Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Lizzy and the Light Below: Menstruation as a pillar of human culture

December 7th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Jacqueline Thomas

Lizzy and the Light Below small thumbnailHaving entered my Ph.D. program in English already aware of the general need to better prepare girls for menarche, I wrote Lizzy & the Light Below in the midst of my studies to give moms a tool for starting the conversation with their daughters. Based on the anthropological part of my research, Lizzy is a simple Alice-in-Wonderland kind of story about a girl who gets her first period at school one day, takes a shortcut home through the woods, and discovers a magical cave in which a wise old woman named Ciela shares a different story about menstruation than the one she has learned at school. While I kept the story simple and pitched it at preteen girls, I included a preface summarizing the research that underpins its message: Not only is menstruation a natural process that we should not be ashamed of; it is a pillar of human culture that we should take pride in.

In my studies, I explored two anthropological theorists in depth—Christopher Knight and Annette Weiner—who, in different ways, proposed that menstruation was the basis of human culture. This disruptive idea runs counter to prevalent cultural origins theories, which—with little evidence— mostly take for granted that men were the (violent) prehistoric agents of human development. Moreover, Knight contends that any cultural origins theory should comport with the time-tested theory of evolution. Instead, he says, most origins theories simply project the hierarchical social structure of the present (i.e., patriarchy/patriliny) onto the prehistoric past, without proposing any evolution-friendly triggers of the primate-to-human shift. At the heart of this critique is the insight that, for culture to have emerged during the Paleolithic period (which lasted from 2.6 million years ago until 12,000 years ago) and persisted for millennia, early hominids had to have found a way out of the animal state that entails perpetual battle over food and sex. That is, without having established a relatively peaceful and egalitarian social structure—as seen in present-day hunter-gatherer groups—humans could not have developed a system of shared meaning (culture) and passed it on to succeeding generations. Both Knight and Weiner posit an original matrilineal social structure as the likely (peaceful) crucible of the “creative explosion,” the burst of symbolic culture in Africa around 90,000 years ago that has persisted to this day.

In Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture, Knight proposes that hominid females, after having moved from the expansive but drought-stricken central savanna to the cramped riverine East African Rift, where they had to live in closer quarters than ever, began menstruating and ovulating in synchrony. He argues that they ultimately leveraged this menstrual/ovulatory synchrony to undermine alpha males’ sexual monopoly of them (in what would have been the existing primate social system), in order to get provisioning help for their young from less dominant males. This led to a relatively egalitarian distribution of food and sex, which in turn established the peace required to perpetuate (matrilineal) culture through the generations until the Bronze Age (about 8,000 years ago).

In the primate social system on the savanna, alpha males would have sexually monopolized any asynchronously ovulating females; but, Knight argues, after moving east, these early women broke that monopoly by taking advantage of the “un-policeability” of their mass ovulation and by imputing cosmic significance to their collective monthly bleeding.  That is, by “magicalizing” the apparently moon-governed cycle and by standing in ritualized solidarity, first as sexually unavailable and secluded during the menstrual half, and then as sexually available to the less dominant males during the ovulatory half—in exchange for meat hunted during the menstrual seclusion— women in effect forged the first standing contract.

Since women’s reproductive imperative would have been to get provisioning help for their young, who, with their large crania, had to be born in a much more helpless state than the young of any other species, this social innovation would have been adaptive in evolutionary terms. What’s more, the fairly equal distribution of food and sex occasioned by the contract would have established the peace needed to share meaning and then pass it on to successive generations—that is, it established the ground for sustained culture. Seen in this light, the nearly universal modern stigma on menstruation begins to look like a very deliberate and comprehensive reversal of what appears to have been a nearly universal reverence for it. Indeed, the feminine images and themes of the earliest art and literature seem to show respect for menstruation. And, since menstrual seclusion rituals appear to have involved “disguising” women as the wrong species for sex, it is not surprising that in much prehistoric art, women and goddesses were figured as animal-human hybrids, particularly as bird-women. The delicate forms and vulnerable expressions of many of these prehistoric figurines seem to indicate that it was particularly important to honor girls menstruating for the first time.

