Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

MILITARY MENSES: “You don’t wanna mess with this”

September 8th, 2016 by David Linton

Four soldiers blast menstrual myths surrounding women in the military

SoldiersPeriodTwitterQuestions about women’s “fitness” to engage in a vast array of activities as determined by their menstrual cycles have long been a hotly debated topic. Recently, as the US military establishment–the Pentagon–held formal hearings on the question of whether or not women should be assigned to combat roles in the service the questions was bound to come up. And it did!

After lengthy deliberations, the restrictions barring women from serving in combat settings were lifted, removing yet another barrier to women’s full access to employment in realms formerly open only to men.

In response to the decision, a short film–Soldiers Period–has been produced that captures, in a humorous way, the thoughts of a number of women service veterans on the issue. The film is made by Marcia Rock and Patricia Lee Stotter who also produced the widely seen 2011 documentary Service: When Women Come Marching Home.

Watch Soldiers Period, a five-minute film, on Vimeo:

Tampon tax battles, period leave, and the sports medicine gender gap: SMCR Weekend Links

July 30th, 2016 by Editor

Fight against the tampon tax ongoing:

If 2015 was the year of the period, 2016 is looking to be the year of menstrual legislation. Women are fighting back and menstrual activism is on the rise! A class action lawsuit has been filed by a Tampa, FL woman against major retailers (CVS, Walgreens etc.) as well as State agencies to repeal the tampon tax and refund women for their payment of the tax. Not just a frustrated customer, Carlee Wendell is also founder of FLOW (For the Love of Women), a non-profit organization that helps distribute feminine hygiene products to women in shelters. She is requesting that the State stop taxing women on tampons and other menstrual products (essential products), just as they do for Rogaine (a non-essential, hair re-growth product) for men. Will Florida follow the lead of other states with such legislation? On July 21, 2016, New York became the eleventh state to eliminate the tampon tax.

Truth & Perception by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis and Photographer Rob Lewis

Truth & Perception by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis and Photographer Rob Lewis

“The ‘tampon tax’ is not a marginal issue – it’s the force of structural sexism at work”

Gabrielle Jackson of The Guardian, in an article suggesting that sexism is entrenched in the consumer products industry and by extension society as a whole, writes that “not only should the tax on menstrual products be lifted immediately but menstrual cups and pads should be available through pharmacies and listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, available for a basic flat fee or free for women on benefits.” If such benefit claims could be made, this would create a whole new avenue of support for working women who pay into a benefit plan. While the tampon tax remains in Australia, the city of Sydney is reviewing a proposal that if approved will provide free tampons and pads in public buildings.

Period policies in the workplace:

While the tampon tax is still a very real battle, some period positive policies are occurring. Period leave is now a real thing… at least for women at the not-for-profit, Coexist in Bristol, UK. The organization is encouraging their employees to take better care of themselves, and in turn is seeing more creativity and efficiency from team members. Will others follow suit?

The call for workplaces, and public agencies to better support women’s period needs in the workplace is not new. Since 2013 Nancy Kramer, founder of freethetampons.org, has been advocating for business owners and public agencies to provide menstrual products to women, free of charge, helping to meet women at their most basic needs.

“Sport, exercise and the menstrual cycle: where is the research?” ask BMJ

Not only do women need access to menstrual products, they should also be given equal and accurate information regarding their health when it comes to medicine research. Last month, an editorial in British Medical Journal (BMJ), revealed a gender gap in sports medicine research spurring a conversation not only about sport medicine, but the inclusion (or really exclusion) of women in medicine research. Doctoral student Georgie Bruinvels noted the gap stating that because of the complexities of the menstrual cycle and variance that occurs physiologically due to hormone changes, investigation into women’s health and sports medicine is limited.

An earlier study also found a gender gap in sports medicine research. In that study, researchers looked at exercise studies published in three major sports medicine journals between 2011 and 2013, and found that 39 percent of all of the participants were women, and 61 percent were men, according to the findings published in the European Journal of Sport Science in 2014.

This isn’t the first time conversation about women and sports medicine has made headlines. When Heather Watson attributed her poor performance at the Australian open in 2015 to her period, conversation among athletes and experts in sports medicine brought menstruation to center stage. SMCR member Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, founder and scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) issued her own concern regarding the BMJ findings in an interview with CBC.  “Half the human race doesn’t have accurate information about the response to whatever the intervention is,” Prior said. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges.” 

Gaps in gendered research like that found in sports medicine are one of many reasons the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research started the journal Women’s Reproductive Health. It is bringing attention to issues of women’s health often overlooked in academic research. The journal welcomes submissions from multiple disciplines.

