Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

An Uncharted Territory: Marriage Manual and Menstrual Sex

March 26th, 2014 by David Linton

A previous post, The Subject of Sneers or Jests: Menstrual Education in the Service of Racism, examined the confluence of eugenic notions that conflated the effects of environmental factors like clothing, alcohol, and masturbation with heredity and health as expressed in a 1913 sexual health manual sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, What Every Young Woman Ought to Know. It is important to note that not every book about sexuality that emerged early in the century was as misguided and misinformed as that one.

Just 13 years later, in 1926, another guide to sex and marriage was published, Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique, by Th. H. Van de Velde, M.D., that went on to its 44th printing at Random House by 1963. Though not much is actually known about its reception or the uses its readers put it to, its longevity suggests both popularity and impact. And in tone and content it is remarkably different from the previously discussed volume from 1913. It suggests that the sexual/menstrual ecology was in flux (perhaps it always is) but also that the earlier work did not fully reflect the spirit of its times.

In those sections of the book dealing with anatomy and physiology the information is mostly sound and presented in a straightforward manner. However, Ideal Marriage also contains an ample amount of less than thorough information about lots of topics, not the least of which is just what constitutes an “ideal marriage!” Of special interest to readers of re:Cycling are the portions that set out to explain and describe the workings of the menstrual cycle.

Though there are a few caveats or cautionary asides such as, “I am fully aware that we are here in an uncharted territory, full of traps and pitfalls. . .”(106) and that it is “. . . peculiarly difficult to sift the possible kernel of fact from the fantastic sheaf of tradition and superstition. . . ,” (107) none-the-less the author proceeds to paint a picture of the effects of menstruation as worthy of a Hitchcock thriller. Just before and during menstrual bleeding women have, “a lesser degree of bodily endurance, activity and dexterity; a tendency to exhaustion and malaise,” (100); “Temper, hypersensitiviteness, caprice, resentment, rapid changes of mood, liability to take offense unnecessarily appear, in women who are otherwise very free from these manifestations.” (100) And, women must take special care about “resolutely mastering their tongues and tempers. . .” (100) Naturally, these unfortunate flare ups create a special challenge for men: “For the husband, there are two occasions . . . in which tact, sympathy and self-control are urgently needed if he is to be an expert in love and life. Namely, in the first days of married life, and in the first days of the monthly vital ebb. The second is much the harder test—because it perpetually recurs!—but surely not any less important than the first.” (101)

In addition to these disturbances of mood, there are other physical defects that appear: “nausea and inclination to vomit, bad breath, increase of intestinal gas. . . a tendency to varicose veins, cold feet . . the vocal apparatus is impaired . . . the voice becomes easily tired and changes its quality. . .an appreciable narrowing of the field of vision, and less acute differentiation of colors. . . facial pallor, a tendency to blush easily, and blue rings under the eyes. . .[in effect] she is partly an invalid.” (104-105) Whew! Yet there is a saving moment. After a lengthy catalog of miseries and flaws we learn that, “Fortunately no one woman has to endure all the sufferings and disabilities described above. . . .And, I repeat, that fortunately, there are quite a number of women who do not suffer any of these things.” (105)

Despite the bleak depictions of what many menstruating women are believed to experience and what their husbands must endure, the author then goes on to confront and mostly refute the most deeply rooted sexual taboo of all. A full chapter is devoted to a discussion of sexual intercourse during menstruation and pregnancy. Beginning with acknowledging and identifying the wide range of historical religious and cultural prohibitions and traditions, the chapter then proceeds to describe how some women and men are not only indifferent to the prohibitions but, in fact, find menstrual sex more exciting:

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?

That’s a Mangina: Or, Why the Masculine Menarche Film Narrative Matters

September 19th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jenny Lapekas

Screenshot from Superbad

Many menstrual enthusiasts have become so invested in the menarcheal stories of adolescent girls, we can easily miss some intriguing film scenes that depict males’ experiences with blood as they make a difficult transition in their lives. While semen is often cinematically constructed as funny, menstrual blood remains offensive onscreen. The most well-known of these is, of course, in Greg Mottola’s raunchy cult classic Superbad (2007).

