Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Heavy media menstrual flow

February 16th, 2016 by David Linton

It seems we’ve reached a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it, or perhaps a paradigm shift, as Thomas Kuhn might say, in the level of acceptance of menstrual cycle references in mainstream media. As re:Cycling demonstrated recently in the time line of coverage of the de-tax the period campaign that is ongoing around the world, there is an abundance of material on this topic alone.

Now, to add to the accumulation, consider another four references within a few days of each other in two major publications, The New York Times and New York magazine.

Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 2016, Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine, Smirking in the Boys’ Room

In an interview-based article about her new show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, the soon-to-be-late-night host casually mentioned that the stress of putting together the show had made her stop getting her period, “I guess I’m doing a good job of pushing the terror onto my innards.” This was in the context of the fact that she will be the first female host of a late-night comedy show.

Feb.8, 2016, Editorial, The New York Times, p. A-24, End the Tampon Tax

The editorial page of the most august newspaper in the U.S. took a position on the taxation debate under the headline “End the Tampon Tax.” The piece reviewed the history of the campaign with emphasis on the efforts of two members of the California State Assembly and cited President Obama’s support.  It then went on to endorse efforts in New York City to provide free tampons and pads in the schools and closed with the statement, “Getting rid of taxes on these products is an important first step toward making them affordable for all.”

Thinx_2016-02-15Feb. 8-21, 2016, Noreen Malone, New York Magazine, p.70, Panty Raid

The magazine gave six full pages of coverage to the controversy surrounding the advertising campaign for Think period underwear, including a full page picture of the company’s head, Miki Agrawal, modeling a pair of her Thinx Hi-Waist items.  The fuss surrounding the ads concerned whether it was acceptable to the advertising guidelines of the transportation agency to include mention of the period in ads carried on the trains and in the stations.  The restrictive response of the authorities was a boon to the company, as the lengthy coverage here and elsewhere in the New York media environment demonstrated.

Feb. 14 2016, Sharon Mesmer, The New York Times-Sunday Review, p.10, All Praise the Women of Menopause

The Sunday Times receives broader distribution and attention than the daily issues and is read widely read around the world, so it is noteworthy that nearly half a page was given to Sharon Mesmer’s essay. The piece takes a playful look at the fact that there are plenty of special rituals and ways of celebrating when girls begin to menstruate but nothing for women when they transition to becoming non-menstruators. Mesmer suggests some celebratory actions that might be taken, and though they are exaggerated and humorous, she makes an important point about how menopause is still a closeted phenomenon.

Clearly, we are likely to see more and more menstrual stories in the coming months.  And with all the attention being given to the fact that women are increasingly visible in the political area, it’s likely to be a mixed batch.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

MENSTRUAL MISCHIEF: South Park Meets Judy Blume

December 31st, 2015 by David Linton

Note: Inspiration for the following observation came from research and writing done by a former student of mine, Bob Newman, whose thorough analysis of the menstrual elements in adult TV cartoons is the source of the critique.

It is likely, at least for women who grew up from 1970 onward, that the most widely known menstrual reference in popular culture is Judy Blume’s path breaking 1970 kid-lit novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (For men and the general public the most widely known is probably the 1974 novel by Stephen King, Carrie, and its several film adaptations.)

southParkMore recently, the venue in which menstrual details appear most frequently is surely the long-running TV series, South Park. As befits a program whose very raison d’être is the evisceration of social taboos, received wisdom, cant, and established beliefs (not to mention a random selection of celebrities and customs), menstruation has repeatedly come in for its share of attention. So it is no surprise that Trey Parker, one of the series’ creators, would write a script that brings together the well known Judy Blume novel with menstrual taboos and ignorance in the Season 3, Episode 16 show titled Are you there God? It’s me, Jesus.

Readers familiar with the famous novel will recall that, among the many pubescent concerns they have, the girls in the book are anxious to the point of competitiveness about getting their periods, the crucially important indication that they are becoming women. They gossip and even fib about who “got it” first, and important story elements concern their school viewing of a menstrual education film and shopping for menstrual products. With this in mind, the South Park episode offers what might be seen as a raunchy version of Gloria Steinem’s essay, If Men Could Menstruate. It starts off this way (script slightly edited for length):

CARTMAN: You guys!  You guys!  Guess what?