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.

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. 

#MenstruationMatters to Newsweek

April 21st, 2016 by Laura Wershler

The menstrual advocacy movement splashes red all over the cover of Newsweek’s upcoming April 29, 2016 edition. The story by Abigail Jones–The Fight to End Period Shaming is Going Mainstream–published online April 20, 2016, continues the mad rush of period stories that prompted Cosmopolitan to declare 2015 the “year the period went public.” Chris Bobel, President of the Society for Menstrual Research, is quoted briefly in the Newsweek piece. For Chris’s cogent analysis of the recent spate of period positivity check out her Nov. 15, 2015 re: Cycling post:  Will this 2015 menstrual moment make room for all bodies?

Newsweek Cover_Apr-2016

#Endometriosis art, film and a graphic book: Endo Weekend Links #3

March 19th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

“1 in 10 women suffer from a disease that most people have never heard of.”                  

Weekend Links at re:Cycling acknowledges the many ways in which the creative arts are taking on #endometriosisawareness advocacy.

1. Film: It was a big week for the producers of the documentary Endo What? that premiered on March 16th in New York City.

 

EndoWhatTweet2

 

The film has its European premiere on March 21, 2016 in London, England. The quote above opens the trailer for the film Endo What? You can watch it here:

 

 

2. Graphic Book: Kaye, a graphic artist from the U.K., experienced 15 years of extreme pain before finally being diagnosed with endometriosis. She writes on her Endoawareness website: “As a young woman it was almost an embarrassment to admit how awful the symptoms were and I went to extreme lengths to disguise it from friends and family.” Kaye used her talent to create Living with Endometriosis, a free downloadable e-book. You can read Kaye’s personal endometriosis story here.

endo-ohhhkaye

3. Endometriosis Awareness through Art: This Facebook community presents the work of various artists using various art forms including painting, photography, graphic imagery, video and music to focus attention on endometriosis.

Endo Art Facebook Page

 

 

How one woman’s experience with endometriosis lead her to make a difference

March 7th, 2016 by Editor

Endometriosis Personal Experience Story by Jolene Rheault

Photo provided by Jolene Rheault

Photo provided by Jolene Rheault

I was 13 when I got my first period and with it came some of the most horrific pain I had ever felt. At some points, it was so bad I would vomit from the pain and it was very common for me to stay home from school for days at a time. I remember telling my doctor about it at the time, but was brushed off and put on birth control pills. The pain continued, despite the medication.

Cut to age 29 when my husband and I thought it would be nice to have a second child. We’d gotten pregnant with Cayden easily, so we assumed there was nothing wrong. Six months later, I was still not pregnant and suspected that I may have endometriosis. After a year, I went to see a doctor and have blood work done. I was told there were no problems, my painful cramps throughout the month were normal, and the only thing they could offer was prometrium. I took this for two cycles but it didn’t help my pain.

I finally went to see an endocrinologist about my infertility. I remember stating at our first meeting what I thought was the problem. If I hadn’t spoken up for myself, would I still have been diagnosed properly or not? I’ll never know, but my guess is I would not have been.

The doctor confirmed through laparoscopy that I have stage 4 endometriosis. I had the disease removed from my right round ligament and my right ovary. My left ovary was stuck to my uterus and this was corrected. She told me that the endometriosis “would not come back” and that I would have “no problems getting pregnant.”

Unfortunately, this is not true, but one of the myths that persists about this disease. Though it may help, surgery is not an absolute cure for endometriosis.

Four months later I ended up in the emergency room with crippling pain. Ultrasound revealed that I had a large, hemorrhaging endometrial cyst on my left ovary. The ER doctor said I needed this removed within the next 12 weeks, before it burst in my stomach. It took almost six months before I was able to have this second surgery with a new endocrinologist who removed the endometrioma, as well lesions she found on my fallopian tubes. I then had a test to determine if my fallopian tubes were open. To address a hormonal issue I was put on the steroid Dexamethasone that caused me to gain about 40 pounds. I now have less pain, for which I am extremely grateful—but I still have pain.

The next month I became pregnant, but miscarried within days. We’ve had no luck since then and took a break for awhile. We will be gearing up to start IUI fertility treatments in two weeks and are so excited!

During the three years of my infertility journey, I dealt with depression, anxiety and just getting through day-to-day life. I can’t count how many days I spent crying. I dealt with my emotions by finding ways to turn my bad experience into helping others. I started by creating an infertility bible study on Facebook that working women could attend. (Most infertility bible studies typically are aimed towards stay at home moms/wives.) We have about 60 members and it has been a great source of comfort.

