Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Writing Menopause, An Anthology: Preview #1

April 26th, 2016 by Editor

WritingMenopauseWriting Menopause, a diverse literary collection about menopause to be published in the spring of 2017 by Inanna Publicationswas first introduced to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in a session presented at our June 2015 biennial conference in Boston. The anthology includes about fifty works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews, and cross-genre pieces from contributors across Canada and the United States. With this collection, editors Jane Cawthorne and E.D. Morin hope to shine a light on a wide variety of menopause experiences and to shatter common stereotypes. This week at re: Cycling we are pleased to be able to preview excerpts from the collection.


Two pieces by Tanya Coovadia:

The Things We Carry

Last January, I attended a reading series during which two distinguished male authors, in separate opening remarks, said derogatory things about middle-aged women. I don’t think I would have noticed twenty years ago, but lately, for some reason, I am particularly attuned to discussions regarding women of my uncertain age, especially when they are uttered in tones suggestive of a shameful affliction.

Benign anal tumours, say.

One of these men, after his reading, went on to add further insult. He described the typical bumbling misapprehension of his work by that admiring but clueless fan who, he assured us, in his laconic drawl, was “always a middle-aged woman.” As a late-blooming member of the midlife sisterhood, this incident sparked a poem in me.

And (in a laconic drawl) it’s dedicated to Tim O’Brien.

Always a Middle-Aged Woman

(because middle-aged men are just men)

Striding up
with her staunchly held head
her opinions bared like wrinkled breasts

And those years she wears
a bitter glory of furrows and lines
etched by thousands of erstwhile smiles.

Who do they think they are,
these ladies (and we mean you, ma’am)
thriving so steadily
from their cloak of invisibility

We don’t see your once young face
we never stroked your once shining hair

We can’t hear your
sweet, barely caught breath
because you’re
Blatantly!
middle-aged

As though ageing is some kind of victory
as though youth and beauty
are not mandatory

As though you can bring
something new to the world
when your womb is too old to care.

My mirror,
I,
we,
you
reflect this, true

We lift our jowls toward our ears
and smile
a spasm, a rictus. Of youth.

Tanya Coovadia is a technical writer, blogger and angry-letter-writer-cum-fictionalist who occasionally dabbles in poetry. She’s a Canadian transplant to Florida who, during the writing of this poem, realized her interminable hot flashes were not weather-related after all. Ms. Coovadia has an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. Her first collection of short fiction, Pelee Island Stories, recently won an IPPY award.

#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

“Endo What?” documentary sets the record straight about endometriosis

March 31st, 2016 by Laura Wershler

Endo what screen shotThe facts are eye-opening, the experts are compelling, but it is the voices of women talking about their lived experience with endometriosis that have the biggest impact in Endo What?, the documentary about the disease that premiered in New York City on March 16, 2016, during #EndometriosisAwarenessMonth.

In one early scene, woman after woman states the number of years it took for their endometriosis to be diagnosed: 18 years, 20 plus years, more than 15, 22 plus, 13, 6, 13, 12, 10 years, years during which many were told their intense pain was normal, or it was in their heads, or they needed to see a psychiatrist, or they were drug-seeking, or worse.

One later describes her pain: “It just feels like someone is taking a roller and rolling up my insides, and it’s tighter and tighter, and then rubbing barbed wire through it.”

The pain caused by endometriosis is NOT normal.

The film’s director and co-producer Shannon Cohn experienced symptoms at 16 and was finally diagnosed at 29. She, too, was told her debilitating pain was normal. In a recent Newsweek article she said, “Millions of other women are basically told the same thing.”

If it takes on average 8 to 10 years from the onset of symptoms to be diagnosed with endometriosis, getting a diagnosis is no guarantee you will receive appropriate or effective medical care.The film makes clear how few real endometriosis experts there are, and how much unhelpful care and how many ineffective, even damaging, treatments are provided by medical professionals who don’t know the facts or still believe the myths about endometriosis.

