Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

An Antidote for Feminist Fatigue?

January 21st, 2013 by Chris Bobel

I am demoralized.

The gang rapes in Delhi India and Steubenville Ohio and EVERYHERE, ALL THE TIME, have me feeling hopeless and fatigued.

Soon, I will face 30 undergraduates in my introductory Women’s Studies class, and I will, again, attempt to contextualize rape and link it to the pernicious and enduring realities of hegemonic masculinities, misogyny, and social constructions bodies as commodities.

And I will hear victim blaming, neocolonialist attacks on the global south, the forced binary of good vs. evil, and other apologia for why, how, when and where rape “happens” as if it is an unstoppable force that some of us (the chaste, the modestly dressed, the sober, etc) can avoid.

And I will go home and cry in my pillow.

So I am looking for inspiration to go on, to keep talking and, the harder part, listening, and not give in, not resign myself to ‘this is the way of the world. Don’t fight it, just accept it and move on.’

This 5 minute PSA created by Jason Stefaniak and Siobhan O’Loughlin helps. A lot. It is a clarion call to embodied autonomy, and I am so grateful to the creators and the funders who made it possible.

You can read the full text here, but here’s the first few powerful lines:

This is my body.
I do what I want with it.
This is my body.
I make my own choices.
This is my body.
I use it as a canvas, tattoo it, decorate it, and pierce it.
I take medicine if I want to and only undergo medical procedures I choose.
I eat what I want, exercise for my health, and wear what I like.
I fall in love with whomever, fuck/sleep with whomever and marry whomever I choose.
I decide when and how to become a mother.
This is my body, not yours

These decisions have nothing to do with you. If I’m not hurting you or stopping you from pursuing your inherent right to happiness, it’s none of your business. This is my body, not yours.

Stefaniak released “This is My Body” on July 23rd, so it is hardly ‘news’, but that fact hardly diminishes the URGENCY of the message. Can you imagine a world in which we lived by such a simple credo that reminds us of these truths:  My body is NOT your blank screen on which to project your anxieties or your fantasies (or both). My body is NOT your property, NOT your business opportunity, NOT your playground, NOT your battlefield.

Watch and affirm our work–which simply must be our COLLECTIVE work— to RESPECT the INTERGRITY of everyBODY, everyONE.

Breaking News: Men Discover Tampons Can Absorb Blood

June 13th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo by henteaser // CC 2.0

Last week at The Art of Manliness, a contributor wrote a post about numerous possible wilderness survival uses of tampons. The post was picked up by the popular site, Boing Boing, and the commenters in both sites added more uses, as well uses for disposable maxi pads (although some contributors seem uncertain of the difference). Many creative uses for disposable femcare products were suggested, and while I can’t personally vouch for (or against) any of them, I offer this post as Public Service Announcement to correct some of the misinformation about tampons and pads that those uses presume.

The use of an opened tampon or a maxi pad for a bandage probably seems obvious to re:Cycling readers, as many are familiar with the history of Kotex, developed when World War I nurses discovered that the cotton cellulose they were using on wounded soldiers was highly absorbent. (The phrase ko-tex stands for cotton texture.) But as a few sharp readers of The Art of Manliness are aware, it has been decades since maxi-pads or tampons of any brand were made of cotton (except, obviously, the all-cotton types sold in health food stores). Pads are made from mostly from wood cellulose fibers, with plastic outer layers made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Some of the newer, improved maxi-pads feature synthetic gels designed to draw blood away from the body — not exactly a feature you’d want in a bandage, when you’re trying to stanch the flow of blood and promote clotting. If you’re bleeding heavily, you’re probably better off tearing off your t-shirt and pressing it against the wound. Tampons are also made of wood cellulose, often with a core of viscose fiber. Viscose fiber is rayon, created by treating cellulose with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide.

And although most brands are individually wrapped these days, neither tampons nor pads are sterile. Nor are they produced in sterile conditions. I’d be very leery of using a tampon as a water filter. Surely there are safer, equally portable, emergency filters one could pack in a wilderness survival kit.

Many of the other emergency uses of tampons involved using the fluffy wood pulp as kindling, or otherwise setting them on fire. Now there’s a use I can get behind!

