Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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?

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?

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?

I am hoping people will document the public’s responses to my banner. I have created a website: 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:

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

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

Taking the Period Public: Weekend Links @re_Cycling_SMCR

October 31st, 2015 by David Linton
It seems that woman have had to hide their periods forever, as this image from the ancient Biblical story of Rachel and her father, Laban, suggests. But a band of feisty women have decided to come out of the menstrual tent to protest the secrecy surrounding the chemical content of menstrual products.

It seems that woman have had to hide their periods forever, as this image from the ancient Biblical story of Rachel and her father, Laban, suggests. But a band of feisty women have decided to come out of the menstrual tent to protest the secrecy surrounding the chemical content of menstrual products.

It looks like menstrual activism is springing up all over the continent. We at re: Cycling launched an exploration of social and political menstrual activism at the beginning of October, just weeks before Cosmopolitan magazine noted 2015 as “The Year the Period Went Public,” devoting 12 full pages to the topic in the November issue available on newstands now. Several articles from this issue, plus others covering a broad range of topics, were posted on the Cosmopolitan website in mid-October under the headline Your Guide to the Modern Period:

Why the Hell are Periods Still Taxed?

What It’s Like to Get Your Period When You’re Homeless

8 Life-Changing Ways to Stop Your Period Pain

Everything You Need to Know About Your Menstrual Flow

The 8 Greatest Menstrual Moments of 2015

What Guys Really Think About Your Period

Answers to Your Most Important Menstruation Questions, Period

8 Fixes for Your Worst Period Problems

Does Your Period Have to Be This Bad?

Donate Now to Help Every Woman Have an Easier Period

And a group of activists has taken up the cause that the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been promoting for several years: holding the makers of menstrual management products responsible for publicly posting the chemicals and other agents used in their tampons and pads. The story was reported in the Oct. 26, 2015 online edition of The New York Times.

Though other aspects of women’s reproductive lives are under attack, including access to contraceptives and abortion rights, it looks like there’s progress on the menstrual front.

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.

Menstrual activism still booming in Sweden

October 12th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Josefin Persdotter: We just can’t get enough! 

As I have written before on this blog, Sweden has experienced what you might call a “menstrual revolution” since about the summer of 2013 as a multitude of menstrual-related initiatives, organizations, and businesses started and thrived, and menstruation became more of a talkable subject in media. But lately I’ve begun fearing the energy might have withered. I’ve thought people would soon be fed up with the menstrual headlines. Surely there must be a backlash.

I am glad to report I seem to be very mistaken!

Photo by Clara Henry, taken at The Gothenburg Book Fair, September 2015. Used with permission.

Every September, my home city Gothenburg hosts one of Europe’s biggest literary festivals the Gothenburg Book Fair: an autumnal pick-me-up for Swedish readers and writers. As many Swedish authors do, video blogger and menstrual activist Clara Henry released her new book Yes I menstruate, so what? (Ja jag har mens, hurså?) in time for the fair. Sadly I couldn’t go see her in the bloody flesh, but I followed her activities online. That’s been a real pleasure.

Henry was one of the earlier activists of this ongoing national “wave” of menstrual activism and interest. By somewhat of an accident she starting to talk about menstruation on her YouTube channel in 2012 and nowadays it’s a recurring feature. She is one of the leading public menstrual ambassadors and activists in Sweden, particularly for teens. The twenty-one-year old has more than 350,000 subscribers, most younger than she is. She’s talking about menstruation not only on YouTube and her many other social media outlets, but she’s also invited to talk on public radio, television, podcasts, newspapers and magazines.

Her recently published book seem to stir the same, or even more, enthusiasm and interest of the public as her fellow authors+activists of national menstrual bestsellers such as Kunskapens frukt and Kvinnor ritar bara serier om mens of last year (2014). A year ago the nation seemed surprised. Now it’s notably more mainstreamed but the interest has far from faded.

The line of fans that wanted a signed copy of Henry’s book at the book fair was apparently the longest one at the whole fair. The 1000 copies she’d brought sold out in no time at all, and apparently it went straight up to the national best-sellers list of the online bookstore Adlibris at its release. She gave a heart and tear-felt “unpacking-video” of her book in a video on her facebook page where she said:

“It’s so dammed important! I wish I’d had it myself, when I was young – or younger – and that I’d learned about menstruation – ‘cos I didn’t! That made me be ashamed of my menstruation. I like learned that menstruation’s something disgusting and that I am disgusting when I menstruate. (…) It’s my personal experience – and I experienced menstruation as being disgusting. And the sick thing is that almost everyone [who menstruate] I’ve talked to share this experience! Why is that!?”

