Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

SMCR Member Profile: Reducing menstrual stigma

July 27th, 2016 by Editor

Margaret L. (Peggy) Stubbs, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Chatham University, Pittsburgh PA

Dr. Stubbs and her students challenge menstrual stigma.

Dr. Stubbs (front row, second from left) and her students challenge menstrual stigma.

When and/or why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I’ve been a member of the Society since 1981 when I attended my first conference. I learned about the SMCR after I decided that my dissertation topic would address menstruation.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
Before going back to school to get my PhD, I was fortunate to be able to teach in an alternative school in Cambridge, MA. This was an eye opening experience in many ways—not the least of which involved what happened when the girls in my 6th – 8th grade classroom got their periods. They came to school and announced this, freely and joyfully, to our co-ed class!

This made me think about my own experience which was not celebratory but not at all dreadful. My mother, following what her friends were doing, gave me a little booklet, which I read, and some pads provided by a product manufacturer. To the best of my ability I tried to manage the paraphernalia. Back then, pads were fastened to a belt and a thin blue strip on one side indicated the bottom of the pad. This detail escaped me and for about a year and a half I wore the pad with the wrong side up, which was very uncomfortable. Eventually a friend’s older sister enlightened me in a very secretive conversation. How times have changed! 

Sometime later, both my then-husband and my then-primary-health-care doctor attributed some of my sad feelings to my cycle, but this never seemed right to me. There is a great comment in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a play written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin,which went something like: “My husband cheated on me; I have two kids and no day care; I’m broke; my car died…and you think it’s PMS??” Not my circumstances then, but this perspective about my own situation rang more true to me.

When it came time to choose a dissertation topic, I decided to focus on the menstrual cycle, in part to make sense of my own experiences and those of my students. My initial literature search described menstruation as a debilitating, even pathological phenomenon. Empirical research derived largely from psychoanalytic theory or data collected with the Moos (1968) Menstrual Distress Questionnaire, a research instrument that made it difficult to demonstrate any positive aspects of menstruating.

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area? Why?
Against this discouraging view of the cycle, a new research approach was taking shape. Early research by Brooks-Gunn, Ruble, Parlee and Sommers which stressed a bio-psychosocial approach to the study of menstrual experience, captured my interest. I learned of two local researchers, Elissa Koff and Jill Rierdan, who introduced me to SMCR and were gracious enough to take me on as a research assistant in their work on early adolescent girls’ menstrual attitudes and experiences. These, and my first SMCR conference, were foundational relationship for me, both personally and professionally.

At that first conference and subsequent ones, established SMCR researchers like Ann Voda, Phyllis Mansfield, and Alice Dan welcomed me and mentored me. This group cares about encouraging one another to engage in rigorous research that accurately reflects menstrual experience. Our priority to mentor newcomers and one another is one of the things I treasure about SMCR.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
Although I am newly retired, I hope to use my time to continue with my own research and also with documenting SMCR history. I have long been interested in the relationship of menstrual attitudes to menstrual experience and care deeply about reducing menstruation stigma. Reducing menstruation stigma calls for a wider recognition of the importance of menstruation to general health and well-being and I am committed to promoting evidence-based menstrual education to menstruators of all ages.   

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on menstruation?
Mentioning menstruation: A stereotype threat that diminishes cognition?; Wister, J., Stubbs, M.L. & Shipman C.  (2013); Sex Roles, 68(1-2), 19-31, January 2013

List of publications. 

Menstrual Health Education: How and why to make it better with Evelina Sterling, Menstruation Matters blog, January 2016.

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
When I began my work, both clinicians and health-care practitioners held a primarily negative view of menstrual experience, though of course, negative menstrual experience does exist for some. There is still work to be done to fully document and appreciate menstrual life and its relationship to health and well-being more broadly. Nevertheless, it is gratifying that the importance of menstruation is finally getting some positive press! It is also gratifying to see increased international dialogue among menstrual health advocates.

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
Menstrual cycle research promises to help people understand this aspect of healthy development as it occurs for themselves and the people they love. Research can prompt a reconsideration and hopefully a rejection of negative menstrual mythology that holds people back from realizing both individual and collective potential.   