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!

Searching for Good News about Menopause

April 26th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

Lately I’m fed up with the kinds of articles and news items that cross my desk (or computer screen) about perimenopause and menopause. So much of the news on this midlife transition seems negative. I hear about the new treatments for (unbearable) hot flashes or a new movie saying how terrible menopause is (remember my blog entry on Hot Flash Havoc? That movie is still getting a ton of press for better or worse). The most neutral reports seem to be about lifestyle changes (exercise, diet, quitting smoking, etc.) women can make to lessen “problematic” symptoms.

So, I’m starting to wonder: Is there any purely good news about menopause? Any news that will make women feel good about their midlife transitions?

To answer my own question, I typed “good news about menopause” into google, bing, and yahoo search engines. Readers of this blog should try it themselves. Type it in and see what you get.

When I typed this phrase into different search engines, right away the same sorts of news articles described above popped up. There is “good news” for menopause “sufferers” who want to try out new medical treatments for menopausal symptoms (you too can lessen your hot flashes!), “good news” that menopausal women can reverse aging (read: aging is bad!), “good news” that perimenopausal women can change their diet, “good news” that women can take supplements that will make sex better after menopause, etc. In my opinion, most of these articles have a negative undertone – that menopause is something to be suffered and endured and disliked overall. While these articles might be offering solutions to make life better, the underlying message is still that this life stage sucks for women. There were few exceptions to this, but the exceptions are worth mentioning. For instance a blog about the wisdom and freedom that women can find at menopause did pop up, as did another “menopause goddess” blog that gave a much more positive spin to this midlife transition. I personally wish I had seen more items like the latter two. For me, most of the “good news” that popped up is not so good.

I think about the perimenopausal or menopausal women who might be looking for “good news” about their life stage and I wonder what they might be looking for. If you are perimenopausal or menopausal and you’re reading this, what “good news” are you looking for? And how do you feel about the “good news” you’re getting?

Shit I Say

April 10th, 2012 by David Linton

Guest Post by Alexandra Epstein

A series of videos on YouTube have taken stereotypes to a whole new level.  Not only is ‘Shit Girls Say’ sexist, but it has created an empire of homemade ‘Shit (insert proper noun here) Say’ videos stereotyping hundreds of categories. To name just a few, “hung over girls,” “Asian moms,” “boyfriends,” “hot girls,” “fat girls,” “single girls,” and of course we cant forget about “girls who are on their periods.”

In this two-minute video, this girl seems to suffer from every social construction created pertaining to menstruation. From her constant longing for chocolate, to her feeling as if she is dying, to her mood swings, this girl over exaggerates all of the symptoms she claims to have.

The point of this video is to get a laugh, I know. So why be so harsh? It’s funny, right? The typical menstruating female is supposed to watch this and say “oh my God, I do that too! Haha!” However, not all women experience menstruation in the same ways. This generalization of how women act while they are on their periods is only reinforcing the stereotypes that men gain their information from and that so many women are trying to fight every day.

I have a proposition for someone. I want to see a new “Shit Girls Say on Their Periods” video. Only I want this video to portray a woman who embraces menstruation. I want to see a woman feeling extra creative, or extra in touch with herself, or even extra sexual. Why does this video have over a million hits? As a society we need to start changing the way people think about menstruation.

Some Online Articles on Menopause ARE Worth Reading!

October 13th, 2011 by Heather Dillaway

I get Google Alerts on “menopause” every Wednesday because it’s important that I know about the new bits of information popping up about the topic I research most. Most of the time, though, I’m frustrated with the discussion of menopause online and don’t pay attention much to the alerts I get. Yet, amidst the endless biomedical debates about whether soy or other supplements and alternative therapies reduce hot flashes, whether hormone therapies (HT) are risky, and whether or not a male menopause exists, there ARE a few important things to notice in the online menopause world. For instance, a short article called “True or False: Test your menopause smarts” at SunHerald.com (a news sources for the “Biloxi-Gulfport and South Mississippi” region) represents what I see as a fairly positive contribution to the online readings on women’s health and, more specifically, menopause. For instance, in reviewing menopause the author proposes that:

1.       There ARE variations in women’s experiences, and that these variations are normal!

2.      Too often we see menopause as primarily negative, when there are positive things about menopause. Or, at the very least, women might be likely to feel indifferent about menopause.