KYLE: What, fatass!?

CARTMAN: I’ve become a man! I started puberty, you guys!

STAN: No you didn’t!

CARTMAN: Yes! I really did.

STAN: How do you know?

CARTMAN: Well, because yesterday I got my period.

KYLE: You got your what?

CARTMAN: My period, you guys.  You see, there comes a time in every child’s life when they grow up and nature takes its course by having you bleed out your ass for a few days every month.

STN: You’re making that up! (women enter from behind Eric) Miss Aliton, what’s it mean to get a period?

MISS ALITON: Well boys, ah-I don’t think I can tell you.  Ah-

STAN: Please, it’s important.

MISS ALITON: It’s when puberty hits and you bleed, you know, down there.

KYLE: Holy shit, dude! Cartman’s right!

CARTMAN: Well guys, I’m afraid I won’t be able to hang out with you on New Year’s Eve.  I have to hang out with the older crowd because now, I’m ma-ture.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.

STAN: Dude, Cartman can’t hit puberty before us.

KYLE: Well, maybe we’ll get ours soon, too.  I’m gonna go and see if I’m bleeding out my ass.

It turns out that the reason for Eric Cartman’s condition is a stomach virus that causes rectal bleeding; however, all of the boys are so envious of Cartman’s new status as a pubescent young man that the rest of the episode is spent charting their anxiety at not also having blood coming from the ass and trying to find out what a period is and how to deal with it.  One of the boys, Kyle, even lies about bleeding so he can have the status that it bestows.  And the “Margaret” of the show becomes Stan who goes about his days asking adults to explain to him what “getting your period” means, only to be met with confusing or evasive answers.   The adult who is usually the most helpful in explaining the mysteries of adulthood to them, Chef, sings a song about the period but it is of no help in dealing with Stan’s fear of being left behind his menstruating friends.

Again echoing a scene in Are You There God?, the boys go shopping for menstrual products only to become even more confused when faced with the plethora of products that line the shelves of the store. Kenny, the boy who gets killed in every episode, tries to follow the directions for tampon use and inserts it in his anus, causing him to eventually explode as he fills up with feces.

Finally, Stan becomes so frustrated in trying to get an explanation of what the period is and why he has not yet gotten one himself that he prays to Jesus for an answer. But Jesus, being a man after all, is of no help either. Finally, God intervenes and answers Stan’s questions as well as telling him that Cartman really has a virus and Kyle is faking.

The program accomplishes several of its satiric intentions by creating a parody of Judy Blume’s novel and at the same time laying out the various ways the menstrual cycle continues to be a taboo topic that children have a natural curiosity about but that adults turn into a dark mystery, particularly for boys. I wonder how the designers of health education curricula and lesson plans would feel about showing this piece in tandem with the usual corporate sponsored “Becoming A Woman” videos that are the major source of sex education in most schools.

Menstrual Pop Music: Singing the period blues

December 28th, 2015 by David Linton

Since re:Cycling launched in 2009, we’ve posted often about how film, TV, advertising and literary productions reference menstruation. However, one popular mass medium seems to have generally avoided addressing the cultural and personal presence of the menstrual cycle: popular music. But, there are a few exceptions worthy of note.

It’s not surprising that nearly all of the musical menstrual references located so far are songs by or performed by women. Consider the following four examples:

puddledive_largeThe earliest sighting so far is by the founder of Righeous Babe Records, a leading feminist artist, Ani DiFranco, on her 1993 CD titled PUDDLE DIVE. The track’s title, Blood in the Boardroom, gives a good idea of what’s in store. The lyrics  depict a scene that thousands of women in corporate settings may have experienced, or at least dreaded the possibility of having to deal with. The character in the song is the sole woman at a meeting with a room full of male executives. She unexpectedly gets her period, leaving a stain on the boardroom chair as she leaves the meeting in search of a tampon. The only woman in sight is a secretary in whom she confides in a moment of menstrual bonding. Though the secretary expresses sympathy for the “hassle” she’s dealing with, the singer sees the stain she has left on the chair as a symbol of her women’s power:

it ain’t no hassle, no, it ain’t no mess
right now it’s the only power
that I possess
these businessmen got the money
they got the instruments of death
But I can make life
I can make breath

