Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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.

Period positivity still has a way to go

May 31st, 2016 by Editor

Giuliana Serena critiques Newsweek’s period stigma cover story

Note: This piece was first published on  MoontimeRising.com. It has been edited for length for this repost at Menstruation Matters. 

NewsweekCover_BloodI was pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic when I caught sight of the April 29, 2016 cover of Newsweek. It obviously got my attention.

I’m elated, and a bit discombobulated, to see menstruation and periods getting so much public and positive attention. But there’s also a lot of misinformation, subtle (& overt) shaming, and even pseudo-period positivity for profit out there, so I read the article with a fair amount of skepticism.

When it comes right down to it, this article wasn’t written for me. Maybe not for you either.

It was written for a broad audience, and I’m delighted it will be read by so many who will be learning about some of these issues for the first time.

In the opening paragraph, writer Abigail Jones goes so far as to say: “This process is as natural as eating, drinking and sleeping, and it’s beautiful too: There’s no human race without it.”

Highlighting the stigma and shame that those who menstruate are faced with worldwide is useful and relevant information for the mainstream.

Although I do take issue with certain omissions and the overall emphasis, I sincerely appreciate the coverage. And Chis Bobel, President of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, is quoted a few times!

Mentioned are Rupi Kaur’s banned self-portrait, the needs of those in prison and those who can’t afford “menstrual materials,” the very real health and environmental costs associated with conventional tampons and pads, the vast number of women and girls, ESPECIALLY in the Global South, who are ostracized, without resources, and face severe taboos and stigmas.

A lot was covered. A lot was not. It’s a big topic, and they couldn’t fit in everything. But here are a few issues I wish had been addressed:

It’s odd not to see women listed amongst the top “things” affected by period stigma in the subtitle: “Period Stigma is hurting the economy, schools and the environment. But the crimson tide is turning.” Although, it’s interesting to see it framed this way, and the article does address those topics.

Cups and reusables are only briefly mentioned, but deserved more attention with regards to environmental and health benefits.

Also, the opening sentence was not completely accurate: “Let’s begin with the obvious: Every woman in the history of humanity has or had a period.”

It’s true that the vast majority of those who menstruate are women (and girls), some women and girls (for various reasons) never have had or will have a period, and some who are not women and/or girls, will. We are just starting to understand how menstruation relates to transgender experience. In a time when we’re re-learning sex and gender more inclusive language could have been used. At the very least, these arising issues should have been referenced.

And I would love to see more talk about the benefits to young girls in educating and preparing them for coming-of-age, resources for doing so, and the value of ritual and ceremony in that process—but I’m not holding my breath!.

There’s more I didn’t love and I could pick it apart further, but honestly, I’d rather you read it for yourself.

This piece is bound to have a positive impact. Transforming the culture is a complex unfolding. And one cover story won’t do it. Continuing this conversation is crucial.

Periods getting this kind of attention in mainstream media would not have been possible without the tireless work of countless activists, educators, advocates, researches, and ordinary women and people destigmatizing and normalizing menstruation, body literacy, women’s bodies, sexuality, fertility, and all those other juicy topics that make us whole.

One (news) cycle at a time, we are making progress.

As Lara Owen, author of Her Blood Is Gold, commented when I shared a screen shot of the cover on Facebook:

38 years since The Wise Wound, 25 years since Dragontime, 23 years since Her Blood Is Gold: Awakening to the Wisdom of Menstruation, and since then many others. So grateful to everyone who has contributed to hauling this abusive and absurd taboo out into the light and transforming it into health and resilience.

And in reference to the article not going far enough, she added, “As we know too well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Our society needs to get over our fear of periods. We need to let go of our fear of bodies and fluids, empowered women, sex, pleasure, self-determination, autonomy.

Yes, there will be blood.

Have a read, and let me know what you think!

Giuliana Serena is a Ceremonialist, Rites-of-Passage Facilitator, Menstrual Cycle Educator, and the creator of MoontimeRising.com.

Women comics taking on menstruation

May 12th, 2016 by David Linton

It used to be that menstrual humor amounted to men making crass remarks about PMS and the world of stand up comedy was dominated by male performers. Well, not any more.

In the last few years there seems to have been an explosion of young women comics doing stand-up and TV comedy.  Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Nicki Glazer, and a host of others have followed pioneers such as  Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli and an even earlier generation’s Joan Rivers and Rusty Warren, whose theme song, Knockers Up, became a forbidden ditty for the post-war generation of comedy transgressors. And at the age of 86, Rusty holds a special place in the arcane world of cabaret comedy acts. This brief list comes nowhere near capturing the richness and diversity of the comedy scene where women crack the jokes and make their audiences gasp at their audacity.

