Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Literary Menses in “Transgressions” by Sarah Dunant

July 23rd, 2016 by David Linton

A review of literary history might lead one to conclude that menstruation was a generally uncommon phenomenon, especially if one’s reading history was drawn from the work of male authors. Despite all their graphic sexual depictions, the women of Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, and a host of others never had to deal with having a menstrual cycle. Understandably, this is not the case with many women novelists and a few males, and over the years this blog has taken up the challenge of exploring how menstrual life has appeared in fiction, for example in previous posts about the work of Ann Patchett, Haruki Murakami, and Margaret Atwood, to name a few.  And, we have also cited the work of Dana Medoro whose path-breaking work, Bleeding in America, delved into the menstrual themes of the few American authors who treated the topic with particular insight.

Now Kelly Renn has drawn to our attention another noteworthy perspective in Sarah Dunant’s 1997 novel, Transgressions.

Analysis by Kelly Renn:

TransgressionsIn the novel, Elizabeth, a very independent and successful woman, is alone after the break-up of her seven-year relationship. She is dealing with all the emotions that one goes through but she also begins to think that she’s losing her mind because weird things keep happening around her large, empty house. At first she thinks it’s her ex, then she thinks it’s a ghost, or her own madness. We find out that it is a stalker which sounds predictable, as though the plot is heading in a conventional direction, but it isn’t. The stalker hides in her house one night with the intention to rape her. Elizabeth wakes up to find him on her bed, waiting. Instead of being raped, she somewhat seduces him and allows him to have sex with her, and even though the entire time she is petrified and violated by the act, she feels that it is the only way to save her own life. Later that night after she has gone to bed and washed the sheets she wakes up to find blood. Her own. Here’s the way Dunant describes Elizabeth’s response:

Her fingers came out red and sticky. She pulled back the covers. There was blood everywhere, caught in her pubic hair, smeared over her thighs, and a fat stain of it soaking into the sheets.  The panic turned to jubilation. She was bleeding early, her body joining in the victory, sluicing out all final remains of him, even down to the lining of her womb. There would be no need for doctors or morning-after pills now. She was doing her own healing…. 

It made her think about how rarely periods featured in books. Could it be that ficitional women menstruate less often than real ones? Clarissa, Anna Karenina, Scarlett O’Hara–not a soiled sanitary pad among them. The few books in which she could remember the heroines bleeding were ones set in convent schools–studies in hothouse guilt where the only acceptable blood was the miraculous kind, transubstantiating from alcohol to plasma in the communion cups. 

And a few paragraphs later..

It wouldn’t have been the same for him, she thought. What would he have done if he had pulled his prick out of her only to find it bleeding? Would the fear of one kind of blood have led him to another? Hammers and nails. Rape and crucifixion-maybe Catholic girls have learned more about life than they realize. 

She slid her finger up inside herself, feeling the wad of compressed cotton and the moistness already gathering at its edge. She ran her finger down the glass, leaving a smear on the pane. “See that” she said, softly into the glass. “My blood’s stronger than your sperm.” 

It turns out that not only does the character have a surprisingly distanced and scholarly perspective on her own rape, but she is able to speculate on all manner of gender politics in the aftermath.  The scene raises some important questions. Why did she not report the assault to the police? Will she? Would the onset of one’s period in such a circumstance have any effect on the ability to gather DNA evidence? Unfortunately, none of these questions are addressed in the novel, but it points out the fact that women writers are likely to bring perspectives to such topics that are far removed from any that male authors would entertain.

Kelly M. Renn is a maternity rights activist and Labor Doula. She is also an Early Childhood Educator and outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive rights. Her website is

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: Subject line: Membership.

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

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,
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.

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 3

December 19th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This post was originally published at re:Cycling on March 27, 2015. 

State of Wonder–Part 3: Wondering about menstrual cycle misconceptions in a fictionalized theory for extended fertility

In Parts 1 and 2, I wondered why author Ann Patchett chose not to include information about menstruation, femcare products and birth control that, logically, would have enhanced her novel’s inciting premise—lifelong menstruation and fertility—while retaining the literary integrity of State of Wonder. I believe just a few sentences could have accomplished this.