Seth (Jonah Hill) is struggling with his imminent separation from his best friend as the pair prepare to venture into college next fall. At a house party, a fellow partygoer asks Seth, “Were you dancing with some chick in there?” When Seth confirms this and slowly realizes the truth surrounding the red stain on his pant leg, he begins to tremble and dramatically dry-heave and says, “Oh fuck. Oh my god. Oh shit. I’m gonna fucking throw up. Some one ‘perioded’ on my fucking leg?! What the fuck do I do? This is so disgusting!” As amused partygoers begin to circle him, viewers even hear, “That’s a fucking ‘mangina,’ man!” Seth, then, is effectively feminized by his peers who assert their privileged positions as non-menstruators. The event attracts attention and draws a crowd, and the scene is intended to be one of comical emasculation. What’s interesting is also the fact that agency is attributed to the gyrating girl, as she “periods” on Seth, and he then feels victimized by the crime.

A female bystander asks Seth if he needs a tampon and pulls one from her purse; this targeting also contributes to Seth’s emasculation, along with his “mangina.” Seth’s female status effectively negates her own, and she is temporarily unburdened from the restrictions of menstrual etiquette. Simultaneously, however, this scene depicts menstruation as a sort of weakness, a queerness, and a mark of inferiority. It is also noteworthy that the edited television version of this film omits the closeup shot of the red stain on Seth’s pants, while blood induced by violence flows gratuitously on numerous cable channels. Seth’s public menarche also illustrates his inner turmoil as he copes with the trauma of his best friend “abandoning” him to attend a different college.

In a way, Seth becomes a product surrogate as the scene concludes with a large bloodstain on his pants. Because viewers fail to see blood even in menstrual product commercials on television, it’s especially alarming for some viewers to encounter a woman menstruating onto a man’s pants and leaving a conspicuous mark—Seth’s scarlet letter as it were, rather than hers. Seth bears the shameful mark of menstruation, and he chooses to segregate himself from others, as they flock to him with their camera phones. In this scenario, while Seth represents the otherness of menstruation, onlookers are drawn to him rather than repelled. Because menstruators are queer, these hidden bleeders are conditioned to linger on the periphery, never admitting what is truly taking place within their bodies. In this particular film scene, Seth is queered and then chided for publicly exposing his queerness. His inability to hide the large, red stain exemplifies his sense of powerlessness in a subculture of young adults who have already suffered and forgotten this necessary pain. This stripping of adolescent masculinity is akin to the pregnancy scare narrative as the rejection of motherhood, and thus femininity.

Whether this obscure subplot arrives as the tragic result of grinding gone wrong or men sticking tampons up their noses—as in Channing Tatum’s character, Duke, in Andy Flickman’s 2006 comedy She’s the Man—cinematic depictions of “the curse” destroy its status as taboo and serve as a paradigm shift, in this case, of masculinity its cultural relationship with the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual Phobia on the History Channel

September 17th, 2013 by David Linton

One of the biggest changes in TV programming in the last 20 years has been the rise of programs collectively known as “Reality TV.”  The primary stylistic device in nearly all of these shows consists of cross cutting between “real” moments that the participants are engaged in and their direct address to the audience via the camera during which they comment on the experiences they are having. Whether it’s Mafia Wives or one of the Real Housewives spin offs or a home make over effort, we are meant to believe that the arguments, conversations, redecorating efforts or struggles to survive in the wild are actual, unstaged events that the camera has happened to capture in a documentary kind of moment. The commentary that the participants provide is intended to help the viewers comprehend the motives and inner feelings of the “characters” and to give them opportunities to add editorial interpretations on each other’s behavior.