Contrary to what you may have heard, very young women DO get endo (symptoms can start before the onset of menstruation), it is NOT a career women’s disease, pregnancy is NOT a cure, and hysterectomy—definitely—is NOT a cure.

Endometriosis is also a disease of associated conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, pelvic floor muscular dysfunction, thyroid problems and chronic fatigue—all of which can complicate diagnosis and treatment.

As for treatment options, hormonal manipulation with birth control pills may manage symptoms for awhile but in no way treats the disease. Stronger drugs like Lupron and other GnRH agonists offer few benefits and many negative side effects, some of which may be permanent.

As Deborah Metzger, MD, PhD, puts it,

“The way we practice medicine is not conducive for what women with endometriosis need…It’s a chronic systemic issue and it needs solutions that are long-term….and using hormones and all those other things, those are Band-Aids.”

The best long-term treatment for endometriosis is surgery, but one of the most startling messages of the film is how few surgeons have the skill to perform laparoscopic excision surgery, considered the gold standard by experts. As one endo surgeon says, “It cannot be done by regular gynecologists as a routine surgery.” To be effective all lesions must be completely excised. Most surgeons use a laser to burn the surface of endometriosis, rather than cut it out, leading to continued pain and repeat surgeries. What endometriosis sufferers need, a voice in the film tells us, is “One surgery, done right.”

Endo What? also explores the connection between infertility and endometriosis—distortion of the reproductive tract by endometrial lesions and inflammation are key factors. Excision surgery can greatly improve the chance of conceiving.

The second half of the film focuses on what women can do post-surgery to restore their health and well-being. Physical therapy to relieve pelvic floor pain, nutritional counselling to restore digestive health and reduce inflammation, exercise, stress reduction strategies, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins and everyday chemicals can help aid recovery to health. A key message is that the disease is individual; what works for some may not work for others.

If the film’s goal is to make people care about endometriosis, it does this effectively by making the viewer care about the women who live with this disease. Be we friends, parents, family members or health-care providers of women with endometriosis, the onus is on all of us to learn the facts about a disease that affects one in 10, and an estimated 176 million worldwide. Medical students should not graduate until they’ve watched this documentary.

The film ends on a hopeful note. ‘There is life after endometriosis.” But to get there, women must be their own best advocates.

“Don’t accept what one or two or 10 doctors tell you is normal when you know that something is wrong,” one interview subject tells us. “Keep pushing until you find the right provider, they are out there.”

Let’s hope, as a result of this film, there will be more of them soon.

Endo What? will be available widely online on April 15th in the US and UK via digital download and DVDs. Watch the trailer here.

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

NOTE: March 31, 2016, is Transgender Day of Visibility. The film Endo What? does not address the unique concerns trans people may have with endometriosis. “Endometriosis and Being a Trans Person: Beyond Gendered Reproductive Health,” published by Hormones Matter, Jan. 22, 2014, provides a trans perspective on this disease.

Three facts about endometriosis: Lupron, surgery and adjunct treatments

March 23rd, 2016 by Editor
Weaving A Red Web by Giuliana Serena

Weaving A Red Web by Giuliana Serena

“…there are fewer than 100 surgeons in North America who have been identified as doing effective surgery for endometriosis.”

Guest Post by Philippa Bridge-Cook, PhD

Endometriosis has had more press attention in the last several weeks than it has had in years, thanks to Girls writer/producer/actress Lena Dunham’s announcement that she was not going to be doing press for the new season of her hit television show due to her endometriosis symptoms. Whether or not this is a good thing for endometriosis can be debated, since many of the articles that ensued following her announcement have contained a lot of misinformation about the disease, which can perpetuate many of the problems that women with endometriosis face. However, that is a topic for another article, and several excellent articles have already been written discussing the misconceptions currently being circulated by the media.

With all the misinformation circulating, in this article I would like to offer my Top Three Important Facts about Endometriosis that come to mind when I read the articles about Lena Dunham. These facts are important for both patients and for the general public to understand.