Now, I wonder about the menstrual cycle misconceptions that underpin Patchett’s proposed explanation for the extended fertility experienced by the Lakashi tribe.

The reader learns with Dr. Marina Singh, the novel’s protagonist, that the Lakashi women continue to menstruate, ovulate, conceive and give birth into their 70s because they regularly chew the bark of Martin trees found in the Brazilian rainforest. The bark is so effective there are no post-menopausal Lakashi.

The women chew the bark once every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant, because the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. The researchers, led by Dr. Annick Swenson who has been studying the Lakashi for decades, observe the women chewing the bark and collect cervical mucus swabs to monitor their estrogen levels. They dab the swabs on slides for “ferning.”

“No one does ferning anymore,” Marina said. It was the slightly arcane process of watching estrogen grow into intricate fern patterns on slides. No ferns, no fertility.

Dr. Saturn shrugged. “It’s very effective for the Lakashi. Their estrogen levels are quite sensitive to the intake of the bark.”

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle: Used with permission from Geraldine Matus, Justisse Healthworks for Women

Patchett perpetuates the myth that fertility is all about estrogen. Actually, fertility is dependent upon the cyclic ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone. As the graphic illustrates, estrogen rises in the pre-ovulatory phase, peaks, then drops dramatically just before ovulation occurs. Post ovulation, estrogen continues to be produced but its effect on cervical mucus is suppressed (no ferns) by the substantially higher level of progesterone which acts upon the endometrium in preparation for pregnancy.

It would make more sense for the Lakashi to chew the bark more often during the pre-ovulatory phase but be repulsed by it post-ovulation as progesterone rises. How neat would that have been? The researchers could have pinpointed ovulation in their study subjects. Oddly, ovulation is not even mentioned.

Furthermore, if intake of the bark raises estrogen levels, chewing the bark every five days would interfere with the post-ovulatory rise of progesterone, throwing the hormonal interplay of estrogen and progesterone required to achieve and support a pregnancy out of whack.

Another issue: Marina is told that by chewing the bark “her window for monthly fertility would be extended from three days to thirteen.” What does this really mean? According to the scientific principles underlying the fertility awareness method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy, the fertile phase starts when fertile-quality cervical mucus is first observed and ends when three dry days have passed. The bark would increase the fertile quality of the mucus and the number of days fertile mucus occurs pre-ovulation, thereby increasing the chances for conception. But sperm can only survive five days, kept viable by the mucus that locks it in the cervical crypts until an egg is released. And that egg will remain viable for only 24 hours. Timing of intercourse still matters. The extended fertility explanation in the novel does not suggest the Martin tree bark has any effect on these accepted reproductive factors.

Am I being too picky? Perhaps. State of Wonder is, after all, a work of fiction. But I expect a seasoned novelist to have researched basic menstrual cycle facts so as not to pose an explanation for extended fertility that doesn’t pass scrutiny. Had Patchett consulted with a menstrual cycle expert, perhaps an SMCR member, she might have imagined a much more plausible scenario. In the actual book I read, there were no acknowledgements to those she may have consulted on the subject.

I loved State of Wonder for all it’s literary complexity that goes far beyond the details related to the menstrual cycle that I have wondered about in this 3-part series. But it’s been fun to explore how one novelist wrote about a subject I am intimately familiar with and to suggest how she might have done it differently.

Thank you Ann Patchett. Here’s to more menstrual mentions in literature.

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

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 2

December 17th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This post was originally published at re:Cycling on March 6, 2015.

State of Wonder–Part 2: Wondering about missing femcare products and birth control references

In State of Wonder–Part 1, I mused as to why, in a novel revolving around the extended menstruation and fertility of the Lakashi tribe, only the menstrual cycles of the Brazilian women being studied are made visible to the reader. Why does author Ann Patchett ignore the menstrual cycles of the novel’s protagonist, Marina Singh, or the other female research scientists? If they are eating the tree bark responsible for the Lakashi’s extended fertility, their menstrual responses should be of interest to the author.