Despite the fact that many of the reality shows feature women in intimate situations, very few of them include references to the women’s menstrual cycles. The rare exceptions, such as a single episode of Jersey Shore or Sorority Life, are noteworthy not just for their very existence but, as in both of these cases, because they depict menstruation with a smarmy leer.

A show on The History Channel called American Restoration gives the cycle a different spin by focusing on how freaked out men can be about any contact, no matter how distant or benign, with menstrual products. This show consists of weekly stories about a repair and restoration shop called Rick’s Restoration which specializes in restoring broken or antique objects such as cars, antique toys, or equipment to a pristine condition.

In this episode, a woman named Kelly who is part of the family that owns the business arrives with an old 1940s Kotex dispenser that is dinged and scratched and the mechanical innards are broken. A client wants it repaired and painted pink with a red ribbon to be auctioned off at a charity event.

The men who are given the task are appalled. Rick Dale, the head of the company, responds to the challenge by saying, “You gotta be kidding!” and adds, “It’s the first, and hopefully the last, feminine napkin dispenser we ever have to do.”  It goes down hill from there. One man grumbles, “Well, I’m not touchin’ that,” and another carps, “Hell no, I ain’t touchin’ that Kotex machine. Kelly is out of her mind.” Yet he sets about refurbishing the device under full coverage of the camera crew while announcing how shameful it would be if anyone saw him, “I got to get the hell out of this room before anyone finds out I helped Kelly with this one.”

To show just how widespread menstrual contamination can reach, the teenaged son of the owner, a spiked hair youth named Tyler, is sent to the store to buy a variety of products to test out the repaired machine. His take on the assignment is dire, “I hate my life. I don’t know what could be more embarrassing than this [pause] Nothing – NOTH-ING.”

We then see him in a market loading various packages into a shopping cart and wheeling them to the checkout counter while his voice-over says, “I swear, I’m scared for life.” He asks the woman clerk to double bag his purchase before lugging his buys back to the shop.

As the beautifully restored dispenser is revealed, Rick speaks to the camera again, “I got a shop full of guys and getting them to work on something specifically for women was like pulling teeth.”

The show ends on a happy note as the device nets a final bid of $400.00 to go for breast cancer cure and treatment.

Of course, there’s a peculiar contradiction in the arrangements in this show. At the same time that the men protest vociferously that being seen having anything to do with a menstrual product is deeply humiliating they are gladly (we assume) participating in the filming of the show so that potentially thousands of viewers will witness their shame. The moral? Fame Trumps Shame.

I’ve got Aunt Irma visiting

August 7th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

The IT Crowd is a British sitcom that centers on three IT workers and their daily misadventures. Maurice Moss, an intelligent but geeky technician who is quite socially awkward; his friend, Roy, who goes to lengths to avoid working; and Jen, the “Relationship Manager,” serve as the core team of the IT Department.

In the last episode of season one, titled “Aunt Irma Visits,” Jen explains to the men that she is on her period. I enjoyed the list of euphemisms she rattles off in an attempt to describe what’s happening, including “its high tide,” “closed for maintenance,” and “fallen to the communists,” with Moss noting that the communists do, indeed, “have some strong arguments.” It finally takes Roy shouting “first scene in Carrie” as a means of elucidation before Moss catches on. The men subsequently begin to experience sympathy premenstrual syndrome (I’ll leave the discussion regarding the validity of “sympathy PMS” for another post). Moss, in an attempt to get a variety of opinions on the idea, sends out an email to everyone—signed by both Moss and Roy—in his address book asking, “Do we have PMT [premenstrual tension]?” He also includes a list of symptoms the guys have: headachy, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Moss remarks that the last symptom is particular to him. In an hour, after learning of Moss’s and Roy’s problems, the staff create a mocking website depicting the men as women (the website—www.ladyproblems.com—doesn’t actually exist, for better or worse). Roy and Moss decide to try to calm Jen down in hopes that doing so will also calm their own symptoms, and the three have a Girls Night Out.