Literary Menses in “Transgressions” by Sarah Dunant

July 23rd, 2016 by David Linton

A review of literary history might lead one to conclude that menstruation was a generally uncommon phenomenon, especially if one’s reading history was drawn from the work of male authors. Despite all their graphic sexual depictions, the women of Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, and a host of others never had to deal with having a menstrual cycle. Understandably, this is not the case with many women novelists and a few males, and over the years this blog has taken up the challenge of exploring how menstrual life has appeared in fiction, for example in previous posts about the work of Ann Patchett, Haruki Murakami, and Margaret Atwood, to name a few.  And, we have also cited the work of Dana Medoro whose path-breaking work, Bleeding in America, delved into the menstrual themes of the few American authors who treated the topic with particular insight.

Now Kelly Renn has drawn to our attention another noteworthy perspective in Sarah Dunant’s 1997 novel, Transgressions.

Analysis by Kelly Renn:

TransgressionsIn the novel, Elizabeth, a very independent and successful woman, is alone after the break-up of her seven-year relationship. She is dealing with all the emotions that one goes through but she also begins to think that she’s losing her mind because weird things keep happening around her large, empty house. At first she thinks it’s her ex, then she thinks it’s a ghost, or her own madness. We find out that it is a stalker which sounds predictable, as though the plot is heading in a conventional direction, but it isn’t. The stalker hides in her house one night with the intention to rape her. Elizabeth wakes up to find him on her bed, waiting. Instead of being raped, she somewhat seduces him and allows him to have sex with her, and even though the entire time she is petrified and violated by the act, she feels that it is the only way to save her own life. Later that night after she has gone to bed and washed the sheets she wakes up to find blood. Her own. Here’s the way Dunant describes Elizabeth’s response:

Her fingers came out red and sticky. She pulled back the covers. There was blood everywhere, caught in her pubic hair, smeared over her thighs, and a fat stain of it soaking into the sheets.  The panic turned to jubilation. She was bleeding early, her body joining in the victory, sluicing out all final remains of him, even down to the lining of her womb. There would be no need for doctors or morning-after pills now. She was doing her own healing…. 

It made her think about how rarely periods featured in books. Could it be that ficitional women menstruate less often than real ones? Clarissa, Anna Karenina, Scarlett O’Hara–not a soiled sanitary pad among them. The few books in which she could remember the heroines bleeding were ones set in convent schools–studies in hothouse guilt where the only acceptable blood was the miraculous kind, transubstantiating from alcohol to plasma in the communion cups. 

And a few paragraphs later..

It wouldn’t have been the same for him, she thought. What would he have done if he had pulled his prick out of her only to find it bleeding? Would the fear of one kind of blood have led him to another? Hammers and nails. Rape and crucifixion-maybe Catholic girls have learned more about life than they realize. 

She slid her finger up inside herself, feeling the wad of compressed cotton and the moistness already gathering at its edge. She ran her finger down the glass, leaving a smear on the pane. “See that” she said, softly into the glass. “My blood’s stronger than your sperm.” 

It turns out that not only does the character have a surprisingly distanced and scholarly perspective on her own rape, but she is able to speculate on all manner of gender politics in the aftermath.  The scene raises some important questions. Why did she not report the assault to the police? Will she? Would the onset of one’s period in such a circumstance have any effect on the ability to gather DNA evidence? Unfortunately, none of these questions are addressed in the novel, but it points out the fact that women writers are likely to bring perspectives to such topics that are far removed from any that male authors would entertain.

Kelly M. Renn is a maternity rights activist and Labor Doula. She is also an Early Childhood Educator and outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive rights. Her website is KellyBellyBirth.com.