1.    Lupron:

There is currently no drug therapy that cures endometriosis. Lupron in particular has significant limitations in its use as a treatment for endometriosis, and it is not recommended as a first-line treatment by any national or international guidelines on the management of endometriosis. Lupron is notorious for having a whole host of side effects, some serious, and some can even persevere permanently after the treatment course is finished. Some women feel that they incurred serious harm from taking this drug. In addition, although it may suppress symptoms during treatment, endometriosis symptoms usually recur after treatment. Lupron is only recommended by the manufacturer for 6 or 12 months over a lifetime, and the long term safety data for greater than 12 months of use are very sparse.

2.    Surgery:

Expert laparoscopic excision surgery is an excellent option that offers many women the best chance at long-term relief from endometriosis symptoms. Excision surgery cuts out all of the endometriosis at its root, and is associated with a much lower recurrence rate than other methods of surgery such as ablation. However, there are fewer than 100 surgeons in North America who have been identified as doing effective surgery for endometriosis. Therefore, it is important for women to seek out the best surgical expertise they can, since effective pain relief depends upon effective surgery.

3.    Adjunct Treatments:

For many women, a multidisciplinary approach is required in order to get full relief from symptoms. Endometriosis is associated with a higher risk of having other diseases that can cause pain and other symptoms in the pelvis, such as adenomyosis, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, dyspareuniainflammatory bowel disease, and pelvic floor dysfunction. These diseases need to be diagnosed and treated by the appropriate medical professionals.

More and more, women are speaking up about their experiences with endometriosis. In many ways this is excellent, as this disease that affects one in ten women has been in the shadows for far too long. However, we all share a responsibility to communicate accurate information about the disease, as there is no other way to move forward and improve the lives of women with endometriosis.

Philippa Bridge-Cook is a scientist and writer currently working as the interim Executive Director of The Endometriosis Network Canada, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide education, awareness, support, and hope to people affected by endometriosis. Philippa has previously worked in molecular diagnostics at Luminex in Toronto, Canada, and as a consultant for Scientific Insights Consulting Group, in many different areas of medicine including pharmacogenetics, diagnostics, cancer, infectious disease, and endocrinology. Philippa’s academic experience includes a PhD in Medical Genetics and Microbiology from the University of Toronto.

#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

 

 

#EndometriosisAwarenessMonth: Weekend Links #2

March 12th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

As Endometriosis Awareness Month continues, here are a few worthy and/or interesting media stories that mention endometriosis so far this March:

awareness_month_bannerMarch 8, 2016, Medical Xpress, Survey launched to learn more about Endometriosis

You’d think the medical community would know a lot about a serious disease that impacts the lives of about 176 million women worldwide. Not so:

Researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine, in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, are launching a national survey to further understanding of a common gynaecological condition called endometriosis.

 

March 9, 2016, Christine Hauser, The New York Times, Padma Lakshmi Opens Up About Rushdie in Memoir

Endometriosis advocate, cookbook author and reality television star Padma Lakshmi released her memoir Love, Loss and What We Ate on March 8th. The news story makes clear the broad impact endometriosis can have on a woman’s life:

Ms. Lakshmi suffered from endometriosis, a painful uterine disorder in which tissue grows outside the organ. The struggles of dealing with it — she had extensive surgery — upended their sex life and contributed to the demise of their marriage, she writes. Ms. Lakshmi said Mr. Rushdie at one point called her “a bad investment” and was insensitive to her medical condition even as she tried to recuperate.

 

March 10, 2016, Sola Ogundipe, Vanguard,  Nordica, Diamond Bank walk in Lagos for endometriosis awareness

Events to mark Endometriosis Awareness Month are happening all over the world. In attendance at the Endo Walk in Lagos, Nigeria, was international model and endometriosis advocate Millen Magese.

IT was a star-studded list of  Nigerians that braved the early-morning downpour on Saturday March 5, 2016, to  participate in the annual Endo Walk, aimed at breaking the silence around Endometrioisis – a silent but growing health condition that predisposes women of reproductive age to ill health, infertility and severe periodic pains.