The show is overtheatrical and this episode is no exception. There is the standard play on PMS stereotypes, most notably the way Jen turns into a she-devil when bothered or irritated by the men. But the humor comes from each character’s specific traits and how they react as IT people to their sympathy PMS. There is a funny bit about how IT men all across the world are suffering from PMS at the same moment, thanks to Moss’s well-distributed email. Furthermore, it is the melodramatic nature of the show that allows the storyline to work. The plausibility of this show is nonexistent, and thus the plausibility of the PMS plot is intentionally frivolous. That’s the point.

This perhaps also illustrates a larger difference in American and British humor, or at least slightly different humorous approaches to menstruation. The episode is full of irony; my favorite is when Jen, as a she-devil, talks about ordinary activities such as using a different hair conditioner or trying to keep slim. I’m sure there are many out there who find this episode to be another jaded interpretation of menstruation, but I don’t. The fact that the emphasis is not on the perceived negative stereotypes of menstruation, but rather on how a certain group of men react to having PMS takes away the insulting references about menstruation (and places them on IT men—if there any IT men out there offended by this episode I’m here to listen to your grievances).

Note: This episode is available on Hulu Plus in its entirety, but you can also find it on Vimeo or in separate clips on YouTube.

Another Day, Another Shame: Sports Edition

August 5th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

The BODY POLICE just wrote us another ticket.

Sweating through our workout clothes, is a big NO NO, that is, if the sweat shows up (whisper…blush…giggle…) down there. The “solution” to the non-problem du jour is U By Kotex’s Sports Liners. Thank you, Kotex, for reminding me that I am, in fact, a functioning, healthy human. Here’s the commercial. (Prepare your rage).

In response, Australian Humorist Sammy J sent the BODY POLICE back to the station with: “The Crotch Song” He performed the jaunty tune on the new Australian weekly comedy series Wednesday Night Fever, which he hosts.  Then, like good satire often does, it went viral.

Apparently underestimating our hunger for a good solid FemCare smackdown, Sammy J humbly posted to his Facebook page on July 25th:I awoke to discover my song about crotch sweat has gone viral overnight, clocking up over 30,000 views. Power to the sisterhood!”  Well, Sammy J, your fandom is growing. Video views on YouTube alone are at nearly 48K and climbing.

I love the sassy critique of the product, of course, but I especially appreciate the way Sammy J redirects our attention away from the intractable ‘to use or not to use’ debate that quickly devolves into missing the point much bigger than any particular individual’s consumer choice. Instead, he exhorts every woman to steer clear of men (let’s expand that to ANYONE) “ who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.”

Amen.

Here’s the full lyrics here. Every delicious word.

 The Crotch Song by Sammy J 

 I saw a new ad for a new product aimed at women
New panty liners to eliminate crotch sweat.
And though I don’t have degree in feminism
I feel their message is a little hard to get

Cause the assumption seems to be that sweating when you exercise is a major turn off so it’s best to keep sweating in disguise

But that does not address the fact that any guy who judges you for sweating when you exercise is probably a cock-head.

So if we apply the logic they’re using to sell it.
And your crotch is sweaty so you buy a 30-pack

Well then there’s a stronger chance you’ll end up with a douche-bag, and that’s a few years of your life you won’t get back.

In-fact when you think it through
Any guy who talks to you despite your sweaty crotch has already past a very basic test
It means he’s not brain dead.
It means he understands the cause or link between exercise and perspiration.

So take him to the formal

The website says and this is word for word I’m quoting “It’s time we all stop being shy about vaginas” 


And then you click the product tab they’re promoting
 guilt, shame and embarrassment to sell their panty-liners.

So young girls if you’re listening and your crotch is feeling sweaty.
You can chose to use a liner. 
Do whatever sets you free

But as you make your way through life avoid dating the assholes who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.

[Source: LYBIO.net]

Guys Goin’ With The Flow

July 16th, 2013 by David Linton

Screenshot of Jezebel.com article “Singer Has Maybe-Fake Period Onstage, Tragically Grossing Out Man”

A couple of recent web site items capture a wide range of male responses to Close Encounters of the Menstrual Kind.

