Guest Post by Margaret L. Stubbs
Menstruation Matters…Period! This phrase has become a rallying point for many advocates who seek to understand and improve menstrual life for girls and women. Advocates world-wide are concerned with access to menstrual supplies, especially in time of natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Nepal. Some focus on the need to improve basic sanitation in support of menstrual hygiene. Others focus on access to supplies for underserved women, for example, those who are homeless or incarcerated. Some focus on product safety; some focus on the impact of product disposal on the environment, others promote alternative products like menstrual cups, or reusable pads.
All through October at re: Cycling, we’ll feature social and political activism around a range of menstrual issues. But, in a call-back to #MenarcheMonth—re: Cycling’s September focus, for these efforts to succeed, menstrual education should highlight, early and often, the central place that menstruation holds in girls’ and women’s well-being, broadly considered.
Unfortunately, public menstrual education for our pre-menarcheal and newly-cycling girls is currently inadequate and in need of an update. We applaud those who are trying to remove menstrual stigma from product advertising, educational materials, and the social sphere. But stigma, along with a catalog of associated menstrual woes that can be expected, is still too often represented to our youngest girls.
After reviewing a plethora of books for young girls and a few websites on the topic, I gathered my observations into the paper Current Menstrual Education Resources: Still Room for Improvement, Stubbs, M.L. (2013, June) presented at the 20th Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, New York, NY. They included the following:
- Puberty is described as problematic, a period of being out of control.
- Hormones are in control. (Subtext: you’re not).
- Mixed messages abound and are confusing: e.g.,
- Expect to feel weird. It’s normal!
- Symptoms (e.g., feeling a little sick, tired, irritable; having sore breasts, cramps) are normal, but don’t let them ruin your day.
Long overdue is a shift to presenting menstruation as a vital sign of women’s health, and a normal part of girls’ and women’s lives, as well as an accurate, but not alarming, girl-centered approach to talking about what’s normal and what’s not. This clearly exists in the biomedical literature on the topic: Menstruation in adolescents: What’s normal, what’s not. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1135, 29-35, Hilliard, P. J. A. (2008). How about including some positive information about pubertal growth? And maybe some references to historical research about origin myths, and rituals or celebration that took place to celebrate menstruation? Can we reference women’s accomplishment, even while menstruating?
While we wait for public menstrual health education to catch up, advocates are out there taking on the challenge. Individuals like Kylie Matthews, known as @AuntFlo_28 on Twitter, regularly asks the question: How can I help you? and invites her 2000+ followers to share their best period advice. Suzan Hutchinson at Period Wise is committed to breaking the menstrual taboo by empowering girls and women to be more open and knowledgable about menstruation. Be Prepared Period offers online resources for parents, women and girls, helping all to prepare for positive menstrual experiences.
Menstrupedia, a site originating in India that offers a a “friendly guide to healthy periods,” is also a good example of what can be done to promote a more positive context for girls entering menstrual life.
Let’s embrace the spirit of all the menstrual social activists and inspire others to work for the enhancement of menstrual health and awareness.
Margaret L. (Peggy) Stubbs is a professor of psychology at Chatham University in Pittsburg, PA, and a member of re: Cycling’s editorial board. Her areas of expertise include psychosocial aspects of menstruation; attitudes towards menstruation, pubertal development; and menstrual education throughout the lifespan.