Weiner’s main work, Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-while-Giving, challenges the anthropological chestnut that men initiated culture when they began exchanging women as gifts. In her study of traditional Oceanic cultures, she too found evidence of archaic female solidarity and, like Knight, saw it as rooted in an original matrilineal system. According to Knight, for women and men alike, prehistoric social identity would have come from one’s mother group, such that women’s brothers, uncles, and nephews would have been their allies and protectors, even as they brought the meat they hunted to their wives in other mother groups. Looking at patrilineal societies in Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, Weiner saw vestiges of this matrilineality in their current marriage and exchange traditions.

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.

Ms. December – Menstruation Pin-Up

December 1st, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. December: Season’s Bleedings
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis
Seasons Bleedings

What can we learn from women who share their bad experiences with Depo-Provera?

November 30th, 2015 by Laura Wershler
Photo by Laura Wershler

Photo by Laura Wershler

In September, 2015, I participated in a panel on advocacy journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. As a journalism student there in 2010-2011, I became known as the women’s health writer, the one with a background in sexual and reproductive health. Although I’ve always thought of myself as a women’s health advocate, and in particular a menstrual cycle advocate, until then I’d never considered that my writing about these topics constituted advocacy journalism.

Asked to share examples of my work, I included the two blog posts I’d written for re:Cycling about the contraceptive shot Depo-Provera, posts that garnered over 1200 comments between them and demonstrated to me that when you give people a forum for sharing their thoughts and experiences about a reality that has not been broadly discussed or written about, you are undertaking an act of advocacy that serves an important purpose.

You can read the posts and the comments here:

Coming off Depo-Provera can be a women’s worst nightmare

Stopping Depo-Provera: Why and What to Do About Adverse Experiences  

 

To acknowledge and amplify the voices of the hundreds of women who shared their adverse experiences in response to my posts about Depo-Provera, I presented an analysis of their comments at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in Boston, MA, on June 4th, 2015. As I said in my presentation, I believe the provision of Depo-Provera too often fails to honor informed choice or serve women’s health and well-being. I demonstrated this with comment examples organized under four main themes:

  1. Uninformed choice
  2. Lack of body literacy
  3. Feelings of fear, anger, regret, betrayal and solidarity and
  4. Frustration with health-care providers

I’ve recorded this presentation to make more broadly available what I learned from the women who took the time to share their experiences with Depo-Provera, both while taking it and upon coming off this drug. If you are considering using this LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptive), or have a friend or family member considering it, you may find it of value.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

Cycling towards menstrual liberation

November 20th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Rosie Sheb’a

From March to June, 2015, seven women from Sustainable Cycles rode across America to give workshops on reusable menstrual products, break menstrual taboos and stigmas, and present what they learned on the journey at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, held June 4-6, 2015, in Boston. They carried their own food, camping gear and rode roughly 70 miles per day. One of those young women, Australian Rosie Sheb’a, wrote a book about her experiences on this cycling tour. The following is an excerpt from her ebook—Cups, Bikes and Friendly Strangers: A “CyclingJourney Across Americanow available on Kindle.

10th April 2015, Ride Day 4: 105 km

Rachel, Olive and Rosie en route to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research held in Boston, June 4-6, 2015.

Rachel, Olive and Rosie en route to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research held in Boston, June 4-6, 2015.

We wake up to rain. Lots of it. And it’s cold. We cover 25 miles (40km) without a break, and it’s my longest single stint so far. We stop for a snack and to warm up in a very Southern town. I have my first taste of fried chicken. At least it’s hot! We ride another 25 miles through more rain along a highway that’s under construction, and we get covered in mud. Trucks are whizzing past, and I’m feeling pretty rotten. I start getting cramps, and realise I’m about to do my first ‘road test’ of my menstrual cup. I stop to pee by the side of the road and realise yep, Ant Flo has come to visit on the side of the highway. I find my cup, clean up and insert, and once again I’m glad for those baby wipes I packed. I can’t find a bin, so I wrap up my wipe and stick it in the pocket of my raincoat, ready to discard at our next stop.

I always feel a loss of energy in my legs when I first get my period, and they feel like jelly as I pedal through the downpour up the hill. The girls are speeding off ahead, and the next stint is a hard slog. I start feeling a little panicky thinking about what I’d do if I lost them on this highway. I can’t see them anywhere, so I just keep pedalling. I’m starting to feel upset, tired, and just want to be lying in a warm bed with a hot water bottle. Finally I ride into a town and see them stopped at a grocery store. Collapsing on the ground, I take off my soaking shoes and socks and sit there feeling sorry for myself. I give Mum a call and while I’m on the phone Rachel comes over and gives me something to eat. I realise I haven’t eaten since our morning snack, and it’s 3 p.m. Yep, food really matters when you’re riding all day.