SMCR Member Profile: Leading the way on menstrual activism research

July 19th, 2016 by Editor

Chris Bobel, PhD (Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee), Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies, University of Massachusetts—Boston

Image of Chris Bobel by Lunette

Image of Chris Bobel by Lunette

When and/or why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I gave a paper at a conference and in the Q &A, someone suggested I contact Elizabeth Kissling who was doing similar work. In her gracious and generous reply to my email, Liz told me about SMCR, urging me to join and attend the next conference. So I did. I felt like I found my tribe—like-minded feminist scholars, activists and others who saw the value in studying menstrual health while so many of my colleagues just did not ‘get’ it. I remain eternally grateful for this community.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
It grew out of my interest in alternativity and micro-level social change. I had written a book (based on my doctoral dissertation) about what I called ‘natural mothers’—many of whom cloth diaper, co-sleep, breastfeed beyond the second year, homeschool, etc. I thought I had heard about most of the DIY approaches to home and body care. But I was wrong. At the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival one summer, I attended a menstrual activism workshop (Ax Tampax presented by the now defunct Montreal-based Bloodsisters). Here, I learned how menstrual health and menstrual care are fundamentally political and deeply feminist issues. I learned how we actually have OPTIONS to care for our menstruating bodies. I felt like I had glimpsed a rich and wonderful world of new activism and I had to know more. That began a 7-year period of study that resulted in my book New Blood, the first book-length study of menstrual activism. When I wrote that book, I had no idea how much the movement would grow and spread. I worried I was chasing something relatively small, fringy and inconsequential. But now we are seeing the mainstreaming of menstruation across the globe!

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area?
When I accessed SMCR, I met Phyllis Mansfield, Joan Chrisler, Alice Dan, Ingrid-Johnston-Robledo and Peggy Stubbs—and I read their work and realized how much important scholarship on menarche, menstruation and menopause existed. I was impressed by the spot-on feminist critiques of cycle-stopping contraception—a really helpful model of calling out the manipulation of science against women’s best interests. And I was drawn to Liz Kissling’s work. I learned a lot from her book Capitalizing on the Curse, a smart analysis of how the insidious marriage of capitalism and misogyny plays out on women’s bodies. 

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
Menstrual activism—which is moving at breakneck speed. I am fascinated by the body as a site of resistance, which gives rise to so many interesting and provocative interventions. But I am also interested in well-meaning activist efforts that sometimes lose their way, especially in the global development space.

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on menstruation?
Most of my published work is archived here.

What is your current research or work in this area?
I am working on a book based on my fieldwork and textual analysis of 40+ menstrual hygiene management (MHM) initiatives in the global south. I am wrestling with how many of these campaigns, while benevolently motivated, may in fact construct an overly-simplified consumerist approach to a complex set of issues. And these ‘fixes’ may, ironically, ultimately accommodate rather than resist menstrual shame and secrecy. 

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
It has grown and diversified, but let me just address the huge growth in interest in menstruation.

People across sectors—journalists, NGO founders and staff, social entrepreneurs, funders, state agents, and scholars—are finding their way to this issue. I wish I could put my finger on why NOW menstruation is having its moment. There’s been scholarship, there’s been activism, but it is now getting attention. Is it because of social media? Is it new products on the market? Is it related to cultural shifts to challenge the gender binary? Part of the socially media-enabled capacity to see activist potential in EVERYTHING? The newest wave of seeing the political in the personal? Probably a bit of all of the above?

But why not sooner? I think marginalization of the research is the consequence of the devious brilliance of menstrual stigma. We don’t research what we don’t know much about and we don’t know much about what we are find dirty, shameful, inconvenient. I think there has been, until recently, a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance breeding shame and shame breeding ignorance that we are now interrupting. I just hope we don’t cede this movement to the product makers. The menstrual revolution won’t be meaningful if all we end up with are better products in hands that already have them and commercial products in the hands of those who currently use rags. What we need much, much more is an attitudinal shift. If we don’t challenge the very idea that menstruation is shameful, no product in the world, no latrine, no disposal system, no puberty health curriculum, will substantially and durably change the lives of menstruators. 

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

“A Bleeding Shame” on BBC Radio 4 tackles period taboos

July 13th, 2016 by Editor

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“Being period positive means you understand how the menstrual cycle works, and if you have one, you can chart your own cycle. You aren’t afraid to ask questions about menstruation. It’s not being afraid to leak and not picking on people if they happen to leak during their periods.”

SMCR member and Period Positive founder Chella Quint was interviewed recently for a radio documentary about period taboos for BBC Radio. Chella says she was the first one interviewed. In an email Chella wrote that “the producer said she wanted my help to shape the conversation! The only down side is I didn’t get to ‘reply’ to anyone else, and I’d love to have had a proper chat with the P&G rep.” 