 

March 11, WTOP, Endometriosis and period pain: Redefining normal for teenage women

An article sponsored by  The Center for Innovative GYN Care based in Washington, DC, makes the point that far too often teenagers and young women are told that the menstrual pain they feel is normal:

The perception is that this is a burden a woman must bear as part of her biological make-up, and the less said about it the better, unless you are selling a pain reliever/diuretic combo. Those who manage to make it through years without experiencing pain are deemed “lucky.” But, the mere acceptance of pain as a side effect of the onset of female fertility has served, some would say for thousands of years, to ignore a sign of an actual disease: Endometriosis. A disease that increases in intensity over time.

 

Coming up next Saturday, March 19, is the 2016 Worldwide EndoMarch taking place in various cities throughout the world. Click here for information.

#EndometriosisAwarenessMonth: Weekend Links #1

March 5th, 2016 by Laura Wershler
Photo courtesy of Heather Guidone

Photo courtesy of Heather Guidone

Worldwide, and here at re:Cycling, March is #EndometriosisAwarenessMonth. To increase your knowledge of this insidious disease, read through this series of articles and personal stories, briefly quoted here, that were published by The Guardian last September.

 

Sep. 27, 2015, The GuardianWhat is endometriosis guide

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity.

It can grow on organs including the ovaries, uterus, bowel and pelvic sidewall, causing inflammation and pain.

 

Sep. 27, 2015, Gabrielle Jackson, The Guardian, Endometriosis: 20 things every woman (and every doctor) should know

11. 
Endometriosis affects the immune system but it isn’t an autoimmune disease.

12. 
The severity of endometriosis doesn’t necessarily correlate with the amount of pain or other symptoms a women has.

 

Sep. 27, 2015, Gabrielle Jackson, The GuardianI’m not a hypochondriac. I have a disease. All these things that are wrong with me are real, they are endometriosis

I feel sad that this is the hardest story I’ve ever written and that I’m embarrassed that people will read it and know the intimate details of my life. But I’m also hopeful that a conversation has begun.

 

Sep. 27, 2015, Sarah Boseley, Jessica Glenza and Helen Davidson, The Guardian, Endometriosis: the hidden suffering of millions of women revealed

The lack of research and funding for a disease that affects so many women is “a major scandal”, said Lone Hummelshoj, who heads the World Endometriosis Research Foundation and the World Endometriosis Society. 

“Endometriosis affects women in the prime of their life. It is not a lifestyle disease. It is not a disease you get later in life. It attacks teens, young women when they should be out being active, working, having children, having sex – 50% of them are struggling with sex because it is too painful,” she said.

 

Sep.28, 2015,  The Guardian view on endometriosis: a silent source of unnecessary misery–Editorial

A disease that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age, that forces young girls to take days off school, older women to abandon careers and condemns others to childlessness should not be near-invisible. And yet endometriosis is rarely discussed, and when it is, it is often obscured by myths suggesting that women themselves are in some way to blame. Many are ashamed to admit to suffering, and often doctors seem ill-prepared to diagnose and treat the disease. It is a secret plague; yet it could afflict as many as 176 million women around the world.

 

Sep. 28, 2015, Hilary Mantel, The GuardianEndometriosis took my fertility, and part of my self

My own battle with the disorder seems to have occupied most of my life. Period pains were normal, I was told, and if I seemed to suffer more than most, it must be because I had a “low pain threshold”. At 19, I began actively seeking a diagnosis. I was 27 when I received it, and by that stage, major surgery was the only answer. Abruptly I lost my fertility and, in some ways, lost myself. Though I was told I was cured, the condition recurred, and drug treatment led to huge weight gain. Thyroid failure followed and the devastating chain of consequences pursues me to this day. Anything I have achieved has been in the teeth of the disease.