 

A year later (1995), an aspiring young singer named Monica released MISS THANG, a CD with a track titled Don’t Take it Personal (just one of dem days.) In keeping with the tone of the rest of the album, the song has an adolescent longing, even whiny, quality, and the producers clearly thought that this cut had potential for getting air and club play as they included two different mixes of it. Though the lyrics do not make a specific reference to the singer’s cycle, the implication of the words carry the notion that she is having an uncomfortable period and that the boy who she is feeling testy towards should just wait it out until it’s no longer “one of dem days.”

Another young woman who had already achieved a good deal of attention and success in her career, Mary J Blige, released NO MORE DRAMA in 2002 containing a track simply named PMS. She introduces the song by directly addressing the women who might be listening stating, “I wanna talk to the ladies tonight/About situation I’m pretty sure y’all be able to relate to.” However, the song then quickly takes a turn and actually is addressed to men:

So don’t even look at me
See I don’t wanna hear your problem
Cause I’m having some of my own
I know it was not your fault
That I’m feelin down
I just wanna be left alone

The lyrics proceed with a virtual catalog of menstrual-related problems and discomforts backed up by a chorus of women who intone “PMS, PMS, PMS” in a dirge like incantation. At the end the singer returns to addressing the women listeners with a disheartening lament:

if you understand, understand where I’m comin from
Sing along, PMS
This is the worst part of everything
The worst part of being a woman is PMS
Give me a break, give me a break

The song takes a thoroughly negative, even catastrophic, view of the impact of having a menstrual cycle and the style of the delivery matches its depressing darkness. In contrast, a few years later country music star Dolly Parton produced an examination of the same subject in PMS Blues, which is widely available on a number of internet sites reflecting the fact that she commonly includes it in her performances at various venues. And though the gist of the song is similarly negative about the dire impact of PMS, there’s a tough amusement in the delivery and style of the approach that makes audiences cheer Parton both for having the temerity to openly perform a piece about the menstrual cycle as well as for displaying the strength and moxie to live through it and come out as spunky and tough as her persona suggests.

But, for contrast, consider a few lines by the Hip-Hop star, Eminem, the only male I’ve yet found to mention anything menstrual. In 2002, the same year that Mary J Blige’s PMS was released, Eminem released one of his most important CDs, THE EMINEM SHOW which includes a cut titled Without Me. The song is in the common category of male boasting about one’s own power and brilliance, in this case along the lines that the entire world of Rap music has been suffering due to his absence as he has had to deal with some legal problems. The frequent refrain is “It feels so empty without me.” The passing menstrual detail suggests profound male ignorance about the actual process of the menstrual cycle, though it is an attempt to use a reference to women’s reproduction in a way that grants it creative power.

Are menopause stereotypes still selling?

December 26th, 2015 by David Linton

The holiday season brings plenty of opportunities to celebrate as well as to reflect on our lives, our society, and the state of the world. So, here’s an opportunity to reflect on the state of the menstrual ecology, a look back at a post from three years ago, published on Aug. 6, 2012. This piece was about a book that, as the copyright page states, was “Published by Hallmark Books, a division of Hallmark Cards, Inc.” The publication date was 2008 and it was also credited to a company called Celestial Arts which still lists it in their catalog. However, it does not currently appear in the Hallmark online catalog and it is impossible to tell if any Hallmark stores still carry it. Which brings up some interesting questions. Has Hallmark dropped the product and, if so, why? Have they become more period and menopause positive – or at least less negative?  What prompted the publication of such a negative view of women in the first place? In any event, even the publication history of a trivial item such as this can yield insights into much larger issues and attitudes. That’s what makes studying the social construction of the menstrual cycle such a constantly fascinating topic.

HALLMARK – When you care enough to send the very . . . ??