3.      The menopause transition (perimenopause) can be a long-term process, and the author acknowledges that it could last as long as a decade or more. Women probably need to know this from the start!

4.      Hot flashes are normal despite being frustrating, and that it is likely that you might experience them.

5.      Women might not feel one particular way about sex during menopause – and no matter whether you feel good or bad about sex during menopause it’s probably okay (unless you personally would like it to be different, in which case there are probably things you can do to change your situation).

6.      The U.S. does not represent the best model for how to go through menopause (at least this is what the author infers). In fact, women in other countries may fair much better as they go through menopause, for a variety of reasons that the author does not get into.

7.      Recent breakthroughs in medical science might make women who are worried about having children get a blood test to see how long they have until perimenopause sets in (see my earlier blog post about this blood test last year!). The way in which the author wrote up this part of their article suggests to me that they can see the pros and cons of this blood test, which I like.

Many of my blog posts represent a critique of information out there for menopausal women, but I thought it might be nice to highlight a positive contribution to the online literature on women’s health. Despite my minor critiques of this article (e.g., the word “suffer” appears frequently, and there is a huge focus on sex over other topics, etc.), I think women should read this article. Which leads me to my main point in writing this blog post: there ARE some good things out there about menopause. Anyone else find a good example of positive health information lately?  :-)

Event: “Zine Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”

August 23rd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cover of Adventures in Menstruating issue #5Friend of re:Cycling, Chella Quint, will be doing a reading with Jenna Freedman & James M. Parker at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center (172 Allen St, New York, NY), Thursday night (August 25, 7:00 – 9:00 pm).

Join Chella Quint and friends for some comedy readings that attempt to explore the why’s and the how’s of having grown up writing zines — from her 4th grade construction-paper and paper-fastener-bound school report on Benjamin Franklin to the latest issue of “Adventures in Menstruating.” New titles since her last visit to Bluestockings are Adventures in Menstruating #6 (deconstructing feminine hygiene advertising with wit, irony and brute force), The Venns (introducing the world to the great British pub quiz in a spoof research paper using charts, graphs and diagrams) and It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection). She’s also reprinting issues 1-5 of Adventures in Menstruating for a trip down memory lane. Collect the set!

Chella Quint is a comedy writer and performer living in Sheffield, England, but she is originally from New York.  Fresh from performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she’s looking forward to her annual trip home. Check out www.chellaquint.com

Joining Chella are

Jenna Freedman, Lower East Side Librarian author and Wrangler in Chief of the Barnard Library Zine Collection will be reading from her in-progress Orderly Disorder: Librarian Zinesters in Circulation tour zine, tentatively titled “Anything You Say on a Zine Tour Can & Will Be Quoted out of Context in a Zine-Tour Zine.”

and

James M. Parker, poet laureate of all the little people who live inside his head, is a NYC-based writer with delusions of grandeur. He’ll be reading prose and poetry from his chapbook, Spinning the Cube, including his contribution to Adventures in Menstruating #6.

Summer’s Eve Campaign Targets Wrong Body Part

August 2nd, 2011 by Laura Wershler

The print ad for the Summer's Eve campaign refers to the "V" but not the vagina.

If a product manufacturer or its advertising company, or both, cannot figure out which part of the female body their new line of feminine hygiene products can be used for, then both are in big trouble.

There has been much hoopla over the recently launched Summer’s Eve campaign. Links to stories about and response to the campaign can be found in my fellow blogger Elizabeth Kissling’s July 27th post. The most serious backlash to the campaign resulted in three videos perceived as “racially insensitive” being pulled from the campaign website late last week.

What rankles me about the campaign – beyond its patronizing, unsophisticated and euphemistically silly approach to the female genital area - is that it appears to target the vagina when it is clear that none of these products are actually intended for use in the vagina.

Regardless of what one might think about the value of or necessity for these femcare products, an advertising campaign for such products must convey accurate information. Like where to use them.