Today’s women comics revel in coming up with the most shocking ways of alluding to their own bodies and their sexual relations. For instance, a recent skit on Inside Amy Schumer had her telling several female friends about a new product that would eliminate all taste from a woman’s pussy, the word of choice when mentioning the female genitalia. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the product she puts her hand inside her pants then offers her fingers to a friend to taste. And what better topic to include when one is striving for ever more ways to shock the audience with dirty words and forbidden subjects than the menstrual cycle. There may be no subject that has more layers of taboo and “ickiness” than menstrual blood. Whoopi Goldberg worked this material some years ago in her Broadway special that was aired on HBO when she did a long piece describing her entire menstrual history from her first Kotex belt to her entry into menopause. Similarly, Margaret Cho developed a riff that was surely influenced by Gloria Steinem’s famous If Men Could Menstruate essay that described how she imagined men would behave if they had a menstrual cycle.

In this episode of Broad City, the girls are forced to improvise when Abbi gets her period on a plane and doesn't have access to a tampon.

In this episode of Broad City, the girls are forced to improvise when Abbi gets her period on a plane and doesn’t have access to a tampon.

The new spate of sit-com styled TV shows that appear on the Comedy Central cable system and elsewhere have been giving the period a full airing. One of the most amusing in recent months was an episode of Broad City in which the two lead characters and creators of the show, Llana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, are aboard an El-Al flight to Israel when one of them gets her period and has no menstrual product with her, which leads to an escalating series of jokes and crises. The episode, titled Jews on a Plane, covers a full range of period predicaments. It’s well worth a look for many reasons. 

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

The 1970s and the Menstrual Dance: Naturally … a Girl

September 10th, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

“Menstruation is just one routine step in a normal and natural cycle that is going on continuously in the body,” says the female narrator of the 1946 film by Walt Disney called The Story of Menstruation. “There’s nothing strange nor mysterious about menstruation. All life is built on cycles, and the menstrual cycle is one normal and natural part of nature’s eternal plan for passing on the gift of life.” That film is believed to be the first in the United States to discuss openly the female body and the process of menstruation, including the first film to use the word vagina. In this blog I will focus on one particular menstrual education film, Naturally … a Girl, to explore how it differed from previous other prominent films.

Naturally … a Girl, released in 1973 and produced by the Personal Products Company (Modess—the same makers involved in Molly Grows Up), presents a playful, colorful, and a new technique not seen in menstrual education films before: the interview.  While an authority figure is present throughout the thirteen minute film, she only performs as a guide to keep structure in the film and provide the basic biological information. It is the numerous interviews—with racially diverse girls from pre-period to those menstruating for over six years—that execute the reliability factor so important in advertising.

Throughout the film young girls are shown dancing in brightly-colored tights and leotards against a black screen. Sometimes there is a single girl dancing and other times there is a group of young women, and in all instances the dancing creates a sense of voyeurism that the girls are there to perform for the audience’s eye—whether they know the audience is watching or not is never fully revealed. The girls are all said to be twelve years old and are in varying stages of physical development. Some still possess the more square shape of a young child while others have fuller breasts and wider hips. The camera is above the girls and looks down as they lie on the black background, thus giving the viewer a shot of the girls’ entire bodies. The allure of this shot is created through a sense of scopophilic eroticism at the girls as the audience voyeuristically gazes at them moving their bodies in a tight space and close to each other.

As with the menstrual education films before it, Naturally … a Girl has an omnipresent authority figure who works as a narrator and makes an appearance at the end of the film noting how lucky she feels to be a woman. Employing montages the film narrativized the notion that all girls are different yet experience the same problems and concerns growing up. Doing so deletes the need to break the fourth wall, as with Molly Grows Up and As Boys Grow, since the numerous faces and distinctive interviews form a feeling of relatability by difference. While this creates a viewer interest it does not necessarily promote any involvement on the part of the audience. To solve this the film utilizes questions throughout; basically the film functions as a pop quiz for the audience members by asking them questions, often with multiple choice answers, and a brief moment to answer.

Overall, though, the film better encapsulates women as multifaceted beings than its predecessors. By the end of the film the narrator is introduced as a woman who, as she says, used to dream of acting and is now an actress. She reassures the audience that being is better than dreaming and what follows is a montage of working women: nurses, teachers, police officers, flight attendants, lineworkers, and mothers. The last line of the film sums up the film’s overall message from a young girl (still missing teeth) who concludes that being a woman “is better than being a boy.”

Saniya Lee Ghanoui is a PhD student in media history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her dissertation looks at the history of sex education films in the United States and Sweden.

