Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Someone Stole my Menstrual Cycle Research Bag

July 19th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

Photo courtesy of Mindy Erchull, since my red bag was stolen

Two months ago someone broke into my office at work. They didn’t steal anything of monetary value so, in the larger picture, it’s not really that big of a deal. The campus police think that probably they were looking for laptops or other technology items that were easy to steal, which they did not find. But they did steal some random things, like books on race and class inequality and my red conference bag from the last Society for Menstrual Cycle Research meetings in June 2011. The books they took are probably worth almost nothing and I have plenty of conference bags and life will go on. What I found interesting, though, is the many interactions and feelings I experienced about this stolen red bag.

When the police came they of course took an inventory of all things stolen. I had to tell them what the red bag looked like and what it said on the bag. I’m pretty sure the thirty-something male police officer who recorded the incident did not even write down the fact that the bag said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” on it. In fact, when I told him what the bag said, he and my colleague standing next to me had a conversation about how the thief most likely ditched the bag as soon as they realized what it said and laughed. It’s probably true. What thief would want to walk around with a red bag that said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” on it?

Eventually two female police officers were involved as well (as investigators at the scene). The two female officers never really reacted to the fact that the red bag said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” and reacted with no emotion whatsoever about it. I couldn’t tell whether they thought it was unimportant or whether they did not want to deal with what the bag said. Once everyone knew that no items of monetary value were stolen, it was very clear that the incident was not of priority to everyone. I completely understood since, I, too, knew that I would not really miss the items stolen. But every colleague who found out what bag was stolen laughed at the mention of the red stolen bag. It was almost as if this red bag made it okay to think the break-in was not that important. That there was no way to track down a thief of a Menstrual Cycle Research bag because a smart thief would get rid of that bag the minute they could.

Did all of this happen the way it did simply because of what the stolen red bag said on it? Is this because of the mere mention of menstruation? And why did I feel slightly uncomfortable the whole time the police were involved? And why did I know ahead of time that there would be no police follow-up about the missing bag (or whether I had found anything else missing over time)?

It crossed my mind at the time that this is what it must feel like to suspect racism in interactions but not be able to prove it.

In the end, I don’t miss the things stolen, but I do feel like something else was going on in all of the interactions about the red bag and the lack of police follow-up on this incident. However subtle the stigma surrounding menstruation and however unimportant the bag is to me in the end, I still feel strange about the incident two months later.

To me this signifies the very, very subtle ways in which stigma works its power and the very, very subtle ways norms are reified. I also have lots of questions remaining in my head that highlight my mixed feelings about the incident: Who cares if a Menstrual Cycle Research bag is stolen? Should I really care that I have less public evidence that I go to such a conference or study menstruation and menopause? Should I really care that people don’t want to think or talk about Menstrual Cycle Research? Should I care that all of my colleagues laughed, and that I laughed once or twice too, to think of a thief running around with a Menstrual Cycle Research bag? Should police really investigate the loss of such a trivial item? My unsettled feelings about this experience make me want to at least write this blog post about it, even if it’s not important enough to keep thinking about after this. I’d love to hear if readers have had similar experiences of dealing publicly with the fact that they study menstruation, because I think this is one example of just that – a menstrual cycle researcher having contact (however insignificant) with the real world.

6 responses to “Someone Stole my Menstrual Cycle Research Bag”

  1. ST says:

    Thanks for your post. I am not a researcher, but when people ask me what I am going to do after my year abroad, I tell them that I want to go door to door selling reusable and healthy menstrual products. This often gets a laugh, but it is seriously what I want to do.

    As a young woman of color, I appreciate you making the connections between the subtlety of stigma and how covert racism often functions in US American society. How you felt is indeed often how I feel.

  2. Chris Hitchcock says:

    Interesting blog, Heather. And I think I might have one of those bags somewhere around here for you. If I find it, I’ll bring it to the meetings next year. :)

  3. HeatherD says:

    Thanks, ST. I can imagine you face quite a bit of laughter but I admire that this is what you’d like to do. I’d love to hear you talk more about your ideas. I don’t know if you are a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research but there are lots of members who are not researchers and who do very similar work to what you want to do. You might want to check it out!
    Thanks for validating the point about what racism must feel like. I almost didn’t put that in my blog since I wasn’t sure how it would go over with readers but I honestly thought that as I dealt with colleagues and the police. And I don’t know if I stood up for myself as much as I should have, which seems so similar to all of the research on how “stereotype threat” makes people of color feel and act. It’s almost like you can feel the power of the norm in front of your face and you internalize it.

  4. HeatherD says:

    Sounds good, Chris :)

  5. Laura Wershler says:

    I’d like to offer another take on the theft of the red bag. I think it’s just as likely that the thief took it BECAUSE of the SMCR logo. I know these tote bags don’t hold much, so I doubt he/she took it to hold the other stolen items. And my experience has been that people are intrigued that I belong to a Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. I am reminded of the conversation I had with a bank teller when I was buying a money order in U.S. funds to pay my dues a few years ago. She asked me all sorts of questions.

    Also, I think the cops should have shown more interest because the unique red SMCR bag could quite possibly be the clue that leads them to a thief who has quite possibly stolen valuable tech items from others. Imagine the bag hanging on a wall in the thief’s place, put there as a conversation starter. I can only imagine what kind of story might be told about how he/she came to have it.

    I think it would be fun to take Mindy’s photo of the red bag, put it on a MISSING poster and offer a small reward for information that leads to its return. The response to the poster would be interesting to study and analyze. And you just might find the thief. I’m betting that Heather’s bright red bag is safe and sound somewhere.

  6. HeatherD says:

    Wow, Laura, thanks for putting a different spin on this! You’re right of course that I automatically thought negatively about what might have happened to the bag. Thanks for checking me on that. Perhaps I will put up that “missing” poster!

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