First, consider a peculiar blog post by a man named David Barton Wallace who does music reviews, this time a piece titled, “Brazilian Girls go with the flow at Highline.” He felt obliged to preface his review with a parenthetic comment: “Warning: This review is not for the squeamish,” because it included descriptions of what appeared to be the lead singer of the group getting her period on stage while wearing a tight, white body suit.

As pointed out a few days later on the Jezebel site (which has previously offered a positive item about the June SMCR conference in New York City) in an amusingly snarky post titled, “Singer Has Maybe-Fake Period Onstage, Tragically Grossing Out Man,” it seems that the huge stain across the front of the performer’s outfit was surely fake, part of some sort of transgressive commentary. In fact, as seen on the YouTube post of the performance, another red stain also appeared over her left breast. The Jezebel article roasted the reviewer thoroughly and listed all of the portions of his article that expressed “how grossed out he was.”

Perhaps Mr. Wallace was unfamiliar with the earlier incident of a woman rocker, Donita Sparks in the band L7, who actually weaponized her period during a concert in England in 1992 by pulling out her tampon and throwing it at some hecklers in the crowd.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum of male engagement with menstruation is an item on a site called The Good Men Project in a section titled, “Dads & Families.” The specific article by a man named Robert Duffer is labeled, “Should Dads Talk To Their Kids About Menstruation?” Of course, the answer is a resounding “YES” and, for the most part, it’s a sound and sensitive discussion, including comments by SMCR Board member Mindy J. Erchull, Ph.D. from the University of Mary Washington. Yet even this well-intentioned discussion hits a sour note early on with the following sentence, “I have a boy, 7, and a girl, almost 6, who I’ve stopped from singing ‘I’m Sexy And I Know It,’ by saying no, you’re not, (which I would say to any douchebag singing that song).” How a “sensitive” guy, writing on The Good Men Project site has not learned that calling anyone a “douchbag” is an obvious use of a mysogynistic expression is a puzzle to me. Perhaps it’s one of those “two steps forward, one step back” situations.

The best thing we can say about these appearances is that it suggests that men are at least finding it necessary to confront their previously unexamined feelings and presumptions and prejudices about menstruation in their midst.

Care for a drink?

July 10th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Photo from Reddit user ImKatieJay

Reddit, the social entertainment website, has a section called “Reddit WTF?!” where users can post images or links that fit the category of “What the fuck?” Under the title of “Who Wants a Shot!?” one user posted an image of a package of five “flasks” that are in the shape of tampons and come with nondescript tampon wrappers. As the post is nearing 1,000 comments there is a lot to discuss about this image and what others are saying about it. Yes, we could have the usual conversation how this is simply another aspect of menstrual shame—the whole point of these flask tampons is that no one will want to touch them and thus the product and period are reinforced as disgusting objects. To be sure, there are many comments that illustrate this negative construction of the tampon and also frame the cycle as a grotesque event. Instead, I’d like to talk about the positive (and sometimes humorous) responses on Reddit to these flask tampons.

The comments range in topic including the price (most seem appalled at the $12 price tag); places where these could potentially be useful (movie theatres, airports, concerts, sports venues—there’s even a small write-up on them in Sports Illustrated); how drugs and pills could also be smuggled via the “tampons”; and who should carry these faux menstrual products.

It’s the last point that piqued my interest as I was pleasantly surprised how many users were promoting different ways for men to carry these and suggesting appropriate responses should they be questioned. The most common one I seemed to find is the well-known use of tampons to stop nosebleeds, including one where a wrestler wrote that tampons helped him out numerous times with his nosebleeds. Others mentioned that tampons could be used by soldiers to help stop the bleeding from bullet holes or other wounds. Several people said that a man should carry these in his personal bag and if asked should say that they are for his girlfriend. This example, of carrying around a girlfriend’s tampons, also serves as a form of menstrual protest. It was obvious through several of the comments that a man who carries around tampons should expect to get odd looks and questions when someone searches his bag. However, the reaction leaned more towards an aura of think how funny this is going to be rather than the this is so disgusting scenario, leading me to conclude that many of the people who commented (particularly the men) felt that carrying around these faux tampons was, yes, a way to sneak alcohol, but also a form of menstrual protest.