 

Sep. 28, 2015, The Guardian, ‘The pain is paralysing’: 30 women describe living with endometriosis

I’m a gynaecologist and I didn’t want to accept that I had it

It’s treated like some shameful secret

Endometriosis is ruining my marriage

Doctors who know how to treat it are few and far between

 

Sep. 28, 2015, Jessica Glenza, The GuardianEndometriosis often ignored as millions of American women suffer

Many patients and specialists contend that the lack of research funding and public knowledge of endometriosis is because of who and what it impacts: almost exclusively women, largely during menstruation. 

“I went 10 years, through 22 surgeries, before I got help,” said Heather C Guidone, the surgical program director at the Center for Endometriosis Care in Atlanta. Through those 10 years, and since hearing the stories of other patients, she said doctors often tell women, “‘Periods are supposed to hurt. It’s a woman’s lot in life to suffer.’”

 

Heavy media menstrual flow

February 16th, 2016 by David Linton

It seems we’ve reached a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it, or perhaps a paradigm shift, as Thomas Kuhn might say, in the level of acceptance of menstrual cycle references in mainstream media. As re:Cycling demonstrated recently in the time line of coverage of the de-tax the period campaign that is ongoing around the world, there is an abundance of material on this topic alone.

Now, to add to the accumulation, consider another four references within a few days of each other in two major publications, The New York Times and New York magazine.

Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 2016, Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine, Smirking in the Boys’ Room

In an interview-based article about her new show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, the soon-to-be-late-night host casually mentioned that the stress of putting together the show had made her stop getting her period, “I guess I’m doing a good job of pushing the terror onto my innards.” This was in the context of the fact that she will be the first female host of a late-night comedy show.

Feb.8, 2016, Editorial, The New York Times, p. A-24, End the Tampon Tax

The editorial page of the most august newspaper in the U.S. took a position on the taxation debate under the headline “End the Tampon Tax.” The piece reviewed the history of the campaign with emphasis on the efforts of two members of the California State Assembly and cited President Obama’s support.  It then went on to endorse efforts in New York City to provide free tampons and pads in the schools and closed with the statement, “Getting rid of taxes on these products is an important first step toward making them affordable for all.”

Thinx_2016-02-15Feb. 8-21, 2016, Noreen Malone, New York Magazine, p.70, Panty Raid

The magazine gave six full pages of coverage to the controversy surrounding the advertising campaign for Think period underwear, including a full page picture of the company’s head, Miki Agrawal, modeling a pair of her Thinx Hi-Waist items.  The fuss surrounding the ads concerned whether it was acceptable to the advertising guidelines of the transportation agency to include mention of the period in ads carried on the trains and in the stations.  The restrictive response of the authorities was a boon to the company, as the lengthy coverage here and elsewhere in the New York media environment demonstrated.

Feb. 14 2016, Sharon Mesmer, The New York Times-Sunday Review, p.10, All Praise the Women of Menopause

The Sunday Times receives broader distribution and attention than the daily issues and is read widely read around the world, so it is noteworthy that nearly half a page was given to Sharon Mesmer’s essay. The piece takes a playful look at the fact that there are plenty of special rituals and ways of celebrating when girls begin to menstruate but nothing for women when they transition to becoming non-menstruators. Mesmer suggests some celebratory actions that might be taken, and though they are exaggerated and humorous, she makes an important point about how menopause is still a closeted phenomenon.

Clearly, we are likely to see more and more menstrual stories in the coming months.  And with all the attention being given to the fact that women are increasingly visible in the political area, it’s likely to be a mixed batch.

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 MISCHIEF: South Park Meets Judy Blume

December 31st, 2015 by David Linton

Note: Inspiration for the following observation came from research and writing done by a former student of mine, Bob Newman, whose thorough analysis of the menstrual elements in adult TV cartoons is the source of the critique.