The product line includes: cleansing wash, cleansing cloths, deodorant spray, body powder, and bath and shower gel. Click on the OUR PRODUCTS box on the website home page and you’ll see this: Meet the products that love your vagina. Oh, really?

These products are not intended, I repeat, not intended for use in the vagina. One would think that the product manufacturer knows this. Why then did they choose a talking vagina, and across-the-board references to the vagina, to convey their product message on the website?

Interestingly, the print and TV ads hold no direct reference to the vagina. The website coyly advises viewers that they can call it “V” for short. It is this moniker and the tagline ” Hail to the V” that crosses over to print and television.

Maybe this was intended as a subtle reference to the other “V” word – vulva . It’s pretty clear this is the body part for which the Summer’s Eve products are intended.

I wanted to know why the creative team at The Richards Group, the ad company responsible for the campaign, chose to use the word vagina instead of vulva. My request for an interview to ask this question was turned down, so instead I asked two colleagues what they thought the reason might be.

Valerie Barr, veteran sexual health educator and training centre manager at Calgary Sexual Health Centre, suspects it’s because vagina is assumed to mean what is actually the vulva. She says, “I believe this assumption, or taken-for-granted use of the term, serves to avoid discussion of the clitoris and therefore, female sexual response.”  Barr says she thinks it demonstrates that in our culture we continue to be unconsciously uncomfortable with women being sexual beings.

Rebecca Chalker, female anatomy expert and author of The Clitoral Truth, also believes that fear of the word clitoris has much to do with it. ”Clitoris is the most toxic word in the English language, and to this day is considered obscene and too offensive to be used in the media. Just try it on people,” she says.

“Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) made the vagina safe for the general public – even she did not use the C–word. Vagina has now become the default reference for everything ‘down there.’ Those ad guys are no different. Perhaps they’re just using the default because that’s what they think people can relate to most readily,” Chalker says.

Although vulva is the accurate word to describe the female body part intended to benefit from the Summer’s Eve product line, Chalker says, “It would be a tragedy if vulva becomes the new default. In anatomical parlance vulva just means covering.”

All of this proves that Summer’s Eve Vaginaland is a minefield, and incredibly more complex than the silly campaign would have us believe. Marketing femcare products has always been a challenge for advertisers, but that’s another story.

In deciding to pull the aforementioned videos from the campaign, Stacie Barnett, Richards Group PR Executive, told Adweek that the backlash “had begun to overshadow the message and goal of the larger campaign – to educate women about their anatomy and break down taboos in talking about it….”

Well, the educational value of the ”Hail to the V” campaign is in question, and we’re still not talking about the right body part. 

The Power is in the Vag

November 8th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

In the latest episode of Vag Magazine (a production of the Upright Citizens Brigade), Fennel shares her strategy for managing menstruation.


Vag Magazine Episode 3: “Swamp Ophelia” from Vag Magazine on Vimeo.

“We’ve had some complaints from our cleaning feminists.”

New Technology, Same Mistakes

July 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Screen shot from iOvulation appWe’ve written previously about some of the apps for tracking menstruation and PMS, but this new iPhone/Pad app for tracking ovulation is problematic.

iOvulation is an application that calculates the time of ovulation and generates your personal fertility calendar. Simply enter the length of your menstrual cycle and the date of your last period, and iOvulation will calculate your fertile days.

The web site suggests it useful both for trying to conceive and for trying to prevent conception. However, I wouldn’t recommend the latter, as its algorithm appears to predict ovulation based on dates of menstruation: “The ovulation dates are calculated based on normal menstruation calculation logic for women having regular periods.”

In other words, it perpetuates what Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Health and Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body, labeled the two biggest myths about menstruation in this interview with Scarleteen: (1) the idea that ovulation occurs on Day 14, and (2) A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days.

Also of interest is how squeamish the creators appear to be about sex and reproduction: the web site refers to “unprotected i*********e” and notes that the probability of conception is calculated “based on your ovulation time and other factors such as lifespan of the egg and s***m”. (For those of you unaccustomed to the practice of concealing obscenity with asterisks, that’s “intercourse” and “sperm”.)

As someone who studies and teaches sociolinguistics and writes about menstruation, I’ve seen a lot of euphemistic language over the years. But marking intercourse and sperm as unfit for print is a first.

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.