In my terminology (see further my thesis on European menstrual activism 2013) I would call Clara Henry a “menstrual talker.” She counters the menstrual mainstream through speech acts; she’s defying menstrual silence. She makes menstrual noise for the sake of the noise itself. Share ‘cos it’s not been shared. Talk ‘cos it’s been silent. When one thinks of how long it’s been silent it would have been a shame to see the public interest of menstrual culture fade after only a couple of years.

Happily Clara Henry’s book is not the only menstrual-themed cultural entity enjoying current popularity. Ja jag har mens, hurså? is joined by MENS, a critically acclaimed menstrual play now on a re-continued tour around the nation, as well as a new original menstrual musical playing this autumn at the highly distinguished Royal Dramatic Theatre.

Thus I report that through activists such as Clara Henry, menstruation stays in the public venues of Sweden, and its even been welcomed into national cultural elite establishments. Also, Norwegian public radio interviewed me some weeks ago to ask what’s been going on in Sweden (if you understand Norwegian listen here), reporting there seems to be a kind of menstrual awakening there as well. The menstrual countermovement seems to be spreading!

Josefin Persdotter is a menstrual activist and artist, founder of MENSEN and a PhD-Student in (menstrual) Sociology at Gothenburg University, Sweden.

Weekend Links at re:Cycling – Menstrual Activism & the Arts

October 10th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

When it comes to modern political and social activism, one of the most powerful tools one can use to make a statement and shift public perception is art. Whether it’s film, fine art or the written word, art has the ability to challenge society’s deepest assumptions by sparking new ideas, catalyzing critical thinking, and inspiring individuals to take steps in new directions that facilitate social change. This weekend we look at menstrual activism in the arts with some old favorites and some new projects.


“My purpose in producing and exhibiting these works was to confront the taboo associated with menstruation, demystify this natural function of the female body, and promote thought-provoking discussion among women & men, artists & non-artists alike.”

– Jennifer Weigel, Widening the Cycle participating artist


  • SMCR’s own Widening the Cycle explored the power of fine art this past June with an international art exhibit during its annual conference. More than 30 artists displayed artwork addressing the menstrual cycle, menstrual stigma and the larger role reproductive justice plays in our world.
    • Watch artists Diana Álvarez, Gabriella Boros, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, Lucy Madeline and Kyle discuss menstrual activism in their art practices – ranging from personal empowerment to mental health and menstruation. (45-minute video)
    • Browse through the exhibit and event photo album. (It’s a downloadable pdf.)
    • Check out the enduring materials from the show which include an exhibit catalogue (a wonderful addition to any fine art or women studies library collection) and a comprehensive website housing all the submitted artworks and artist statements.


  • Social news and entertainment website Buzzfeed documented four women’s first time using a menstrual cup and, well, you just have to watch this one for yourself. It’s short and humorous but also surprisingly informative for the cup-curious and newbies alike. (5 minute video)


  • Earlier this year, University of Waterloo student and poet Rupi Kaur set the social media world on fire when she posted a photograph of a woman sleeping, menstruating and leaking all while fully clothed. The horror! After having her photo removed twice from Instagram, this is what Kaur had to say:

“thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines. i will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. pornified. and treated less than human. thank you.”


  • “We spend on average 6-8 years of our lives bleeding – why is one of the world’s most common occurrences also one of its biggest taboos?” MA Candidate (Radio Production and Management, Sunderland University) Bridget Hamilton explores this in a three-part radio documentary series for the community media sector based around menstruation called Seeing Red. In this ground breaking documentary, she researches the origins of menstrual stigma and asks what is being done to challenge it.
    •  Episode 1: Moon Landing explores the history of our menstrual stigma, and the feeling of a first period
    •  Episode 2: Toil and Trouble explores the medical, social and financial challenges many face when they menstruate
    •  Episode 3: Making Waves explores the slow, but sure, movement towards ‘period positivity’


  • What do you do with 90 used menstrual rags that are hanging around the house? If you’re Chilean artist Carina Úbeda, you make an incredible embroidery installation. That’s right, this is a 3D menstrual art experience you walk around and interact with spatially. Of the installation, one visitor told the Daily Mail, “Male blood is celebrated for being brave while ours is a shame. This won’t change until we release our body as the first stage of political struggle.”