Failure to mention the scientist’s cycles points to another puzzling omission. There is no reference to menstrual-care products the women would have required while living in the rainforest for years at a time. There was opportunity to do so because a few key scenes are set in the store where research leader Dr. Annick Swenson buys all the provisions for the camp.

Marina must visit the store immediately upon landing in Manaus because the airline has lost her luggage. She has no clothing, no toiletries, none of the necessities for daily living. Why does she not purchase, visibly to the reader, tampons or pads? If not on her first trip to the store, then on her second as she prepares to leave for the remote research camp with Dr. Swenson? She obviously will need such supplies as her weeks in Brazil progress, and the timing of her cycle, as deduced by this reader, suggests she needed them while in Manaus or shortly after arriving at the camp.

I think Patchett’s reason for leaving out this menstrual-related information was not literary, but rather socio-cultural in nature. She tastefully shares the intimate details of the Lakashi women’s menstrual cycles, but can’t find a way—with even a few sentences—to convey this aspect of other female character’s lives? (Exception: Dr. Swenson, whose experiences I avoid mentioning to prevent plot spoilers.) Did she try? Did she resist? If so, why? What a missed opportunity. Marina’s interior dialogue makes it clear she is a still-menstruating woman wondering if motherhood will be in her future. How easy it would have been to use Marina’s need for tampons as a segue to consideration of her fertility.

Which brings me to another menstrual-related omission in the book. There is no reference to the birth control methods used by Marina and one of the female scientists who lives in the research camp with her husband.

Drs. Nancy and Alan Saturn are part of the research team in Brazil. Nancy is eating the bark, enhancing her fertility. Pregnancy is not an objective for this couple; they must be using contraception. The pill would be contra-indicated—a double whammy of exogenous estrogen provided by the pill and the Martin tree bark could have negative consequences. Condoms would break down in the heat. A Mirena IUD might not be at odds with the estrogenic bark, which has another critical medicinal effect the researchers are eager to access. Maybe a copper IUD? A diaphragm? Abstinence? Does it matter? Perhaps not, but why not be daring and tell the reader anyway? Surely the author must have asked herself these questions.

And what about Marina’s choice of birth control? At 42 she is in an intimate relationship with a much older colleague, the man who sent her to Brazil. Contraceptive use is implied but the method is, yet again, invisible. One can assume it was non-hormonal and not an IUD because of what happens at the end of the novel. But why not write one or two sentences along the way to convey this information? Isn’t this what good writers do, litter clues as a novel progresses to set up what happens later?

Ann Patchett chose not to mention the femcare products and birth control methods her characters used in her novel State of Wonder. I can’t help wondering: why?

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

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 1

December 14th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

As re:Cycling explores media representation of the menstrual cycle, we’ve chosen to republish a three-part series I wrote about how author Ann Patchett uses the menstrual cycle as a major plot devise in her novel State of Wonder. Part 1 was originally published on January 22, 2015.

State of Wonder–Part 1: Wondering about missing menstrual mentions in literature

In her novel State of Wonder Ann Patchett explores, among many broad themes, the question: What if there were a drug women could take to extend menstruation and fertility into their seventies? Not evident on the dust jacket, this storyline grabbed the attention of this menstrual cycle advocate.

Set mainly in the jungle of Brazil, the novel revolves around the decades-long research of Dr. Annick Swenson who has kept the location and progression of her research secret from the drug company funding her work with the fictional Lakashi tribe. When a male scientist sent by the drug company to find Dr. Swenson and deliver a message is reported dead, Dr. Marina Singh, a research pharmacologist, becomes the second emissary charged with finding Dr. Swenson and assessing her progress towards the promised drug.