Here’s what Jane Reck, the show’s producer, said about Chella’s contribution: 

I interviewed Chella for the BBC Radio 4 documentary A Bleeding Shame which examined attitudes to menstruation and why it’s important for all of us to be ble to have a normal conversation about periods. Chella’s contribution to the programme provided invaluable educational, social and historical context. She has a way of being able to get across really important messages in a thought-provoking style combined with her straight-talking humour. Public engagement at its finest! 

Listen to A Bleeding Shame which originally aired on BBC Radio on June 24, 2016. The program begins at the 3:25 minute mark of the recording. This introduction appears on the BBC 4 Radio website: 

Half of us have them, human existence depends on them, but we don’t like to talk about them! From the ‘The curse’ to visits of Aunt Flo, euphemisms for periods reflect a range of attitudes from embarrassment to fear. Jane Garvey discovers how the stigma surrounding menstruation is being challenged in science, sport, education and comedy. Former tennis player Annabel Croft, comedian Jenny Éclair, sports physiologist Richard Burden, Roisin Donnelly from Procter and Gamble, Period Positive campaigner Chella Quint and a group of teenagers, all provide their thoughts on the importance of being able to talk about menstruation.

SMCR Member Profile: Researching the menstrual cycle for four decades

July 11th, 2016 by Editor

Joan C. Chrisler, Ph.D., The Class of ’43 Professor of Psychology, Connecticut College, and Editor of SMCR’s journal Women’s Reproductive Health

Chrisler34smallWhen and/or why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I joined the Society in 1981 and attended my first conference that summer at the suggestion of Sharon Golub, an SMCR board member whom I met at an Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) conference. Sharon had taken an interest in my dissertation research which concerned creative thinking across the menstrual cycle. I was impressed by the interdisciplinarity of the SMCR conference program, the friendliness of the attendees, and the presence of women’s health activists. I consider SMCR and AWP my most important scholarly “homes.”

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
My doctorate is in general experimental psychology. I was particularly interested in social psychology and physiological psychology (now part of neuroscience), and was looking for a topic that combined both. As a feminist activist, I thought it would be great to work on the psychology of women. In the library one day, flipping through dusty old volumes of Psychological Abstracts, I found some menstrual cycle research, which I soon realized was the perfect topic for me. This led to my master’s thesis on “Attitudes, Sex-role Orientation, and the Premenstrual Syndrome,” and my dissertation called “Creativity and the Menstrual Cycle.”

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area?
My MA thesis was inspired by the studies of PMS by Mary Brown Parlee and Sharon Golub. Sharon served as a member of my dissertation committee and encouraged me to think broadly about women’s health. Later I was inspired by Alice Dan, Ann Voda, and Nancy Fugate Woods, and I have benefited enormously by discussing research ideas with fellow SMCR members Peggy Stubbs, Randi Koeske, Maria Luisa Marván, Ingrid Johnston-Robledo, and Jenny Gorman.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
I remain interested in premenstrual syndrome, especially cultural aspects (e.g., how it is portrayed by the media, what women think it means). I’ve done research on attitudes toward menstruation and menopause, as well as attitudes toward women in various phases of reproductive life. I have also studied memories of menarche, cognitive and behavioral changes across the cycle, and cross-cultural differences in menstrual experiences and attitudes.

Where can readers of our blog go to read about your work on menstruation?
Readers who belong to Research Gate (a social networking site for scientists), can access all of my work there.

My most recent paper, “Queer Periods” (about experiences with menstruation in the transgender community), is in press in Culture, Health, and Sexuality. Epub here.

Other recent works include Body Appreciation and Attitudes Toward Menstruation published in Body Image (2015), my article on ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward women in various stages of reproductive life published in Health Care for Women International (2014), and my article on self-silencing, perfectionism, and PMS published in Women’s Reproductive Health (2014). I thank my co-authors for their contributions to these articles.

What is the most interesting, important or applicable thing your research has revealed about women’s experience of menstruation?
I think what’s most interesting is the wide range of attitudes toward menstruation and menstruating women. Some women have very positive views, many have very negative views, but most have a mix of positive and negative views—although they don’t always realize that until they are asked. I hope that my work in this area will contribute to improvement in the ways we teach girls about the menstrual cycle so they will have more positive attitudes toward menstruation and more positive attitudes toward the body in general.