The other project I poured my heart and soul into is the Endo Challenge, a social media movement where the “sisters” of the endo community turn their social media profile pictures yellow and encourage others to do the same in support, to bring awareness to endometriosis and how it affects its sufferers.

In our first year, almost 8,000 social media photos turned yellow. Our website reached over 30,000 people in over 100 countries. We held live Q&A sessions with world-renowned endometriosis specialists. This year we had over 8,000 social media photos turn yellow in the first three days of March. Our goal for 2016 is 50,000!

Despite all the challenges I have faced with this disease, I feel blessed to have my miracle son Cayden. I am blessed to have made a difference in so many lives.

I am blessed.

There is no absolute cure for endometriosis, and there needs to be. That is why I am asking my friends, family and loved ones to stand up and show their support for me by spreading awareness about this disease. No woman should be forced to live this way simply because she has no other option.

Jolene Rheault, one of the founders of EndoChallenge, is an endometriosis and infertility advocate involved in many areas of disease support and education. It took 16 years for her endometriosis to be diagnosed. Jolene lives in Colorado with her husband and four-year-old son.

Fighting for endometriosis awareness in a culture of menstrual misinformation

March 3rd, 2016 by Editor

Breaking the Cycle of Misinformation About Endometriosis
By Nancy Petersen, RN, and Heather Guidone

EndoBannerCECMenstruation is a vital, normal process—yet remains linked to taboos, misconceptions and practices, particularly in relation to associated diseases like endometriosis. As a result, one of the most critical challenges facing the endometriosis community is a lack of factual awareness. The legacy of misinformation enshrouding the disease persists, propagated even by certain providers and organizations to patients, medical educators to next-generation professionals, health publishers to media, generation to generation. Consequences for these poor information systems are far-reaching, stifling the conversations we should be having about signs and symptoms of endometriosis that could lead to earlier intervention.

Paul Altrocchi, MD once stated it would take “about thirty years for new ideas about endometriosis to take hold.” Yet for more than five decades, dedicated academicians and physicians have pointed out time and again that much of what we thought we knew about the disease is wrong. Still, misinformation remains ubiquitous, and the enduring lack of endometriosis awareness pervades every level of society—despite its status as a true public health crisis. So why do myths and obsolete ideas continue to drive care? Perhaps, as Spence Meighan, MD once said, “What we teach in medicine is over 50% wrong, but the problem is—we don’t know which half.”

Impacting an estimated 176 million individuals worldwide (WERF), endometriosis is characterized by the presence of endometrial-like tissue in extrauterine sites. The aberrant disease process gives rise to pain, inflammation, infertility/pregnancy loss, fibrosis/adhesions, organ dysfunction and much more. Influenced by myriad epigenetic, environmental and molecular factors, several mechanisms play roles in its pathogenesis. Though largely affecting reproductive-aged females, endometriosis can impact menstruators and non-menstruators alike. Even further isolated are rare cis males struggling to access care in a traditionally female-identified space, as well as LGBT patients who face additional challenges in settings that fail to be inclusive. Prevention and non-surgical diagnosis remain elusive, and many sufferers are frustrated by widespread lack of understanding. Most patients will need complex, multidisciplinary care, e.g. excisional surgery combined with adaptation of lifestyle changes, yet few are guided towards Laparoscopic Excision (LAPEX) and remain unaware of important adjuncts such as physical therapy, nutritional approaches and alternatives that may help when combined with quality surgery. Even those who are directed towards effective resources may still find themselves faced with insurmountable barriers.

Whilst minor cramping with periods may be expected, bloating, pallor, rebound tenderness, nausea/vomiting, painful cramping and bowel movements, painful bladder, pain with exercise, interruption of sleep, pain with sex and so much more are simply not routine accompaniments to a normal menstrual cycle. By contrast, early disease intervention can reduce morbidity, infertility and progressive symptomatology in patients of all ages. Yet in order for those affected to make educated choices about health pathways, they must be provided with correct information upon which to base decisions. Likewise, although endometriosis research seems omnipresent, much of it is redundant in nature and sorely lacking in translational benefit. Moreover, much of the effort is directed towards pharmaceutical diagnosis and management, which do not provide long-term solutions.

“Blame the patient” remains common, and individuals are still too often told the pain is either normal or in their heads; others espouse ancient notions of Sampson’s Theory of Retrograde Menstruation as cause, and hysterectomy, drug therapy, incomplete surgery or pregnancy as cures. Press coverage around endometriosis is often connected to high profile subjects and typically rife with inaccuracies, which in turn get shared in perpetuity. For example, a recent article covering a celebrity’s reported ‘time off’ because of her endometriosis depicted the disease as a “hard to diagnose” illness only affecting older women, characterized by normal endometrium merely implanted elsewhere by means of “backwards periods,” easily treated by drugs, hysterectomy or non-excisional surgery. This is the kind of awareness endometriosis does not need.