It is likely, at least for women who grew up from 1970 onward, that the most widely known menstrual reference in popular culture is Judy Blume’s path breaking 1970 kid-lit novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (For men and the general public the most widely known is probably the 1974 novel by Stephen King, Carrie, and its several film adaptations.)

southParkMore recently, the venue in which menstrual details appear most frequently is surely the long-running TV series, South Park. As befits a program whose very raison d’être is the evisceration of social taboos, received wisdom, cant, and established beliefs (not to mention a random selection of celebrities and customs), menstruation has repeatedly come in for its share of attention. So it is no surprise that Trey Parker, one of the series’ creators, would write a script that brings together the well known Judy Blume novel with menstrual taboos and ignorance in the Season 3, Episode 16 show titled Are you there God? It’s me, Jesus.

Readers familiar with the famous novel will recall that, among the many pubescent concerns they have, the girls in the book are anxious to the point of competitiveness about getting their periods, the crucially important indication that they are becoming women. They gossip and even fib about who “got it” first, and important story elements concern their school viewing of a menstrual education film and shopping for menstrual products. With this in mind, the South Park episode offers what might be seen as a raunchy version of Gloria Steinem’s essay, If Men Could Menstruate. It starts off this way (script slightly edited for length):

CARTMAN: You guys!  You guys!  Guess what?

KYLE: What, fatass!?

CARTMAN: I’ve become a man! I started puberty, you guys!

STAN: No you didn’t!

CARTMAN: Yes! I really did.

STAN: How do you know?

CARTMAN: Well, because yesterday I got my period.

KYLE: You got your what?

CARTMAN: My period, you guys.  You see, there comes a time in every child’s life when they grow up and nature takes its course by having you bleed out your ass for a few days every month.

STN: You’re making that up! (women enter from behind Eric) Miss Aliton, what’s it mean to get a period?

MISS ALITON: Well boys, ah-I don’t think I can tell you.  Ah-

STAN: Please, it’s important.

MISS ALITON: It’s when puberty hits and you bleed, you know, down there.

KYLE: Holy shit, dude! Cartman’s right!

CARTMAN: Well guys, I’m afraid I won’t be able to hang out with you on New Year’s Eve.  I have to hang out with the older crowd because now, I’m ma-ture.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.

STAN: Dude, Cartman can’t hit puberty before us.

KYLE: Well, maybe we’ll get ours soon, too.  I’m gonna go and see if I’m bleeding out my ass.

It turns out that the reason for Eric Cartman’s condition is a stomach virus that causes rectal bleeding; however, all of the boys are so envious of Cartman’s new status as a pubescent young man that the rest of the episode is spent charting their anxiety at not also having blood coming from the ass and trying to find out what a period is and how to deal with it.  One of the boys, Kyle, even lies about bleeding so he can have the status that it bestows.  And the “Margaret” of the show becomes Stan who goes about his days asking adults to explain to him what “getting your period” means, only to be met with confusing or evasive answers.   The adult who is usually the most helpful in explaining the mysteries of adulthood to them, Chef, sings a song about the period but it is of no help in dealing with Stan’s fear of being left behind his menstruating friends.

Again echoing a scene in Are You There God?, the boys go shopping for menstrual products only to become even more confused when faced with the plethora of products that line the shelves of the store. Kenny, the boy who gets killed in every episode, tries to follow the directions for tampon use and inserts it in his anus, causing him to eventually explode as he fills up with feces.

Finally, Stan becomes so frustrated in trying to get an explanation of what the period is and why he has not yet gotten one himself that he prays to Jesus for an answer. But Jesus, being a man after all, is of no help either. Finally, God intervenes and answers Stan’s questions as well as telling him that Cartman really has a virus and Kyle is faking.

The program accomplishes several of its satiric intentions by creating a parody of Judy Blume’s novel and at the same time laying out the various ways the menstrual cycle continues to be a taboo topic that children have a natural curiosity about but that adults turn into a dark mystery, particularly for boys. I wonder how the designers of health education curricula and lesson plans would feel about showing this piece in tandem with the usual corporate sponsored “Becoming A Woman” videos that are the major source of sex education in most schools.