In addition, there are many comments from people who seem disappointed in the unrealistic feature of the product, particularly the nondescript wrappers that simply say “TAMPON.” Perhaps this is more indicative of our saturated advertising culture, but a few posters thought that someone searching the bag would catch on to the fake tampons due to the lack of color or logo/design to suggest a particular brand. Although, as someone who has used off-brand disposable products in the past, I can confirm that often times there is no logo or brand name on the wrapper.

Lastly, mixed throughout the puns (for example, “Bloody Mary” anyone?) and suggested uses of these tampons, were the expected comments about the revolting nature of the period. What was interesting to see is that these comments were met with others that challenge this type of characterization. It was a tête-à-tête with some commentators as those who posted remarks such as “Men, never trust anything that bleeds for 7 days, and doesn’t die,” were countered with equally crass “Women, never trust anything with two heads and one brain.”

If Men Could Menstruate: 2013 [Aussie] Edition

July 8th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by poet Tami Sussman

Tami Sussman. Used with Permission

We might be 17 or so hours ahead in real time, but when it comes to The Arts, we’re a bit behind here, down under.

Poetry slams were introduced in Australia (by an American) around a decade ago and the National Poetry Slam is in its 7th year running.

In Sydney, where I live, there are about 5 Spoken Word events per month, if we’re lucky.  So it came as no surprise that I was only made aware of the Menstrual Cycle Research Conference and the RED MOON HOWL slam, one week before opening by a twitter follower who had heard me perform my poem “Fuck Yeah I’m Bleeding” at last year’s NSW heat for the Australian slam.

I can’t wait to attend this forum when it next graces NYC and perhaps perform this poem in front of Gloria Steinem herself:

https://soundcloud.com/sussmania/fuck-yeah-im-bleeding-heavy 

About the Performer:

In 2012, Tami threw herself in the Spoken Word scene, writing and performing in her first One-Woman show My Furry Heart. The show was a tremendous success, attracting over 700 people across a series of seven shows. Tami has since been invited on radio and to MC and perform at a range of festivals and events around Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland including “Jurassic Lounge” at the Australian Museum, in Sydney and Melbourne’s very own “Mother Tongue” in Fitzroy.

A 2012 NSW Poetry Slam Finalist, and 2013 SOYA Finalist, Tami is a now a very recognisable face in the Sydney Poetry Slam scene, with many winning performances at Glebe’s “Friend in Hand” and Sydney’s travelling “Caravan Slam”.

Twitter: @SussmaniaSydney
; Facebook:  ‘Like’ Sussmania; 
YouTube: SussmaniaSydney
; Blog: http://sussmania.wordpress.com

Have You Heard? Menstrual Hygiene GOES GLOBAL!

June 10th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by Danielle I. Keiser, WASH United gGmbH/Berlin, Germany

From May #MENSTRAVAGANZA to Menstrual Hygiene Day:

WASH United is Turning Up the Volume

and Helping Breaking the Silence

Did you hear about May #MENSTRAVAGANZA? It was truly menstravagant. It was the first-ever social media campaign of its kind: a 28-day awareness cycle lead by WASH United to break the silence around menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

WASH United is a Berlin-based international social impact organization that promotes safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all. Using our expertise in innovative campaigning, positive communication, and network building, our ambition is to bring the most neglected of all WASH issues into the spotlight. Our vision is to create a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation in a hygienic way — in privacy, safety, and with dignity — at home, at school, and at the workplace.

Menstruation: It happens.