What is your current research or work in this area?
I’m writing up a study I did with SMCR members Maria Luisa Marván, Jenny Gorman, and Angela Barney on attitudes toward menarche in Mexico and the U.S. As well, Angela and I are working on an article about sizeism in the health care system, and Angela, Jenny, and I are about to begin data collection for a study about the confluence of sexism and ageism.

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
It has become increasingly biomedical, and fewer feminist scholars seem to be interested in it. PMS was a hot topic when I began to study it around 1980, but now (although we don’t really know much more about it) everyone thinks that all women “have it” and that it is due to normal hormonal fluctuation. There seems to be even fewer people studying the menstrual cycle now than when I started. The popularity of cycle-suppressing contraceptives and their potential effects on women’s bodies and psychology are areas that really need more research.

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
This is an important topic for almost all women and for many transgender menstruators. It is interesting to study, and it is political. We have a chance to make a difference by working in this field. And SMCR’s conferences are terrific!

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

A new name for PCOS, a biomarker for period pain, and other Weekend Links

July 9th, 2016 by Editor

Although only a few weeks into summer, reproductive health has been no stranger to the newswire and popular culture. Personal testimony is at the forefront of many of the headlines, drawing attention to the lived experience of being a menstruator and having a vagina.

Photo by Laura Wershler

Photo by Laura Wershler

  • PCOS will now be known as metabolic reproductive syndrome. The name change comes after years of deliberation between doctors and women regarding the endocrine system disorder. The name change hopes to clear up confusion regarding the disorder, treatment plans and research.
  • “Not all women have periods. Not all who have period are women.” In an open letter to the transgendered community, RubyCup apologizes for their oversight in their most recent survey.
  • Earlier this year, period pain was cited as being “almost as bad” as having a heart attack, and yet little innovation has occurred within the field of menstrual pain management… until now. As reported in ScienceAlert, University of California researchers have identified the protein, hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) as a marker for menstrual pain and PMS. In their study of almost 3,000 participants, they found that women with higher levels of hs-CRP experienced more extreme symptoms than those with lower levels. Why? It’s all about inflammation. To quote from the article by Fiona Macdonald:

“Premenstrual mood symptoms, abdominal cramps/back pain, appetite cravings/weight gain/bloating, and breast pain – but not headache – appear to be significantly and positively related to elevated hs-CRP levels, a biomarker of inflammation, although with modestly strong associations, even after adjustment for multiple confounding variables,” the researchers report in the Journal of Women’s Health.

By finding a biological measure for period pain and PMS symptoms, the hope is that better treatment options will be made available. For starters, why not try an anti-inflammatory diet?

  • Maya Rudolph’s Vajingle for Seventh Generation adds to the already trending #ComeClean campaign led by Women’s Voices of the Earth. The jingle notes the importance of caring for one’s vagina by pinpointing the chemicals found in traditional feminine hygiene products and encourages menstruators to switch to better products or products with natural ingredients.
  • Have a story to share about your uterus? You are not alone. Inspired by her own relationship to her uterus, Abby Norman created, Ask Me About My Uterus. The website features real-life interviews from all walks of life centered on experiences one has with their uterus, including endometriosis, miscarriage and of course, periods.
  • This week on Twitter, the #pantychallenge went viral, but not in the way it was intended. What started as one woman’s Facebook post about her “clean panties” has spurred a much-needed conversation about vaginal discharge. Yes, vaginal discharge does exist and thanks to the #pantychallenge, helpful advice for what is and is not healthy discharge is trending.
  • Natasha Fogarty’s breastfeeding photo shoot is catching headlines. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, just three months after having her son, Natasha mourns the loss of her left breast through a beautiful photomontage of her last moments of breastfeeding.
  • Gourmet coffee, lounge chairs, yoga classes… more and more workspaces are co-opting amenities to suit most every need, why not provide co-working spaces with menstrual products?
  • Turns out women do know what they want. While levels of testosterone have been used as a marker to measure female sexual desire, new research suggests that hormones play little, if no part when it comes to desire.
  • Researchers in Italy have identified a link between an obscure virus, HHV-6A and infertility. While herpes viruses have been found to contribute to male infertility, HHV-6A is the first virus to be linked to female infertility. While more research is needed, the virus is transferred through saliva, kissing, and replicates in the salivary glands.
  • Access to menstrual products is a fundamental right and one that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Menstrual equity legislation made history in New York with proposed bills that will offer free tampons and pads in public schools, shelters and jails. While a step in the right direction, ensuring quality products are made available is key. For female inmates, access to menstrual products is limiting and even when available, the options and space to care for ones period are limiting.
  • Curious about who makes up the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR)? Check out the latest member profile blog posts on Menstruation Matters. Share your own research and join the conversation by becoming a member.