Hallmark greeting cards and related trinkets have long exemplified wholesome, up-tempo, Norman Rockwell-styled sentimentality, often packaged in clichéd verses and trite images of puppies, kittens, flowers, babies, sunsets and other references guaranteed to elicit a smile, a tear, or a warm glow. However, as rude humor has spread its influence, expressed most vividly and viciously in celebrity roasts and the Comedy Central show, Tosh .0, Hallmark was not to be left behind. A visit to the racks of cards, books, and novelties at your local card shop reveals a wide variety of snarky items offering cheap shots at a wide variety of groups, hobbies, and practices.

Menopause001Among them are several items that attempt to poke fun at what are thought to be characteristics of women in some stage of the menstrual cycle, notably PMS or menopause. Setting aside the fact that the items perpetuate the common misuse of the term  menopause when what is meant is perimenopause, consider a small book presently on sale titled, Not Guilty by Reason of Menopause.

HallmarkIt is comprised of more than 50 pages, organized in double-page spreads, each of which offers a completion to the phrase, “You might be menopausal if. . .”

A few examples will suffice:

“. . . you think about the ‘til death do us part line in your wedding vows a little too often.”

“. . . you tell all your children they’re not your favorite.”

“. . . when your husband proposes a romantic vacation, you suggest ice fishing.”

Collectively, it amounts to an anthology of mean-spirited nastiness with little redeeming humor. Women are depicted as crazy, stupid, vicious, obese, and every other negative stereotype imaginable.

And with each insult women are expected to smile sweetly at being the butt of a bad joke. Of course, to express outrage or even mild annoyance with these sorts of put-downs is to risk of being accused of lacking a sense of humor or, worse yet, of being “politically correct,” the favored dismissive term of those who demand that their repugnant values are somehow benign or lacking in impact or intent.

We’ve come a long way from the days of 1910 when Hallmark was founded and especially from 1944 when the company adopted the slogan that is still theirs today, “When you care enough to send the very best.” In this case one might ask, “The very best of what?”

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Donald Trump wasn’t the first to get in trouble over menstrual talk

December 10th, 2015 by David Linton

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s snarky remark about how the journalist Megan Kelly spoke to him at the Republican candidates’ debate on Aug. 6, 2015. And the news is dominated by stories about how social media are reshaping every aspect of our lives, not to mention the proliferation of web sites of various kinds that explore various aspects of the menstrual cycle and promote new and well-established products.

Nearly five years ago re:Cycling reported the story of how media hacking and news coverage converged in such a way as to besmirch the reputation of one of the most highly placed members of the British Monarchy–Charles, Prince of Wales–by disclosing a casual reference he made to a menstrual product. As we explore menstrual media references this month, it seems worthwhile to take another look at this story, originally published on this blog on Aug. 29, 2011:

Menstruation, Prince Charles and The Biggest Hacking Scandal

charles_tamponIn light of the recent scandals over the phone and email hacking practices of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper editors and reporters it is surprising that there has been so little mention of the fact that the most scandalous, damaging and far reaching hacking story associated with Murdoch centered on menstruation.  The only thorough review of the links between the current story and the earlier one appears in a detailed piece in The Sun-Herald from Sydney, Australia, July 31, 2011.

I have previously written about the incident here and elsewhere, but in light of the current coverage it deserves a fresh look.

In brief: in 1989, a time before either cell phones or email were commonly available (hard to believe there was such a time!), a phone hacker recorded a phone sex exchange between Prince Charles and his then-lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles in which erotic mention was made of tampons.  Three years later the full transcript of the conversation was published in an Australian women’s magazine, New Idea, and a world-wide scandal ensued.

Now, nearly 20 years after the story broke, it is about to come back into play as further investigations proceed into the illegal hacking activities of the Murdoch media empire.  Perhaps we will finally learn how much was paid for a menstrual story that humiliated the Royal Family, who the hackers were, and who authorized its purchase and publication.

And, from a Menstrual Studies point of view, its longevity reflects the deep fascination that the menstrual cycle continues to hold for the general public.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Mediated Menstruation: The period in books, TV, film, comedy, etc.