Menstruation is a normal human process. Nevertheless, it is still treated as a taboo in many cultures and societies across the globe. A profound silence around the topic combined with a lack of access to information results in girls and women possessing very little understanding of their own bodies. Many are left to manage their periods in an unsafe manner, using old rags or other unhygienic and ineffective materials. The problem is exacerbated by limited access to hygienic products, safe and private sanitation facilities, inconsistent supplies of water for personal hygiene, and inadequate disposal options.

As a result, menstruating girls and women often feel ashamed and embarrassed about themselves. Facing health problems and socio-cultural taboos surrounding their periods, they become isolated from family, school, and their communities. Women and girls miss school and productive work days, thus falling behind their male counterparts.

Some facts and figures

  • 48% of girls in Iran, 10% in India, and 7% in Afghanistan believe that menstruation is a disease.[1]
  • In a survey of 747 women and girls across five states in rural India, only 30.2% of girls and women reported knowing about menstruation before they received their first period.[2]
  • Women in rural Nepal are often restricted to separate huts or cow sheds during menstruation. Other activities are also restricted, such as preparing and consuming food, socializing, traveling, and even attending school.[3]
  • In rural Nigeria, men and women may maintain separate quarters while a woman is menstruating. Some women choose to not wash their pads daily or worry about how to dispose of them out of fear they may be vulnerable to witchcraft attacks.[4]
  • A study across six rural districts in Sierra Leone schools revealed that up to 21.3% of students report missing school during their menstrual periods.[5]
  • In a study in Bangladeshi garment factories, where 80% of factory workers are women, a majority of them were using rags from the factory floor for menstrual cloths. Infections are common, leading to 73% of women missing work for an average of six unpaid days per month.[6]

If periods are such a normal and natural occurrence, why are people so afraid to talk about them or the specific needs related to managing them?

Using ‘Misses with Moustaches’ as spokesladies for May #MENSTRAVAGANZA, the idea was that, if women can have moustaches, can’t we all talk about menstruation? Throughout the campaign, questions raised by the ‘Misses in Moustaches’ included:

  • Why is there such an iron-fisted taboo around menstruation?
  • What are some harsh realities that girls and women face every time they menstruate?
  • Putting the ‘MEN’ in MENSTRAVAGANZA: who are the men working on menstrual issues and innovations in MHM
  • How is MHM more than just a ‘health’ or ‘women’s’ issue?
  • Where does it all go? How can we better understand issues of disposal?

The diversity of content ranged from recommending our favorite books on the subject (“Flow” and “The Red Tent”) to a rap about organic tampons to addressing the unnoticed challenges that girls and women with disabilities face in managing their menstruation. Throughout the campaign, we obtained 800 new fans on Facebook and over 250 new followers on Twitter. For a topic so ‘out of sight’ and unmentionable, May #MENSTRAVAGANZA took the social media world by storm!

If Only!

March 22nd, 2013 by David Linton

Guest Post by Carly Schneider, Marymount Manhattan College

Unlike a lot of my peers, my childhood history with menstruation is relatively positive. In the small, rural town in Vermont I grew up in, the topic of menstruation was dealt with early. I remember as a third grader the two or three days we spent discussing this process and the human body. I remember we all wanted to get ours- it was a sign of growing up. Of course there was the typical giggling and insecurities that often come with such discussion but then again, this was the start of being taught the societal views regarded for this biological process. This was before I was conscious of the innate inequality between men and women. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that female sexuality and body were not subjects of empowerment and confidence, but of silence and shame.

It was when I came to New York City for college that I could define my feelings as ‘feminist’- that word was practically a swear in my town- and I studied the various waves and leaders of the movement including, of course, Gloria Steinem. In my final semester of undergrad, I made it a must to sign up for David Linton’s Social Construction & Images of Menstruation course. It was the perfect ending to four glorious years of out and proud feminism. I was working on my senior thesis film at the time and knew that for my final project for his class I’d rather make something visual than write a paper. I recruited three peers: Rebecca, a fellow communications major and Mauricio and Warren, both BFA actors. Rebecca and I sat down together one night to think of ideas- what kind of project could we do with two men? My mind instantly went to Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate, a 1978 article published in Ms. Magazine. Rebecca and I came up with several scenes that were each inspired by points in her essay. Feeling inspired, I went home that night and wrote the entire script. A few weeks later, after hours of shooting, a multitude of iced coffees, and plenty of laughs, we shared with our class the video we created.