SMCR Member Profile: Exploring attitudes towards menstruation

July 6th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

Jessica Barnack-Tavlaris, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, The College of New Jersey

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My PhD is in Experimental Health/Social Psychology, and I have a Master’s Degree in Public Health Specializing in Epidemiology

When did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?

I joined SMCR in 2003 when I was a graduate student in my Psychology Master’s program.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?

I was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 15 and the disease has impacted my life in many ways. Learning about the complexities of women’s health in college and graduate school validated many of the experiences I was having in my own life, and led me to want to pursue this work in my career.

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area?

Dr. Ingrid Johnston-Robledo and Dr. Joan Chrisler have both been my mentors for many years, and I continue to be inspired by their work. Dr. Johnston-Robledo first involved me in her research when I was an undergraduate at SUNY Fredonia, and I went on to work with Dr. Chrisler in my Psychology Master’s program at Connecticut College.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?

I am primarily interested in attitudes toward menstruation, menstrual suppression, and how women are affected by menstrual stigma.

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on menstruation?

“Kiss Your Period Good-Bye”: Menstrual Suppression in the Popular Press, Ingrid Johnson-Robledo, Jessica L. Barnack-Tavlaris and Stephanie Wares, Sex Roles, 54 (5): 353-360, November 2006. 

The Experience of Chronic Illness in Women: A Comparison Between Women with Endometriosis and Women with Chronic Migraine Headaches; Jessica L. Barnack and Joan C. Chrisler, Women & Health, 46(1):115-33,  2007.

The Medicalization of the Menstrual Cycle: Menstruation as a Disorder, (pp. 61-75), The Wrong Prescription for Women: How Medicine and Media Create a “Need” for Treatments, Drugs, and Surgery, Ed. Maureen C. McHugh and Joan C. Chrisler, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2015.

What is your current research or work in this area?

I recently conducted a study that examined perceptions of women who openly disclose their menstrual status; this paper is currently under review. I am also working with some students on a study examining ways to encourage menstruation-related helping behaviors (e.g., signing a petition against menstrual product taxation).

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

 

What Newsweek got wrong about menstruation in India and developing countries

July 1st, 2016 by Editor

COMMENTARY by Sinu Joseph, Managing Trustee, Mythri Speaks Trust

We—activists, journalists, social workers and the new breed of social entrepreneurs who use menstruation to make a living—like to think that the work we do is very important, especially if it caters to girls and women in India, Africa or another part of the “developing world.” And even if we don’t work in a developing world, our opinions about it are truly note-worthy. Take for instance the April 2016, Newsweek article on menstruation. After the initial brief description of the situation in her backyard, Abigail Jones, writes:

If all this sounds unfair, try getting your period in the developing world. Taboos, poverty, inadequate sanitary facilities, eager health education and an enduring culture of silence create an environment in which girls and women are denied what should be a basic right: clean, affordable menstrual materials and safe, private spaces to care for themselves. At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). In rural India, one in five girls drops out of school after they start menstruating, according to research by Nielsen and Plan India, and of the 355 million menstruating girls and women in the country, just 12 percent use sanitary napkins.

What actually is unfair is the poor research and judgemental views made by the author about India and developing countries.

A menarche celebration in India.

A menarche celebration in India.

Nowhere but in India and a few other ancient societies do you find menarche being celebrated with family, friends and neighbours, including men. During these rituals, it is the girl’s maternal uncle who brings gifts and goodies, while the elderly women teach her how to manage her period. When she gets married, every month during her period, her husband takes over all household chores, including cooking and caring for the children, so that she can rest. What “meager health education” and “culture of silence” is Jones talking about?