December 3rd, 2015 by David Linton

Perhaps one of the most useful barometers of the social status of the menstrual cycle is the frequency and nature of its representation in public media. In the 1950s the three major TV network forbade the airing of ads for menstrual products, or “catamenial devices,” as they were called, before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. in order to protect children and men from exposure to these unpleasant objects. In the ensuing decades as the ubiquitous blue liquid was sopped up by quilted pads and puffy tampons, a few daring programs included menstrual elements as plot devices or elements of humor, most notably episodes of All in the Family in which Edith enters perimenopause and another in which Gloria misses a period prompting a pregnancy scare.

My own research has taken me from Prince Charles’ menstrual media mishap and the period’s presence in various Carrie incarnations  through a wide variety of literary, cinematic, and televised incidents and all the way back to biblical stories that included menstrual elements.

Presently, though far from frequent, the period now makes regular appearances in TV series and feature films. From being employed as “the menopause defense” in a murder trial on Law and Order to palace intrigue and marital plot in Game of Thrones to adolescent disgust in Superbad to a challenge to one’s masculinity in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to family drama on nearly every sit-com that has a young girl character, the menstrual cycle has steadily gained acceptance as a subject worthy of inclusion on tube and screen.

That is not to say that all of the period appearances are enlightened or lacking in previous eras’ negative slant. This month’s explorations of menstrual media will strive to examine the full range. This is not a new topic for the SMCR blog as over the past five years we have often posted many commentaries on this very subject. In fact, because we consider this topic so important, and because we believe that some of those earlier posts deserve more exposure, this month’s posts will include several of those items, among them Laura Wershler’s three-part examination of how menstruation underscores the plot of Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder.

So let us begin with a look at what, at one time, would have been the most unlikely setting for frank–even rude and racy–period references: the animated cartoon. Once a genre exclusively designated for children’s entertainment, animated films and TV series have become popular venues for adult viewing, echoing the rise of the graphic novel in print media. Shows like King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and, most path-breaking of all, South Park, are designed for adult consumption, mostly young male viewers. All four of these series (and their less successful genre companions) focus mainly on male characters and their struggles with authority, identity, and a general bewilderment in the face of a perfidious world. All of them are comedies, so when menstrual elements are introduced they are played for laughs, though the laughter is often nervous and insecure.

Family Guy Raggidy Ann DollConsider one small example that a former student of mine, Robert Newman, discovered. In a 2007 episode of Family Guy, the baby Stevie Griffin is playing with his “On the Raggedy Ann” doll.  Here’s the exchange:

STEWIE: Oh look, an On-The-Raggedy Ann doll. (pulls the string)

DOLL: It’s water weight you bastard! (he pulls the string again)

DOLL: Get off me, I’m not your whore! (he pulls the string again)

DOLL: (crying) I’m sorry, I’m just so sad.

STEWIE: Well, I guess I can still play with it three weeks out of the month.

This simple scene both sends up the PMS stereotype and legitimizes the notion of its existence. Yet at the same time it puts the period into play as a topic for satire, drama, and commentary.

This month’s posts will try to give exposure to the full range of period presence in popular media. However, it will be far from encyclopedic in its coverage as topical research in popular media is notoriously difficult and invariably omits items worthy of inclusion. So, readers are invited, urged in fact, to send it their own sightings of the period’s presence you have encountered.

Taking the Period Public: Weekend Links @re_Cycling_SMCR

October 31st, 2015 by David Linton
It seems that woman have had to hide their periods forever, as this image from the ancient Biblical story of Rachel and her father, Laban, suggests. But a band of feisty women have decided to come out of the menstrual tent to protest the secrecy surrounding the chemical content of menstrual products.

It seems that woman have had to hide their periods forever, as this image from the ancient Biblical story of Rachel and her father, Laban, suggests. But a band of feisty women have decided to come out of the menstrual tent to protest the secrecy surrounding the chemical content of menstrual products.

It looks like menstrual activism is springing up all over the continent. We at re: Cycling launched an exploration of social and political menstrual activism at the beginning of October, just weeks before Cosmopolitan magazine noted 2015 as “The Year the Period Went Public,” devoting 12 full pages to the topic in the November issue available on newstands now. Several articles from this issue, plus others covering a broad range of topics, were posted on the Cosmopolitan website in mid-October under the headline Your Guide to the Modern Period:

Why the Hell are Periods Still Taxed?