Ms. July – Menstruation Pin-Up

July 1st, 2015 by Jen Lewis

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. July: Truth & Perception
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Menstrual contagion, men and menstruation, and other menstrual explorations

May 29th, 2015 by Editor

Menstrual musings on period cravings, talking about periods, contagious periods,  communicating about periods, and what men know about periods will be presented in two concurrent sessions at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston

 

Examining Menstruation Friday, June 5th:

Priming Menstruation Schema Moderates Relationship between Menstrual Attitudes and Chocolate Craving
Joseph Wister & Margaret L. Stubbs, Chatham University

Women who had menstruation schemas primed had significant positive correlations between negative menstrual attitudes and measures of increased craving and eating, confirming existing stereotypes. For women in the no-prime condition, these correlations were not significant or were in a direction that opposed the stereotypes.

Perceptions of Women who Speak Openly about Menstruation
Jessica Barnack-Tavlaris, The College of New Jersey

The purpose is to examine people’s perceptions of a woman who speaks openly about menstruation. We will test whether a woman will be judged more negatively when she speaks openly about menstruation (e.g., less competent, less likeable, less attractive) than when she does not speak openly about menstruation.

Menstruation as contagion? Women’s subjective beliefs about menstrual synchrony
Breanne Fahs, Arizona State University 

This paper utilized qualitative data from a diverse 2014 community sample of women to examine their beliefs about menstrual synchrony (women’s menstrual cycles syncing up). Results revealed an overwhelming endorsement of menstrual synchrony, belief in it as magical or “animal-like,” and targeted a wide range of potential women co-menstruators. (Image supplied by Breanne Fahs)

Examining Knowledge, Cognitive Involvement, and Behavioral Involvement with Menstrual Practices: Implications on Health Education and Communication Campaigns
Arpan Yagnik & Srinivas Melkote, Bowling Green State University

There is a scarcity of baseline research on menstruation and menstrual hygiene that can guide health communication intervention campaigns. The outcomes of this study on Indian women and men will provide practitioners, health communication managers and researchers scientifically accurate knowledge about understudied facets of menstruation (cognitive/behavioral involvement, and knowledge).

 

Figure 4 from Katherine Fishman’s Master’s Thesis: Putting men back in the menstrual cycle.

Men and Menstruation Saturday, June 6th:

Masculinity & Menstruation: An Exploration of a Complex Relationship
Kate Richmond, Muhlenberg College & Mindy Erchull, University of Mary Washington 

This exploratory study aimed to learn more about men’s knowledge and attitudes about menstruation. Men completed measures assessing their endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology, their attitudes and knowledge related to menstruation, their general levels of comfort talking about menstruation, and their reports of how they learned about menstruation.

She Got Her Period: Men’s knowledge and perspectives on menstruation
Ishwari Rajak, Minnesota State University

Myths, taboos, and shame associated with menstruation limit conversations about it. It is important for men to engage in conversation to understand at a deeper level why society silences conversation about menstruation. This research aims to explore men’s knowledge and perspectives on menstruation.

Putting men back in the menstrual cycle: A qualitative analysis of men’s perceptions of menstruation

Kate Fishman, Southern Illinois University 

This paper will explore qualitative findings of men’s perceptions of menstruation and the implications of negative attitudes, specifically as they relate to women’s bodily experiences and expressions of emotion. Participants’ creative artworks depicting their perceptions of menstruation will be presented, and future directions related to educational goals will be addressed.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day!

May 21st, 2015 by David Linton

Ms. March—Menstruation Pin-Up

March 20th, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. March: Bursting Through
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

Bad Blood!

March 10th, 2015 by David Linton

The history of women being discriminated against for having a menstrual cycle is, unfortunately, long and varied one, going far back into antiquity as demonstrated by prohibitions spelled out in the biblical book of Leviticus. Sometimes the prejudices or fears underlying both formal and informal practices spring from misunderstandings of biological functions; sometimes they are simply vestiges of patriarchal systems designed to maintain male dominance; sometimes they are indications of cultural lag, behaviors kept alive despite the fact that the individuals really “know better” but are stuck in their traditions. Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery,” captures such a phenomenon brilliantly.

The bad news is that there are still a lot of cultural practices in place whose meaning or usefulness has long ago been found to be worthless. The good news is that every once in a while enough noise is made or enough light is shed on a bad idea that it is abandoned, even if reluctantly.

The recent story about how women job applicants have been asked intrusive and pointless questions about their menstrual cycles and how the interview questions were dropped from the protocol gives us cause to sigh in dismay that such things continue to happen but also gives us reason to smile with pleasure that public exposure brought about change.

Readers are encouraged to respond with posts citing other similar stories.

Ms. February—Menstruation Pin-Up

February 20th, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jen Lewis

Beauty in Blood Presents:
Ms. February: Let It Flow #1
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis
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.