Each scene is less than a minute long and focuses on a particular point from Steinem’s article. Topics include societal shaming, marketing, product availability, synchronization, and menstrual sex. The reaction from the class was beyond inspiring and the activity on its Youtube page has been exciting. We’re already at 3,000 views and growing.

It is articles like Steinem’s that continue to empower me to feel pride for my femininity, my body, and my cycle.

Portnoy’s (Menstrual) Complaint

January 1st, 2013 by David Linton

One way of telling how comfortable a man is with the biological facts of women’s lives is how he responds to calls for him to go shopping for menstrual products or to have physical contact with a woman’s menses.

Depictions of this challenge have occasionally been a subject of humor on TV shows such as in the episode of King of the Hill titled “Aisle # 8″ in which the bumbling Hank Hill has to enter the fearful menstrual aisle of a supermarket or, for contrast, in an episode of Californication when the father of a daughter who has just had her first period heroically fends off other customers to get her the last package of pads on the shelf.

An early literary description of a menstrual product shopping moment, one that was deeply traumatic for the character, is in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel, Portnoy’s Complaint. Set in a psychoanalyst’s office during a single rambling session, Alex Portnoy relates a terrifying incident from his childhood when, at the age of eleven, his mother sent him out to buy a box of Kotex:

“It was years later that she called from the bathroom, Run to the drugstore! bring a box of Kotex! immediately! And the panic in her voice. Did I run! And then at home again, breathlessly handed the box to the white fingers that extended themselves at me through a narrow crack in the bathroom door. . . Though her menstrual troubles eventually had to be resolved by surgery, it is difficult nevertheless to forgive her for having sent me on that mission of mercy. Better she should have bled herself out on our cold bathroom floor, better that than to have sent an eleven-year-old boy in hot pursuit of sanitary napkins!” (43-44)

Whew! Now there’s a Freudian field day, and from a time when Freudian technique was in full fashion. More than 30 years later, in The Dying Animal (2001 ), another Roth character seems to have made some progress, at least on the surface. Perhaps his analysis has succeeded. A senior professor, the 62-year-old David Kepesh, plays out an erotic fantasy with a 24-year-old graduate student, Consuela Castillo. Kepesh, a serial womanizer who considers himself an erotic master, is stunned when she tells him that a former boyfriend liked to watch her take out her tampon, realizing that he has never done anything like that. His sexual competitiveness requires that he immediately enact the same scene. However, the act throws him into a state of Portnoy-like humiliation:

“Then came the night that Consuela pulled out her tampon and stood there in my bathroom, with one knee dipping toward the other and, like Mantegna’ Saint Sebastian, bleeding in a trickle down her thighs while I watched. Was it thrilling? Was I delighted? Was I mesmerized? Sure, but again I felt like a boy. I had set out to demand the most from her, and when she shamelessly obliged, I wound up again intimidating myself. There seemed nothing to be done – if I wished not to be humbled completely by her exotic matter-of-factness – except to fall to my knees to lick her clean. Which she allowed to happen without comment. Making me into a still smaller boy.” (71-72)

Though there are more scenes in this book and others by Roth that employ menstrual details to capture character and advance plots, these two embody deep-seated male confusion and anxiety about how to deal with menstrual encounters. The candor Roth exhibits, as is often the case with his writing, is admirable for its openness to exploring taboos, but one also wishes he was able to provide more nuanced treatments of women’s experiences as well. Perhaps we should turn to Joyce Carol Oates in search of such treatments. Perhaps in a future post.

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.