens when my work comes home.

In 2006, when my oldest daughter  was 13, we had one of many Mom-initiated short talks about her approaching menarche in the (of course) car. Posing as a super nonchalant mom, I casually asked:

ME: So what do you think your period will be like?

HER: I will hate it.

[GULP...I was grateful she could not see her feminist mother’s face completely cave in]

ME: Why do you think so?

HER:  All my friends hate theirs.

Later that year, her first period. My daughter did not share this with me, rather, I “discovered” this new development on my own. That evening, after we talked, she agreed—none-too-cheerfully—to a dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, but we were not permitted to discuss “the event.” The next day, I set the kitchen table with candles, tea and her favorite dessert—just for the two of us—and I presented her with a lovely bag to store her menstrual supplies (that I am pretty sure she never used).

Getting her ears pierced

Photo by Aaron Conaway // CC 2.0

We had decided, years before, that when she began menstruating, she would get her ears pierced. So we went to Claire’s and did the deed, but again, no fanfare—just a mom taking her teen daughter to get her ears pierced.

From that point forward, we rarely talked about her menstrual experiences, though I tried and failed several times.  For example, I suggested she try cloth pads (and why), but she was not the least bit interested

When my book on menstrual politics came out, my daughter  was 16. She and 4 of her friends, all dressed in red dresses, circulated trays of  menstrually-themed (read: red) appetizers at my book party. The party favors, the decorations, and the conversation were all highly MENSTRUAL, and I heard no titters, detected no blushing between my girl and her pals.

So did my daughter HATE her period, after all? Maybe not, but she, the child of a feminist committed to challenging the dominant cultural narrative of menstruation, became a girl, who, at best, managed her period. And I wanted better for her.

Today, my second daughter is 8.  She is 9 years younger than her older sister.

Since she could talk, she has called attention to my period. When she glimpses me changing my pad on the toilet  (yes, we have an open door policy), she typically remarks:

“You are having your period, Mama.”

“Yes, Honey, I am.“

She speaks as if her first period might be any day. It could be, but I doubt it. Her trajectory toward puberty seems to be moving at a pretty average clip.

She is very excited about getting her ears pierced when she begins menstruating. She loves wearing stick on earrings and clip ons; this is a girl enamored with ear bling. But she has never once asked if she could get her ears pierced BEFORE her menarche, even though several of her friends have theirs pierced now. I think she likes the link between menarche and ear piercing, seeing it as an established rite of passage.

She asked me the other day why I don’t use a Diva Cup, because, after all, she said, “They are less wasteful.”

I don’t know how to explain my girls’ contrasting reactions to their anticipated menarche, and I can’t easily predict how my youngest will actually experience her menstrual life (when the day comes, will I find her panties half hidden in her room too?) But I will admit that I was feeling like I had done ‘something right’ with Girl Number Two. Until….

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.