Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Zack at 16

August 30th, 2009 by Chris Bobel

I have been infected by this viral video and I think I feel a little sick.

I cannot deny that advertising giant Leo Burnett’s campaign for client Procter & Gamble isn’t darn clever and at times touching (for those who aren’t yet convinced that “Zack at 16” is advertising, see the list of P&G wins at this year’s Cannes Lions ADVERTISING festival–or take a look at the insultingly transparent product plugs peppering the comments).

But unlike others who may find this particular sex switcheroo a fabulous vehicle for generating sensitivity to girls and women and their periods, I find it, well, the same- old -same -old —capitulating to gender stereotypes to move product.

And this time, there’s the added twist of the (albeit, likely unintentional) trivialization of very real people whose bodies don’t align with their gender identity. You know, some people really DO have to sneak into that “other” bathroom to do their business. Some people ARE forced to keep the realities of their genitalia private or risk unwelcome medical intervention, ridicule or worse.

As Zack settles into his body with the “girl thingie” (his words, surely not mine), he savors girl time with his sister (read: they bake brownies and watch a chickflick), distractedly eats yogurt for breakfast and “snaps” at his best friend, who is painted, of course, as a thoughtless oaf and bully (read: your average 16 year-old guy).

Life is hard for Zack, well, until he crosses the Rubicon (er, the hallway between the boys and girls restrooms) and extracts a (gasp! can it be?) a Tampax-brand tampon. As he settles back into his French class (don’t all girls just love to study French?), the expression on his face is contentment and then, we benefit from his thoughts on (periodically irritable & antisocial) women—who “seem to be doing alright” in spite of their messy, crampy bodies.

Gee, thanks Tampax.

In Zack’s world of cute tie-clad and plaid-skirted teens, his little secret of “girl parts” that bleed is little more than P&G’s newest attempt to hang onto their market share (after all, with all those teens who are dosing up to eliminate their periods altogether, they are wise to step it up). This is advertising–slick advertising– and it does not, contrary to the impressions I’ve heard lately, demonstrate an emerging sensitivity toward women and girls. In fact, Zack’s story simply relies on tired old gendered tropes.

Maybe I don’t feel sick, actually; maybe I just feel tired.

Zack at 16: The Film

Designer gets his rag on

August 19th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

maxi-shelvesFurniture designer Andy Kurovets presents this shelf unit that mimics the layers of a maxi pad as it gradually absorbs menstrual fluid. While I don’t find the shelves as objectionable as my source for this bit of news does, they do strike me as a bit impractical. Won’t the wings get in the way? And loading these shelves with books or objets d’art would hide that beautiful design!

Menstrual Cycle and Competitive Bidding

August 18th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

This is an interesting study, in a “Whoa! Somebody actually thought to do a study of that” kind of way. And that’s saying something, coming from someone who studies discourses of menstruation. Two economists designed a study to try to demonstrate that women bid differently in auctions depending on the phase of their menstrual cycle. They found that women bid significantly higher than men in their menstrual and premenstrual phases, but do not bid significantly differently in other phases of the menstrual cycle. They extrapolate from this that women are greater risk-takers during the fertile phase of their cycle.

The detailed statistical modeling and analysis is beyond my expertise as a humanities scholar, but I find the underlying premises of the study and its conclusions problematic. First, they assess which phase of her cycle their research participants are in by self-report and the assumption of a 28-day cycle: “We distinguish the menstrual phase (days 1 to 5), the follicular phase (days 6 to 13), the peri-ovulatory phase (days 14 to 15), the luteal phase (days 16 to 23), and the premenstrual phase (days 24 to 28).” As my colleagues at CeMCOR will tell you, one cannot assess ovulation merely from self-report of date of last menstrual period and projected date of next period. Regular menstruation ≠ ovulation. And pretty much any menstruator can tell you that the average 28-day cycle is just that, an average. The researchers also noted that 15% of their participants used hormonal birth control, but

Specifications (5), (10), (13), (16), (19), and (22) reveal that our results remain robust when controlling for hormonal methods of birth control. Hormonal methods of birth control do not have a significant effect on bids.

Since hormonal contraceptives (such as the birth control pill, ring, or patch) suppress the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, these women do not ovulate or experience the five phases of the cycle the researchers enumerate.

Additionally, the participants in this study appear to be students at UC Davis; college-aged women often have irregular, anovulatory cycles due to their youth and other factors, such as poor diet, stress, and irregular sleep patterns. Even age at menarche (the first menstrual period) affects whether a young woman ovulates regularly.One must always be suspect of sweeping generalizations from a such small, elite sample.

And I find the whole evo-psych approach and conclusions troubling. While I cannot deny that hormones exert an influence on behavior, I think it takes an awful lot of inferential leaps to get from the data in this study that “that women bid significantly higher than men in their menstrual and premenstrual phase but do not bid significantly different in other phases of the menstrual cycle” to “an evolutionary hypothesis according to which women are genetically predisposed by hormones to generally behave more riskily during their fertile phase of their menstrual cycle in order to increase the probability of conception, quality of offspring, and genetic variety.” So many factors could influence the higher bids that it’s an extraordinary reach to attribute it to phases of the menstrual cycle, especially given the unscientific way the cycles were charted.

EWW! Is That Period Blood?!

August 10th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

bloodIt’s been frequently noted (by many writers, not just me) that menstrual blood must remain invisible. So I was quite pleased to stumble upon this lively discussion at Feministe about menstrual blood and why it seems to have a greater squick factor than other blood – or any other bodily fluid, for that matter.

Frau Sally Benz started this discussion with her befuddlement at the disgust of others when she discusses her delight in discovering the advantages of the Diva Cup:

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is people’s aversion to menstrual blood. Perhaps I’m just super comfortable with my body or took one too many reproductive health classes or maybe I’m just gross, but I really don’t get why people are so thoroughly disgusted by menstrual blood.

Within three days, the thread had more than 100 responses. Although the women’s responses to the sight of menstrual blood vary, they’re all talking about menstruation in a public forum.

Big Pharma Used Ghostwriters to Promote HRT

August 5th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you. The New York Times reports today that Wyeth, makers of Premarin and Prempro, hired ghostwriters to develop medical journal articles that promoted the use of these hormone treatments. The articles emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones. Although the articles were usually signed by a physician who had read and approved the articles, they did not disclose Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for the work.

This matters. Doctors rely on medical journals to learn about the latest research and treatments in their areas of expertise. They should know when such research is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

Readers of this blog probably already know, too, that in 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) research on estrogen therapies after menopause was halted before the study was completed because the risks of these drugs were greater than the benefits. For more about these issues and the relevant research, see the Society for Menstrual Cycle research’s position statements on WHI and estrogen therapy, and learn why menopause is not an estrogen deficiency disease.

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.