This lack of authoritative awareness contributes to decade-long delays in diagnosis and effective care. Consequences of the perpetuation of generational taboos/secrecy, poor health literacy and a prevailing ethos of menstrual shaming—by physicians, caregivers, peers and media alike—are associated with acceptance of “The Curse” mentality. Cultural attitudes towards the menstrual cycle as a hygienic crisis or embarrassing burden have profoundly negative effects. In today’s progressive society, ignorance of facts can lead to deficient health practices and adverse medical, educational and social outcomes:

  • Menstrual shaming and invalidation of painful symptoms leads to increased absenteeism, synonymous with lost educational and fiscal opportunities;
  • Low confidence levels and suboptimal therapy choices among clinicians;
  • Familial and social isolation;
  • Negative construct across media and peer groups;
  • Lack of social and physical support mechanisms; and
  • Physical worsening of disease leading to negative self-objectification, body shame or sexual decision-making; permanent damage including loss of fertility; deficient quality of life and even, as we have tragically observed recently, loss of life.

We must put an end to the divisiveness and lack of collaboration among stakeholders, who should be working together towards solutions; we must continue to lobby policymakers for robust institutional changes to further benefit those struggling with the illness; we must end the secrecy, isolation and pain of countless sufferers; we must revitalize and create a space for menstrual communication, broaden the gender dialogue and engage in key conversations. We must allow the endometriosis community’s voice to be heard. We believe we can alleviate the culture of menstrual misinformation through behavior changes, encouraging research, expanding fundamental components of management, increasing authoritative awareness, and reducing costs through improvement and standardization of care for those in need.

Pursuing menstrual justice for women in prison

February 11th, 2016 by Editor

A Feminist Psychological Scientist’s Musings on Evidence-Based Menstrual Justice Advocacy
By Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD

My research explores the relationships between sexual objectification, self-objectification and negative attitudes toward women’s bodily selves, including menstruation. Currently, I am working with a civil rights law firm to provide an expert report to a judge in a case involving dehumanizing, degrading treatment of incarcerated women during strip and body-cavity searches that happen each time inmates return in busses from outings to doctors appointments or court hearings. These searches are conducted en masse, in large groups, and female deputies often demean the naked women, who must bend over and spread their labia, during the procedure. Menstruating women must remove their soiled pads or tampons in front of the entire group. Many have been seen bleeding down their legs onto the concrete floor of the bus depot drop-off location, next door to the jail itself, where these searches are conducted. The class action suit cannot eliminate the procedure itself (which is legal and will remain so), but seeks restitution for women who have been traumatized by the way the procedure is conducted.

Truth & Perception, 2015, by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis and Photographer Rob Lewis. A class-action lawsuit challenges the degrading treatment of female inmates forced to remove pads and tampons in front of fellow prisoners during strip searches.

I have been asked to provide a “gender specific analysis” of how women, particularly, feel about exposing their bodies in this way. Over and over again, as I draft and edit my report, which cites countless scientific studies as well as philosophical approaches on objectification, self-objectification and women’s reproductive health, I find my feminist moral compass wavering. As I attempt to explain that the majority of women feel ashamed and even disgusted by their naked physical bodies, and especially by their genitals and by their own menstruation, that women make comparisons to other women’s bodies, that women rarely if ever appear naked or share their menstrual status in front of one another, as they must do here, and that states of self-objectification in women can lead to poorer cognitive functioning, I find myself wondering: Am I reinforcing and even perpetuating negative attitudes and emotions around menstruation that ensue from objectification and self-objectification? Am I essentially blaming these jailed women for reacting the way they do to the strip search procedure?

It would be easier to stick to publishing in academic venues, where I can hide behind the purely descriptive voice that social research in the “big name” journals requires. But I’m committed to a new persona in the latter part of my career as an evidence-based menstrual justice advocate. And so as I work on this report, I console myself by focusing on the potential this work has for making a significant impact in real people’s real lives in several very concrete ways. First, should we win this class action lawsuit, it would mean restitution for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of women who have been traumatized by this dehumanizing procedure, many of whom reported that it felt to them like sexual assault and was one of the worst experiences of their entire lives. Second, in addition to payment to victims, the case may further force reform in the system so that the conditions under which future jail inmates undergo the procedure would be improved. We are asking that the searches no longer be conducted in a group setting, and that deputies be trained to give clear instructions and be monitored to cease verbal abuse of the inmates during the procedure.