What It’s Like to Get Your Period When You’re Homeless

8 Life-Changing Ways to Stop Your Period Pain

Everything You Need to Know About Your Menstrual Flow

The 8 Greatest Menstrual Moments of 2015

What Guys Really Think About Your Period

Answers to Your Most Important Menstruation Questions, Period

8 Fixes for Your Worst Period Problems

Does Your Period Have to Be This Bad?

Donate Now to Help Every Woman Have an Easier Period

And a group of activists has taken up the cause that the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been promoting for several years: holding the makers of menstrual management products responsible for publicly posting the chemicals and other agents used in their tampons and pads. The story was reported in the Oct. 26, 2015 online edition of The New York Times.

Though other aspects of women’s reproductive lives are under attack, including access to contraceptives and abortion rights, it looks like there’s progress on the menstrual front.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Period Politics – Call or Write to Your Member of Congress!

October 15th, 2015 by David Linton

Though getting anything through Congress these days is a daunting task, there is a piece of legislation that is of special interest to anyone concerned about women’s health.  It’s a bill called The Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act (H.R. 1708),and it directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine through research whether feminine hygiene products that contain dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other chemical additives like chlorine, colorants and fragrances, pose health risks. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is the author of the bill which now has an additional six co-sponsors in Congress.

Unlike other political issues that involve women’s reproductive rights such as contraception or access to abortion, this initiative is relatively free of controversial elements (aside from the fact that it does require governmental regulation and testing, a factor that some extreme “anti-government” politicians oppose regardless of the value or intention).  And the fact that the bill does not address the contentious issues might make it appealing to elected officials seeking to counter the impression that they are generally “anti-women” when it comes to making policy.  In other words (though this might not be the best way to phrase it when writing to them), this is a chance for elected representatives to do something good for the vagina.

In addition to advocating for the legislative action, Maloney and her co-sponsors have taken the initiative of writing directly to Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) urging the agency to take the lead on the recommended research.

The press release from Congresswoman Maloney’s office spells out the details of the issue, the letter to the NIH, and  the names of its co-sponsors.  Readers who live in the districts of these individuals are encouraged to thank them for their support.  Others are urged to contact representatives in their home districts asking them to become co-sponsors and to vote in favor of it in committee and when (or if) it comes to the floor for a vote.

Here’s how to find the contact information for all member of the US Congress by zip code, probably the easiest way to find out who they are and the configuration of their districts:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

It is noteworthy that the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR) is identified as a supporter of the effort along with the Annie Appleseed Project, Liberty Feminine Care, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NaturallySavvy, Red Web Foundation, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.  Readers are invited to share this post with others and to get additional organizations involved in the effort.  

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

De-Tox and De-Tax the Period

October 9th, 2015 by David Linton

Although the social status and understanding of the menstrual cycle has (at least among industrialized and relatively better educated societies) improved slowly but perceptibly over the past 50 years, there are still many ways that menstruation is still stigmatized and used as a way to diminish women. Period jokes, PMS slurs, and even jibes at women’s capacity to hold political office or conduct political debates abound. For these reasons the SMCR has often broadened the scope of its efforts beyond the realm of “research” stated in the organization’s name to include artistic endeavors as well as political and social activism.

Social activism includes a variety of campaigns such as provision of menstrual management products to homeless and incarcerated women or raising awareness of the environmental impact of disposable products. In the area of political action there are two separate initiatives currently in the works. In order to highlight the relationship between the two efforts in conjunction with Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) 2015, I coined the slogan De-Tox & De-Tax The Period.

The De-Tox part of the two-pronged campaign focuses on a piece of legislation that has been introduced into the U.S. Congress by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, H.R. 1708: Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015. The aim of the bill is to require the regulation and testing of the content and manufacture of menstrual management products. A separate blog post later this month will spell out the details of the bill and suggest ways of advocating on its behalf.

The De-Tax aspect of the political effort concerns the levying of sales taxes on the purchase of tampons, pads, and other similar products. In the U.S. this is a difficult topic to mobilize around since sales tax policies vary widely as they are levied under state, city or other municipal authorities. Currently only five states have exempted menstrual products from sales taxes: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts. See this Fusion post for complete state-by-state details.