We sit on a table near some locals, and a woman asks us “Ain’t you scared?”  We ask her what we should be scared of, and she says “Y’know, a little (makes gesture of sliding forefinger across throat) and a little nnhhh nnhhh (puts her hands into fists and brings them back and forth next to her pelvis).” We are mortified. She takes her cigarette and little fluffy white dog and walks off. Despite this disturbing image in my head, a combination of the food in my belly and the sun finally coming out is making me feel a lot better. I put some music on and, for the first time, I take the lead. I’m cruising fast, and getting chased by barking dogs gets my adrenaline pumping, so I ride even faster.

Our American Cycling Association (ACA) map points us towards a place to stay called Shepard Sanctuary. It’s slightly off-route, but we head over there, feeling tired, a little snappy and very exhausted, bringing our distance for the day to 105 km again. We are amazed at what we find. These two women, Connie and Peach, have created a true sanctuary in rural Texas. They often have wedding ceremonies there, and rainbow flags abound. We are the only guests, and we have a fully stocked kitchen to ourselves, a beautiful shower complete with marine-themed mosaics, fluffy white towels and bathroom products. We stay in our sleeping bags on a mattress up in the loft of a giant barn. It feels marvellously cleansing to have a good wash, fill our bellies with soup, and roast veggies, and settle in for the night on a real mattress.

Rosie Sheb’a is the owner and director of Sustainable Menstruation Australia

Will this 2015 menstrual moment make room for all bodies?

November 16th, 2015 by Chris Bobel

This post was first published under the title The Year the Period Went Public on November 12, 2015 on Gender & Society, a publication of Sociologists for Women in Society. It is crossposted here with permission.

By Chris Bobel

In this month’s issue, Cosmopolitan dubbed 2015 “the year the period went public” [It is also the year I, for the first time ever, agreed with Cosmo.]

2015 has brought us a tremendous diversity of menstrual-positive expressions—from the artistic to the practical, the serious and the playful, local and the global.

Photo: RUPI KAUR / INSTAGRAM. Posted with permission.

Photo: RUPI KAUR / INSTAGRAM. Posted with permission.

2015 is the year that Instagram blew up when Rupi Kaur’s photo of her period –stained PJ pants was “accidentally” [twice] removed, and free-bleeding Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon. It is the year that efforts to de-tax menstrual products succeeded in Canada and gained momentum in Australia, Britain, and the United States  while efforts  to “de-tox” the same products, through the Robin Danielson Bill re-introduced in Congress this May, gets unprecedented press attention .

2015 brought us Barbie-alternative Yammily’s “Period Party”– a kit with an educational pamphlet, a doll-sized menstrual care kit including a pair of panties and 15 reusable pads.

In 2015, the unique menstrual challenges of women and girls living on the streets inspired a raft of grassroots campaigns, and a global movement to improve menstrual health for women and girls worldwide is thriving. For example, on May 28, 2015, the 3rd global Menstrual Hygiene Day was recognized through 127 events in 33 countries.

Periods are Not an Insult

Finally, in 2015 nearly everyone rolled their eyes when Donald impugned GOP debate moderator Megyn Kelly, saying she had “blood coming out of her wherever“–the most recent in the misogynist tradition of using menstruation to rationalize the perception of gendered  incompetence. But, this time, we reacted differently. In 2015, Twitter slapped back with #periodsarenotaninsult.

Considered together, these events constitute a shift. Menstruation IS having its moment. I know, because I’ve had my ear to the ground for more than a decade and most of what I’ve heard is PMS jokes, goofy menstrually-theme bits in sitcoms and films, and of course, ubiquitous product ads [cue white woman in white pants on white horse].

I am not sure what’s in the soil that is sprouting this new awareness. No doubt, it is the same soil that is nurturing women’s expressions of frustration with stigma, as evinced by the new #shoutyourabortion campaign and the media frenzy swirling around Katha Pollit’s new book Pro.

Maybe the shift is an outgrowth of our breathlessly social-mediated realities, where what’s happening—literally—in one’s own pants can be shared with a few swipes or clicks. Or might the transformation in discourse be the next best example of a micro-level lifestyle movement that galvanizes the personal into a neo-political? I am not sure, but as we ponder this, a bigger question surfaces:

Is the Movement We’ve Been Waiting For?