  • ICYMI – Laura Wooley from the great queer website Autostraddle is writing a year-long series about menstruation and she is seeking input. Thanks for the hot tip, Liz!


  • And who could forget the vaginal knitting performance by Melbourne craftivist and Craft Cartel member Casey Jenkins? “Casting Off My Womb” is quite possibly my favorite piece of menstrual performance art. It nods to feminist art pioneers Carolee Schneemann and Judy Chicago while being incendiary in a whole new way due to the long reach of social media.

“I have created a performance piece that I believe is beautiful and valid and I know that this belief can withstand all the negativity in the world.” – Jenkins


  • And now for something completely different, but definitely trending online this week: Loon Cup. Love it or hate it, this “smart cup” has even more people talking about alternative menstruation and that’s a menstrual activism win.


Jen Lewis is the Menstrual Designer and Conceptual Artist behind Beauty in Blood. Her work “The Writing Is on the Wall” is featured above; photography Rob Lewis.

Ms. October – Menstruation Pin-Up

October 7th, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. October: The Writing on the Wall
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis


Menarche on Degrassi: The Next Generation – Emma’s Dilemma

September 30th, 2015 by David Linton

Emma and Manny from Degrassi: The Next Generation

Menarche month began at re: Cycling with reference to the brilliant first period talk Roseanne gave her daughter Darlene in a 1989 episode of Roseanne. We’ve chosen to end it with another TV reference from the beloved Canadian series of series named for the fictional street near which it is set–Degrassi. 

The word “menarche” is commonly defined with reference to the biological changes that occur within a female’s reproductive system at the point when the menstrual cycle begins to function. However, the onset of menstruation is also a social occurrence that has been layered with significance in every culture and time. In contemporary societies with “advanced” media of communication, menarche has been depicted in a wide variety of ways, sometimes reflecting prevailing taboos and superstitions, and at others in ways that are informative or even liberating. The focus is often on what I have labeled “menstrual transactions,” that is, the way interactions with other individuals, frequently boys or men, structure the meaning of menstruation for both the girl and others in her surroundings. This post explores one example of how this transitional moment in a girl’s life has been represented in a broadcast television series.


Emma’s Dilemma

One of the most positive and explicit portrayals of a girl’s first period appeared in the popular Canadian series directed at a young audience, DeGrassi: The Next Generation. Emma, the main character in the series, a girl known for her activism and responsible behavior, gets her period while sitting outside of school talking to her best friend. She is wearing a light-colored skirt and in several shots a bright red stain is visible on the back. On this particular day Emma and her friend, Manny, are scheduled to give an oral book report in front of their class and the only thing they can find for Emma to wear is a pair of gym shorts that are much too large for her. As they give the report, two young boys sitting in the front row tease her for her baggy shorts asking, “Has Emma peed her pants?”  She silences and stuns them by frankly responding, “No, I just got my period, for the first time.” They shrink in their seats. However, a somewhat more mature boy sitting in the back of the room, one who Emma has a flirtation with, is aroused from his torpor to a state of interest and appreciation for her courage as well as her implicit sexuality.

The DeGrassi clip demonstrates a rich variety of menstrual transactions. Emma’s close girlfriend comes to her rescue and even another girl, who is normally antagonistic toward Emma, gives her a pad and some “womanly” advice. Menstrual needs supersede social competition or status differences–a classic case of menstrual bonding. Perhaps most interesting is the behavior of the boys. The two young kids who tease Emma are silenced and stunned by her blunt assertion. I think of this as an effective use of her WMD–her Weapon of Menstrual Destruction. In contrast, the more mature boy, appreciates her for her assertiveness.

Missing from the four-minute clip of the transaction described above is an earlier scene in which Emma and her mother are seen walking through a shopping mall eating ice cream cones where a leering man says as they pass, “Hmmm, I’d like to lick that.” Emma shrinks away but her mother turns and confronts the man saying, “Don’t you ever talk to a woman that way!” The scene acts as a role modeling moment for Emma who replicates it in her response to the teasing boys.

Unfortunately, not all TV menarche moments are this positive. But let’s hope for more first period talks from moms like Roseanne and more socially significant, self-structured menstrual experiences from girls like Emma.

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.

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