In some other countries where sales taxes are nation-wide mandates, organizing against them is easier. For instance, a drive in Canada was successful in garnering wide support and led to the repeal of the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all menstrual products as of July 1st, 2015. Similarly, activists in Australia have succeeded in raising a nation-wide drive to mobilize support for the elimination of menstrual product taxation.

Simply put, this is a discriminatory, gender-based tax that is paid almost exclusively by women.

In New York City there is a move in the City Council to address the problem; however, the NYC budget structure is linked to the state legislature’s approval so the drive faces numerous bureaucratic and procedural roadblocks. A separate item dealing with this topic will be posted later in the month.

For now, the first step toward bringing about change is to ascertain what the tax practice is in any particular setting and, where anti-women menstrual taxes exist, to educate both elected officials and the general public about them. Even for those individuals who can easily afford the extra fee on their monthly purchases, the issue has symbolic significance that warrants attention. It’s taxing enough just to cope with the social demands placed upon women. It’s time to eliminate the additional fee.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Menarche on Degrassi: The Next Generation – Emma’s Dilemma

September 30th, 2015 by David Linton

Emma and Manny from Degrassi: The Next Generation

Menarche month began at re: Cycling with reference to the brilliant first period talk Roseanne gave her daughter Darlene in a 1989 episode of Roseanne. We’ve chosen to end it with another TV reference from the beloved Canadian series of series named for the fictional street near which it is set–Degrassi. 

The word “menarche” is commonly defined with reference to the biological changes that occur within a female’s reproductive system at the point when the menstrual cycle begins to function. However, the onset of menstruation is also a social occurrence that has been layered with significance in every culture and time. In contemporary societies with “advanced” media of communication, menarche has been depicted in a wide variety of ways, sometimes reflecting prevailing taboos and superstitions, and at others in ways that are informative or even liberating. The focus is often on what I have labeled “menstrual transactions,” that is, the way interactions with other individuals, frequently boys or men, structure the meaning of menstruation for both the girl and others in her surroundings. This post explores one example of how this transitional moment in a girl’s life has been represented in a broadcast television series.

 


Emma’s Dilemma

One of the most positive and explicit portrayals of a girl’s first period appeared in the popular Canadian series directed at a young audience, DeGrassi: The Next Generation. Emma, the main character in the series, a girl known for her activism and responsible behavior, gets her period while sitting outside of school talking to her best friend. She is wearing a light-colored skirt and in several shots a bright red stain is visible on the back. On this particular day Emma and her friend, Manny, are scheduled to give an oral book report in front of their class and the only thing they can find for Emma to wear is a pair of gym shorts that are much too large for her. As they give the report, two young boys sitting in the front row tease her for her baggy shorts asking, “Has Emma peed her pants?”  She silences and stuns them by frankly responding, “No, I just got my period, for the first time.” They shrink in their seats. However, a somewhat more mature boy sitting in the back of the room, one who Emma has a flirtation with, is aroused from his torpor to a state of interest and appreciation for her courage as well as her implicit sexuality.

The DeGrassi clip demonstrates a rich variety of menstrual transactions. Emma’s close girlfriend comes to her rescue and even another girl, who is normally antagonistic toward Emma, gives her a pad and some “womanly” advice. Menstrual needs supersede social competition or status differences–a classic case of menstrual bonding. Perhaps most interesting is the behavior of the boys. The two young kids who tease Emma are silenced and stunned by her blunt assertion. I think of this as an effective use of her WMD–her Weapon of Menstrual Destruction. In contrast, the more mature boy, appreciates her for her assertiveness.

Missing from the four-minute clip of the transaction described above is an earlier scene in which Emma and her mother are seen walking through a shopping mall eating ice cream cones where a leering man says as they pass, “Hmmm, I’d like to lick that.” Emma shrinks away but her mother turns and confronts the man saying, “Don’t you ever talk to a woman that way!” The scene acts as a role modeling moment for Emma who replicates it in her response to the teasing boys.

Unfortunately, not all TV menarche moments are this positive. But let’s hope for more first period talks from moms like Roseanne and more socially significant, self-structured menstrual experiences from girls like Emma.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

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.