The third, more general way this case might be enormously impactful is in setting a precedent for getting judges and courtrooms to accept the expert testimony of researchers. When I was contacted by the law firm to serve as an expert, I hesitated to say yes, feeling ill-equipped for such a role. The lawyer told me that the judge in this case is not sympathetic to these women, and that they need me to convince him that the inmates’ experience during the procedure is indeed different from being naked with other women in a spa or locker room. He is reportedly shocked to hear that very few if any women insert or take out their menstrual products in front of one another in such settings. I know that lawyers make frequent use of clinical psychologists for their expertise, and in fact the firm sent me the expert testimony reports of three clinicians working with them on the case. But as a researcher, this is not my kind of writing, nor my kind of evidence.

As I contemplated whether I was up to the challenge of taking this case, I contacted a cognitive psychologist friend of mine for advice. She has served as an expert witness in many court cases involving eyewitness accuracy. Her’s is one of the rare few areas, she told me, where research psychologists are respected as experts. She advised me to take the case because, she said, we psychological scientists need to be heard in courtrooms. We are armed with data that ought to be considered in cases like this one. So I carry with me the added hope, beyond restitution for the actual women affected, that I can change a judge’s mind with feminist psychological science. And if my report can be taken seriously by this judge, then perhaps that will open the doors of other judges’ courtrooms to other researchers like many of you reading this post, armed with data, working toward reproductive justice. Imagine that!

Media all over “end-the-tampon-tax” advocacy

January 30th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

As U.S. advocacy to end the “tampon tax” on all feminine hygiene products continues, Democratic politicians, including President Obama, dialled up the media conversation about the issue as 2016 got underway. Here’s a January timeline:

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

Jan. 5, 2016, Michele Gorman, NewsweekCalifornia legislators seek to end “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products

Jan. 7, 2016, Josh Barro, The New York Times, The Latest Sales Tax Controversy: Tampons

So why shouldn’t tampons get the same tax break as other necessities? It’s a question that’s been debated in legislatures around the world, with tampon tax cuts adopted in Canada and rejected in France last year.

Jan. 8, 2016, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon,  Time to end the tampon tax: Sales tax on feminine hygiene products unfairly penalize women

But while arguments over what makes something a necessity are open to debate, arguments over a fee that only affects one segment of the population are not. That’s what makes the sales tax unfair. And that’s a price women don’t deserve to pay.

Jan. 8, 2016, Sarah Larimer, The Washington Post, The ‘tampon tax,’ explained

It’s an issue that’s gaining more and more attention around the world. Canada’s tax on feminine hygiene products was lifted over summer, after thousands signed an online petition on the matter. In Britain, a few women staged a “tampon tax” protest while on their periods last fall.

Jan. 20, 2016, Sade Strehlke, Teen VogueWatch YouTube Star Ingrid Nilsen School President Obama on the “Tampon Tax”

As Ingrid and our president point out, however, periods are not optional for most women, and we shouldn’t be burdened with an extra charge when it’s that time of month.

President Obama sheepishly admitted that he doesn’t know why states tax tampons, but he suspects “it’s because men were making these laws when those taxes were passed.”

“I don’t know anyone who has a period who thinks it’s a luxury,” Ingrid responded. President Obama agreed, and said his wife, would probably agree with her too. “It’s something that’s part of our everyday lives, and is crucial to our health as women,” she continued.

Jan. 26, 2016, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, The NationWhy Are We Paying Sales Tax on Tampons?

Jan. 28, 2016: Haley Snyder, Huff Post PoliticsThere Will Be Blood–So Long As There Is Inequality

For a woman making decent money, a simple tax on tampons may be unnoticeable, but for someone who is poor who spends a larger percentage of her money on tampons, a “small” difference may strip away her ability to afford a product entirely.

Jan 28, 2016, Kerry Close, Money (Time Inc.), The Tampon Tax Could Finally Be Eliminated in These States

At home, there’s hope for women who live in the majority of states that still somehow consider tampons a luxury. The issue has been getting a lot of press lately, with even President Obama admitting he doesn’t understand why the tax exists.

When asked this month by YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen why tampons are considered luxury items in so many states, the president replied, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.

Meanwhile, the Change.org petition (No Tax On Tampons: Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.) launched by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Cosmopolitan magazine needs just over 6,000 more signatures to reach the 50,000 mark.

Canadian Laura Wershler, SMCR member and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling, was proud when the Canadian parliament agreed unanimously to lift the federal tax on femcare products in mid-2015. 

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.