For bodies with privilege (cisgendered, white, non-disabled, thin and so on), challenging menstrual invisibility and menstrual shame IS perhaps the last frontier. After all, the menstrual body IS abject; it is reviled because it challenges norms of the hyper-disciplined feminine body. The way menstruation and womanhood is socially constructed is perhaps the most vexing of patriarchy’s pernicious contradictions.

But we can’t lose sight of how the politics or respectability is intricately wound up in who can and cannot afford to smash any embodied taboo, least of all the menstrual mandate of silence and secrecy. Thus, the entire black body, trans body, disabled body, and fat body, for example, are read as abject–as deficit and thus, at risk. A blog post at “Crazy Cranky Sexy Cool”  said it best: “So you can put period blood war paint on your face, and yes, in your context, it will probably be subversive and revolutionary. For the rest of us just going outside, walking in the streets, exposing our vulnerable, repulsive bodies is subversive and radical.”

We Can Do Better

So while we are celebrating a new era of menstrual awareness, we need to be mindful of who is authorized to dance at the new party. As we tweet our periods at Donald Trump, we must, at the same time, consider the lived realities of those of us who occupy a social space that vibrates—all day, every day—with peril. We have to remember that some bodies, to invoke Audre Lorde ‘were never meant to survive.’

If menstrual activists can practice some good ole self-reflexivity, noting how our particularly cozy social locations enable us to take these risks, we can build a bridge. If not, we merely prescribe a one-size-fits-all kind of new menstrual consciousness that keeps the movement small and fringy.

We can do better if we seize the chance to see the power of dominant culture to treat some bodies very differently (and very dangerously) than others. If we do, we can make this menstrual moment a powerful opportunity for authentically reckoning with our differences and shape a discourse that makes room for all bodies—bloody and otherwise–far beyond 2015.

Chris Bobel, president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, is Associate Professor of  Women’s and Gender Studies  at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her areas of expertise include the politics of embodiment, health and social change, and the intersection of feminist theory and action. She is the author of  New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation (Rutgers University Press, 2010).

How Donald Trump learned that #periodsarenotaninsult

November 12th, 2015 by Breanne Fahs

Bleeding on Donald Trump’s Face

Trump-in-bloodRecent events in the political circus of the Republican party have highlighted Donald Trump’s disdain for women and his overwhelming tendencies to embarrass himself and his “party.” In an interesting twist of events, menstrual cycles have started to play a major role in how women are rebelling against Trump’s unbridled misogyny. After suggesting that Fox News pundit Megyn Fox asked him difficult questions because of her menstrual status (“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes…Blood coming out of her wherever.”) during the Republican debate on August 6, 2015, reactions were swift and full of feisty menstrual rebellions. Women from across the country wrote op-eds and fumed openly on the air, in print, and on social media about these archaic beliefs that women’s menstrual cycles invalidated their legitimate claims to difficult questions or angry/aggressive responses to misogynistic public figures. Women on Twitter started live-tweeting their menstrual updates to Donald Trump. For example:

@realDonaldTrump – on the third day of my period AND still a functioning member of society! Who knew?! #periodsarenotaninsult.

Sarah Levy, an artist from Portland, made a menstrual painting of Donald Trump’s face entitled Whatever. Women clearly wanted their menstrual cycles in his face, on his face, boldly and decisively fighting back against the shaming of their menstrual cycles.

This incident reminded me of the power of menstrual activism in its many forms. Relying on mockery, menstrual art, information conversations, feminist responses on social media, and satire, women made it clear that they will not tolerate attacks on women for their menstrual status, especially from blowhards like Trump. Each of the tactics they used has its own merits, logics, and successes. I am especially fond of the power of women reminding the world that millions of women are currently menstruating, that bloody vaginas are sitting in the room right now. The live-tweeting technique in that sense seemed especially poignant. I have written many columns here about the importance of “outing” one’s menstrual status; in the case of live-tweeting periods to Donald Trump, these “outings” serve as a powerful reminder of the presence of menstruating women and the power of their collective voices.