As for hygienic management, is there a study on how “hygienic” are the ways of women in the developed countries? What if I, as an Indian, wrote an article about how people in the West use paper and not water (as we do in India) to clean their bottoms? What if I did studies that showed how using water is more hygienic than paper because of the rashes, odour and mess that paper causes? And when women in the West refuse to talk about how they clean their bottom, what if I start a Bottom Hygiene Management campaign to break the taboo and shame around cleaning bottoms?

How an article in Newsweek could quote from a questionable study by The Neilson Company and Plan India–that appears to be published nowhere and is unavailable on the Internet–is remarkable. And worse, most media stories on menstruation in India and developing countries repeat the same information without validating it. (Editor’s Note: Despite our best efforts, we were only able to locate a “Confidential and Proprietary” PPT presentation summarizing the study.)

Our recent review of about 100 research papers on menstruation in India and the rest of the world showed that much of what we assume and what is said about menstruation in developing countries is far from the truth. For instance:

♦  The Neilson study statistic that 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins is incorrect and can be verified with several other research studies done in India. WASH United representatives agree this study is problematic.

♦  Regarding girls missing school due to menstruation, the numbers are 17% in Canada, 21% in Washington D.C, 24% in Singapore, and 26% in Australia and 38% in Texas, which is greater than or equal to the numbers in developing countries.

♦  There is little evidence to prove that use of cloth causes reproductive tract infections (RTIs).

Most revealing are the menstrual health indicators. While 22% to 54% of women in UK, US and Australia suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding, the numbers range from 1.6% to 18.7% in India and 1% to 35% in other developing countries. Similar differences are seen in occurrence of other menstrual disorders such as dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and oligomenorrhea (cycles farther apart than 36 days but shorter than 180 days).

Yes, the Newsweek article was a big victory for many women in the West who are fighting for menstrual equality and removal of the tampon tax, and the story must have helped their cause. But in the process, they overlooked what’s being said about India and developing countries. We hope that in future amends are made and facts are checked before making sweeping statements about menstruation in the developing world.

Just because developing countries have a very different way of doing things, it does not mean that they are backward. It simply means that it is different. And refreshingly so, if we cared to understand it.

A comprehensive write-up of our study and the referred papers can be viewed at this link:  Menstruation: Rhetoric, Research, Reality.

Sinu Joseph is an educator, writer, counsellor, and activist who has travelled extensively across rural India interacting with more than 17,000 adolescent girls and women to explore practices and problems first hand. 

SMCR Member Profile: Examining the “menstrual transaction”

June 29th, 2016 by Editor

David Linton, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Marymount Manhattan College

When and/or why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?David Linton
As a scholar of communication and symbolic meaning, the social/cultural construction of the menstrual cycle is the most interesting human phenomenon I have every studied. And there is no other organization that provides better access to other researchers and scholarship on the topic.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
Over a dozen years ago the scandal involving Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales) that came to be know as “Cammiligate” piqued my interest in how the taboos and images of menstruation have become embedded in social practices and superstitions.  Then, upon discovering that the famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey had failed to delve into how menstrual processes impact people’s sexual practices I realized that there was a gap in the research record that deserved to be addressed.

Which researcher, writer, or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area? Why?
Several: Leonard Shlain’s Sex, Time and Power, which claimed that women invented the concept of time due to the coincidental timing of the moon’s phases and the menstrual cycle; several of Margaret Mead’s studies of menstrual rules in tribal cultures; Chris Knight’s examination of African practices in Blood Relations; Dana Medoro’s The Bleeding of America, a study of the presence of menstrual elements in major American novels. All of these and others helped me see the centrality of the menstrual cycle in efforts to define and structure the human condition, especially notions of the meaning of gender.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
I work mainly in the area of social practices, particularly in how men and women relate to one another in the presence of the period. The term I use to describe this phenomenon is “the menstrual transaction.”

Where can our blog visitors go to read your work on menstruation?
In addition to being a regular contributor to the SMCR blog, having produced dozens of entries since the blog’s inception, I have produced several book chapters, journal articles and reviews, such as:

Camillagate: Prince Charles and the Tampon ScandalSex Roles, Vol. 54, Nos. 5/6, March 2006.