Menstrual Pop Music: Singing the period blues

December 28th, 2015 by David Linton

Since re:Cycling launched in 2009, we’ve posted often about how film, TV, advertising and literary productions reference menstruation. However, one popular mass medium seems to have generally avoided addressing the cultural and personal presence of the menstrual cycle: popular music. But, there are a few exceptions worthy of note.

It’s not surprising that nearly all of the musical menstrual references located so far are songs by or performed by women. Consider the following four examples:

puddledive_largeThe earliest sighting so far is by the founder of Righeous Babe Records, a leading feminist artist, Ani DiFranco, on her 1993 CD titled PUDDLE DIVE. The track’s title, Blood in the Boardroom, gives a good idea of what’s in store. The lyrics  depict a scene that thousands of women in corporate settings may have experienced, or at least dreaded the possibility of having to deal with. The character in the song is the sole woman at a meeting with a room full of male executives. She unexpectedly gets her period, leaving a stain on the boardroom chair as she leaves the meeting in search of a tampon. The only woman in sight is a secretary in whom she confides in a moment of menstrual bonding. Though the secretary expresses sympathy for the “hassle” she’s dealing with, the singer sees the stain she has left on the chair as a symbol of her women’s power:

it ain’t no hassle, no, it ain’t no mess
right now it’s the only power
that I possess
these businessmen got the money
they got the instruments of death
But I can make life
I can make breath

 

A year later (1995), an aspiring young singer named Monica released MISS THANG, a CD with a track titled Don’t Take it Personal (just one of dem days.) In keeping with the tone of the rest of the album, the song has an adolescent longing, even whiny, quality, and the producers clearly thought that this cut had potential for getting air and club play as they included two different mixes of it. Though the lyrics do not make a specific reference to the singer’s cycle, the implication of the words carry the notion that she is having an uncomfortable period and that the boy who she is feeling testy towards should just wait it out until it’s no longer “one of dem days.”

Another young woman who had already achieved a good deal of attention and success in her career, Mary J Blige, released NO MORE DRAMA in 2002 containing a track simply named PMS. She introduces the song by directly addressing the women who might be listening stating, “I wanna talk to the ladies tonight/About situation I’m pretty sure y’all be able to relate to.” However, the song then quickly takes a turn and actually is addressed to men:

So don’t even look at me
See I don’t wanna hear your problem
Cause I’m having some of my own
I know it was not your fault
That I’m feelin down
I just wanna be left alone

The lyrics proceed with a virtual catalog of menstrual-related problems and discomforts backed up by a chorus of women who intone “PMS, PMS, PMS” in a dirge like incantation. At the end the singer returns to addressing the women listeners with a disheartening lament:

if you understand, understand where I’m comin from
Sing along, PMS
This is the worst part of everything
The worst part of being a woman is PMS
Give me a break, give me a break

The song takes a thoroughly negative, even catastrophic, view of the impact of having a menstrual cycle and the style of the delivery matches its depressing darkness. In contrast, a few years later country music star Dolly Parton produced an examination of the same subject in PMS Blues, which is widely available on a number of internet sites reflecting the fact that she commonly includes it in her performances at various venues. And though the gist of the song is similarly negative about the dire impact of PMS, there’s a tough amusement in the delivery and style of the approach that makes audiences cheer Parton both for having the temerity to openly perform a piece about the menstrual cycle as well as for displaying the strength and moxie to live through it and come out as spunky and tough as her persona suggests.

But, for contrast, consider a few lines by the Hip-Hop star, Eminem, the only male I’ve yet found to mention anything menstrual. In 2002, the same year that Mary J Blige’s PMS was released, Eminem released one of his most important CDs, THE EMINEM SHOW which includes a cut titled Without Me. The song is in the common category of male boasting about one’s own power and brilliance, in this case along the lines that the entire world of Rap music has been suffering due to his absence as he has had to deal with some legal problems. The frequent refrain is “It feels so empty without me.” The passing menstrual detail suggests profound male ignorance about the actual process of the menstrual cycle, though it is an attempt to use a reference to women’s reproduction in a way that grants it creative power.

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.