Similarly, menstrual art is, I think, inherently rebellious and should be considered a key expression of menstrual activism.  Using menstrual blood to create (and in this case, to demean, mock, trivialize, insult, and laugh at Donald Trump’s buffoonery) underscores the power of “going public” with the private or abject fluid that women are supposed to keep secret and unseen.  Levy’s painting, a browning, gooey reminder of women’s menstrual graffiti—our presence on your presence—is wonderfully subversive and grotesquely clever. As we celebrate menstrual activism this month, let’s remember that it has many iterations and many faces (and, in some cases, enjoys bleeding directly onto Donald Trump’s face).

Breanne Fahs is an Associate Professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, where she specializes in studying women’s sexuality, critical embodiment studies, radical feminism, and political activism. She is also a clinical psychologist specializing in sexuality, couples work, and trauma recovery.

The Tampon Gun: An interview with anti-violence artist-activist Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch

November 9th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

Stop the Flow of Violence. Period. by Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch

 

When guerrilla art meets activism, monumental action can occur. Here Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis interviews fellow artist Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch about the activist vision behind Bloch’s engaging banner Stop the Flow of Violence. PERIOD. Read on to find out more about this nationwide anti-violence campaign, including how you can play an integral role in supporting the artist’s vision.

Q1. Jen Lewis
Why did you originally create Feminine Protection? What is your vision for the piece now?

A1. Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch
I originally created this piece as a funny play on the phrase “Feminine Protection.” I didn’t realize at the time I was touching on much deeper issues. After creating my gun, I noticed people were more upset that it was made out of tampon applicators than they were that it is was a semi-automatic weapon. I was intrigued and shocked that the taboo of natural menstrual blood is more upsetting to people than the blood caused by gun violence. As a result, I have become much more aware of both the politics of gun control/violence and the social taboos surrounding menstruation. I hope that my art piece simply provokes further thought and discussion about socially acceptable images and topics.

Q2. JL
What is your social/political goal for the piece? What community action do you want to spark?

A2. IGB
My goal is that my art piece becomes the face of an anti-violence campaign. I hope people in cities across the U.S. will display my banner, Stop the Flow of Violence. PERIOD, in public places with the hopes that it will inspire the public to engage in conversations. The N.R.A. has Charlton Heston, the Anti-Gun movement needs an image as well! I hope that when people see an AK-47 made out of tampon applicators they will discuss violence in society, gun violence and violence against women. In addition, I hope the discussion expands to incorporate socially acceptable images of blood (why is gun violence okay but menstruation taboo?).

Q3. JL
What kind of community partners are you looking for to display the banner? Do you have any lined up? If so, who?

A3. IGB
I would be thrilled if feminists and activists on college campuses displayed my banner. I would love to see it prominently displayed in public parks, across from government institutions, and immediately following a terrible mass shootings in the city/college an event has occurred. I would love to see my banner in every major city in the U.S. but especially in Texas. If I had the funds, I would purchase a billboard in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas as a start. I would like to participate in the “open carry” protest that will be happening at the University of Texas Austin.

I put out a call on Facebook asking for volunteers to hang my art. I currently have one person in Minneapolis, Minnesota who has offered to hang it across from the State House in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am looking for more people to join in this guerrilla art show.

Q4. JL
Where is your ideal location for the banner to be hung?

A4. IGBIt is weather proof so any prominent outdoor location would work.  It could also be used in parades, hung from buildings or displayed in public spaces. I am open to the ideas of people volunteering to display this banner.

Q5. JL
Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A5. IGB
I am hoping people will document the public’s responses to my banner. I have created a website: FeminineProtection.org and a Facebook page for my art, IGBStudio, where I hope people will post photos, video and comments by the public. Once I have a group of people signed up to display my banner, I will turn my attention to making my website more interactive. I will admit social media is not my forte so I am also looking for partners interested in Tweeting under my hashtag #feminineprotection. In the meantime, please ‘like’ my art page: IGBStudio.

Find Ingrid and her art online at:

http://www.igbstudio.com

http://www.feminineprotection.org

http://www.facebook.com/IGBStudio

Jen Lewis is the Menstrual Designer and Conceptual Artist behind Beauty in Blood and curator of Widening the Cycle.

Michelle Obama-Menstrual Activist, and other Weekend Links

November 7th, 2015 by Editor

This weekend we offer two extremely different examples of how menstruation is being referenced in social and political activism.

1. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, is a menstrual activist. In an article for The Atlantic, headlined Let Girls Learn, also the name of a program launched last spring by the President and First Lady, Obama addresses the crisis in girls’ education, challenging cultural practices and beliefs that diminish access to education for girls.