Keeping SecretsGriffith Review, Summer 2008-2009.

Crossing the Menstrual LineEmbodied Resistance, Ed. Chris Bobel and Samantha Kwan, Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2011.

The Menstrual MasqueradeDisability and Passing, Ed. Jeffrey Brune and Daniel Wilson, Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2013.

 Menstruation’s Cultural History: a review of Menstruation and the female Body in Early Modern EnglandWomen’s Reproductive Health, 2(1), 69-71, 2015.

What is the most interesting, important or applicable thing your research has revealed about women’s experience of menstruation?
That although menstruation is nearly exclusively a biological phenomenon that only woman experience, men and women participate in the construction of its meaning in a socially constructed manner.

What is your current research or work in this area?
I have recently been examining the representation of menstruation in the Bible and cultural manifestation of the Biblical stories and admonitions as well as the ongoing project of discovering literary and media menstrual details and attempting to understand their purposes. In addition, I am involved in some of the activist campaigns such as the effort to remove sales tax levies on menstrual products and to require testing and disclosure of the content of menstrual products.

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
Yes, there is broader interest and wider acceptance of it as a legitimate subject for serious research. 

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
Simply that understanding both the social and the biological workings of the menstrual cycle is key to a better understanding of gender construction as well as to providing better health care to all women.

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

SMCR Member Profile: Researching attitudes and emotions toward menstruation

June 27th, 2016 by Editor

Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, Chair, Department of Psychology, Colorado College; BA, Smith College, 1985; PhD, Stanford University, 1990

TA Roberts Seneca FallsWhen and why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I believe I joined SMCR in 2008 or 2009, because I discovered the society through my friendship with Ingrid Johnston-Robledo

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
As I theorized regarding sexual objectification and the ensuing self-objectification that occurs for many girls and women, I began to wonder if girls’ and women’s internalizing a sexually objectified view of one’s self (prioritizing appearance over other aspects of the body such as competence) led to poorer attitudes toward their body’s more creaturely functions such as menstruation.

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area?
Jane Ussher’s book The Psychology of the Female Body. This, plus Simone Beauvoir’s The Second Sex got me connecting these two ideas of the internalization of the male gaze and the repudiation of the body’s reproductive functions.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
Attitudes and emotions toward menstruation.

Connections between objectification, self-objectification, and menstrual attitudes.

Menstrual justice.

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on menstruation?
Pursuing menstrual justice for women in prisons, Menstruation Matters, February 11, 2016

Restriction and Renewal, Pollution and Power, Constraint and Community: The Paradoxes of Religious Women’s Experiences of Menstruation, Nicki C. Dunnavant and Tomi-Ann Roberts, Sex Roles, 68(1-2), December 2011

“Feminine Protection”: The Effects of Menstruation on Attitudes Towards Women, Tomi-Ann Roberts et al, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(2):131-139, May 2002

Female Trouble: The Menstrual Self-Evaluation Scale And Women’s Self-ObjectificationPsychology of Women Quarterly 28(1):22-26, February 2004

Wrestling with nature, Tomi-Ann Roberts and Jamie L. Goldenberg; The Self Conscious Emotions: Theory and Research, Publisher: Guilford; Editors: Jessica L. Tracy, Richard W. Robins, June Price Tangney, pp.389-406

What is the most interesting, important or applicable thing your research has revealed about women’s experience of menstruation?
That women have internalized shame and disgust about their own bodies to such a degree that they go to lengths to not touch it or learn about it. This may be rooted in our existential fears about our own animality and mortality. The media’s obsession with sanitized, deodorized and sexually objectified bodies provides the fuel for this problematic relationship women have to their own and other women’s menstruation.

What is your current research or work in this area?
Menstrual justice for incarcerated women, which I’ve written about for the Menstruation Matters blog. 

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
A lot! We now have a whole journal (thanks to SMCR member Joan Chrisler, the editor) on Women’s Reproductive Health, and menstruation is making it into popular headlines all over the internet and even Newsweek.

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
Studying the menstrual cycle and our attitudes and emotions about it is, in itself, social justice research in the service of a more equitable society. So join us!

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

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.