“Scholarships, bathrooms, and safe transportation will only go so far if societies still view menstruation as shameful and shun menstruating girls.”

– Michelle Obama

SMCR member Giuliana Serena noted on Facebook the significance of this declaration:

Giuliana-Obama

2. Across the ocean, Enda Kenny, the (male) leader of the Irish political party Fine Gael, is getting an earful from Irish women. The headline of this Irish Mirror article says it all: Women are tweeting Enda Kenny about their periods in a bid to highlight abortion rights in Ireland. The hashtag #repealthe8th, references a campaign to repeal the eighth amendment that effectively “criminalises abortion in all cases except where to continue a pregnancy would result in death.”

Comedian Grainne Maguire started the movement on Monday, November 2:

Ireland-repealthe8th

The hashtag quickly gained momentum and was also used to bring attention to the tax on menstrual products.

Blood in the Menstrual Movement

November 5th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Diana Álvarez

 

Image from Cup of Flow by Diana Álvarez.

Image from Cup of Flow by Diana Álvarez.

“Are you the girl who drank her period blood?” This was a frequent question I was asked during the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, held in June, 2015, at Suffolk University in Boston. I had the privilege of having my art work be a part of the art show Widening the Cycle, curated by Jen Lewis and held in conjunction with the conference. On display was my menstrual art project entitled Cup of Flow, which showed photographic depictions of me interacting with my period blood. The images included me wearing my own menstrual blood as lipstick, my cervix during menstruation—this one was made possible through the use of a speculum—and one highly sensational image of me drinking my period blood directly from my menstrual cup. My art project provided the catalyst for many rich conversations that I would have in Boston that weekend. For a conference that focuses specifically on the menstrual cycle, not nearly enough people were talking about blood. My project demonstrated to me that these folks were thirsty for blood.

I was fortunate to have been chosen to be one of the artists on the Widening the Cycle panel, which was held during the lunch hour on Friday. This medium afforded me the opportunity to address most of the conference attendants and speak openly about drinking my period blood. I began with an open discussion of my artistic process, and how creating the image in which I use the blood as lipstick prompted me to consider licking my lips and tasting the blood. I spoke about my hesitations with taking this seemingly drastic step. I mean sure, I might be the “period girl” in my Women’s Studies program and circle of friends, but that just meant I had a lot of information on the menstrual cycle and societal/cultural definitions of what all that entails. It did not mean that I was that comfortable with my own menstrual process, let alone my period blood. Then I considered a paper cut that still had my finger throbbing from earlier that day. And the way that I had immediately, almost as a reflex, put my bloody cut finger into my mouth. I considered how my feelings towards my menstrual blood demonstrated a colonization of my experience with my body. I pledged to decolonize my period. I drank my period blood.

cupofflow1_Diana Álvarez

Image from Cup of Flow art project by Diana Álvarez.

At the lunch panel I also announced that anyone who wanted the images from Cup of Flow was more than welcome to take them home with them and use them however they saw fit. I was humbled by how many conference attendants wanted to take my art home to do activist work with it, to create a dialogue, to be inspired by the blood. This made me realize how important seeing the blood is to the future of menstrual cycle research. Menstrual art that depicts actual period blood pushes the boundaries of what we are used to, it takes the menstrual metaphor away and instead bleeds with meaning. Often times in our scholarly conversations about menstruation, period blood itself becomes the absent referent. When we discuss the menstrual cycle we ourselves sometimes become guilty of a Cartesian mind/body dualism, where in which we concentrate heavily on things related to menstruation but not on menstruation itself. Here I am thinking of things like menstrual products, menstruation in the media, menstrual shame, however we are not addressing the power of the actual blood.

My art revolves around the blood. The blood just as it is. I do not use it as paint (although I do love this method*). I photograph it in both its utter mundaneness and absolute ephemeral brilliance. The reaction to my menstrual art work has inspired me to continue to make menstrual art and to understand that artscapes have the potential to create social change. It’s about bloody time.

* For menstrual artists who paint with their blood look at the work of Sadie Mohler and Stephanie Dragoon.

Diana Álvarez is a PhD student at Texas Woman’s University. Her dissertation focuses on menstruation in social media, menstrual art, and menstrual suppression. Her most recent piece, Cup of Flow, can be viewed at wideningthecycle.com

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.