Finding Dr. Swenson is a formidable task, but when she does Marina eventually learns the complex botanical explanation for the Lakashi’s extended fertility, as well as the justifiable reasons why the research location has been so scrupulously protected.

This literary novel, a satisfying read, powerfully renders the mystique of the Amazon jungle, conveying both the wonder and trauma Marina experiences there. For an insightful review of State of Wonder I’d recommend Lydia Millet’s. This series of posts is not a review, but rather commentary on the niggling details related to the extended fertility storyline. Spoiler Alert: Some plot points will be revealed.

After a few weeks in the jungle—the timeline is fuzzy—Marina is invited by two other female researchers to the grove of Martin trees where she observes Lakashi women of all ages scraping tree bark with their teeth, a practices she is told that begins at menarche and is the key to their lifelong fertility.

Marina learns the women chew the bark every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant; the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. She is told also that although the women don’t all come to the grove on the same five-day cycle, they’re menstrual periods are “pretty much” synchronous so the researchers “get a few days off every month.” That is, days off from observing them in the grove while taking pin-prick blood samples and collecting cervical mucus swabs to monitor estrogen levels that Dr. Swenson has taught the Lakashi to do themselves with Q-tips. Dr. Swenson’s research team charts and studies every cycle of every menstruating girl and woman.

The researchers tell Marina they also chew the bark and invite her to try it. Here is where, in a story that speaks intimately about the tribal women’s menstrual cycles, I wondered why Patchett did not include even one sentence to acknowledge when Marina had her last period. (At 42 she has thought about her fertility and her prospect of having a child someday.) Because she scrapes the bark one assumes she isn’t menstruating, and she’s been in Brazil long enough–weeks spent in Manaus before getting to the jungle–to have had at least one period. Where is she in her cycle? This matters because of what happens later in the story. So, since menstruation is integral to the novel, why not mention it? And why don’t the other female researchers mention whether their cycles, too, have synchronized with the Lakashi’s?

In most novels, probably too many, the menstrual cycles of female characters are invisible unless they figure prominently in the plot. It made no sense to me that Patchett chose to make Marina’s cycle invisible. Even if readers can deduce this missing information, surely this is the wrong novel in which to require us to do so. Again, I ask, “Why?”

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

Lizzy and the Light Below: Menstruation as a pillar of human culture

December 7th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Jacqueline Thomas

Lizzy and the Light Below small thumbnailHaving entered my Ph.D. program in English already aware of the general need to better prepare girls for menarche, I wrote Lizzy & the Light Below in the midst of my studies to give moms a tool for starting the conversation with their daughters. Based on the anthropological part of my research, Lizzy is a simple Alice-in-Wonderland kind of story about a girl who gets her first period at school one day, takes a shortcut home through the woods, and discovers a magical cave in which a wise old woman named Ciela shares a different story about menstruation than the one she has learned at school. While I kept the story simple and pitched it at preteen girls, I included a preface summarizing the research that underpins its message: Not only is menstruation a natural process that we should not be ashamed of; it is a pillar of human culture that we should take pride in.

In my studies, I explored two anthropological theorists in depth—Christopher Knight and Annette Weiner—who, in different ways, proposed that menstruation was the basis of human culture. This disruptive idea runs counter to prevalent cultural origins theories, which—with little evidence— mostly take for granted that men were the (violent) prehistoric agents of human development. Moreover, Knight contends that any cultural origins theory should comport with the time-tested theory of evolution. Instead, he says, most origins theories simply project the hierarchical social structure of the present (i.e., patriarchy/patriliny) onto the prehistoric past, without proposing any evolution-friendly triggers of the primate-to-human shift. At the heart of this critique is the insight that, for culture to have emerged during the Paleolithic period (which lasted from 2.6 million years ago until 12,000 years ago) and persisted for millennia, early hominids had to have found a way out of the animal state that entails perpetual battle over food and sex. That is, without having established a relatively peaceful and egalitarian social structure—as seen in present-day hunter-gatherer groups—humans could not have developed a system of shared meaning (culture) and passed it on to succeeding generations. Both Knight and Weiner posit an original matrilineal social structure as the likely (peaceful) crucible of the “creative explosion,” the burst of symbolic culture in Africa around 90,000 years ago that has persisted to this day.

In Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture, Knight proposes that hominid females, after having moved from the expansive but drought-stricken central savanna to the cramped riverine East African Rift, where they had to live in closer quarters than ever, began menstruating and ovulating in synchrony. He argues that they ultimately leveraged this menstrual/ovulatory synchrony to undermine alpha males’ sexual monopoly of them (in what would have been the existing primate social system), in order to get provisioning help for their young from less dominant males. This led to a relatively egalitarian distribution of food and sex, which in turn established the peace required to perpetuate (matrilineal) culture through the generations until the Bronze Age (about 8,000 years ago).

In the primate social system on the savanna, alpha males would have sexually monopolized any asynchronously ovulating females; but, Knight argues, after moving east, these early women broke that monopoly by taking advantage of the “un-policeability” of their mass ovulation and by imputing cosmic significance to their collective monthly bleeding.  That is, by “magicalizing” the apparently moon-governed cycle and by standing in ritualized solidarity, first as sexually unavailable and secluded during the menstrual half, and then as sexually available to the less dominant males during the ovulatory half—in exchange for meat hunted during the menstrual seclusion— women in effect forged the first standing contract.

Since women’s reproductive imperative would have been to get provisioning help for their young, who, with their large crania, had to be born in a much more helpless state than the young of any other species, this social innovation would have been adaptive in evolutionary terms. What’s more, the fairly equal distribution of food and sex occasioned by the contract would have established the peace needed to share meaning and then pass it on to successive generations—that is, it established the ground for sustained culture. Seen in this light, the nearly universal modern stigma on menstruation begins to look like a very deliberate and comprehensive reversal of what appears to have been a nearly universal reverence for it. Indeed, the feminine images and themes of the earliest art and literature seem to show respect for menstruation. And, since menstrual seclusion rituals appear to have involved “disguising” women as the wrong species for sex, it is not surprising that in much prehistoric art, women and goddesses were figured as animal-human hybrids, particularly as bird-women. The delicate forms and vulnerable expressions of many of these prehistoric figurines seem to indicate that it was particularly important to honor girls menstruating for the first time.

Weiner’s main work, Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-while-Giving, challenges the anthropological chestnut that men initiated culture when they began exchanging women as gifts. In her study of traditional Oceanic cultures, she too found evidence of archaic female solidarity and, like Knight, saw it as rooted in an original matrilineal system. According to Knight, for women and men alike, prehistoric social identity would have come from one’s mother group, such that women’s brothers, uncles, and nephews would have been their allies and protectors, even as they brought the meat they hunted to their wives in other mother groups. Looking at patrilineal societies in Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, Weiner saw vestiges of this matrilineality in their current marriage and exchange traditions.

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.

A cha cha about menstrual products, and other menstrual poetry open mic originals.

August 31st, 2015 by Editor

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Menstrual Poetry Open Mic

Menstrual educator and activist Chella Quint, center, teaches the audience the Menstrual Products Cha Cha at #SMCR2015 Open Mic.

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 concluded on Saturday night, June 6th, with a menstrual poetry open mic. Local slam poets joined SMCR members for an evening of spoken word performances about menstrual realities: big, small, old and new. Performers explored the multiple dimensions of our messy, wondrous and vexing bodies, our sexualities, genders, health and our feminisms. The event was hosted and kicked off by Janae Johnson, a Boston area spoken word poet, teaching artist, educator and winner of the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam.

Click on the arrow, sit back and enjoy a unique, free-wheeling, all-welcome evening of spoken word performances.

Videography provided by courtesy of Robert Lewis.

Menstrual Prose Poem from #SMCR2015: “My feet flow through each cycle.”

July 20th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the last in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening.


Flow – by Rosie Sheb’a

Sustainable Cycles cyclists Rachel, Olive and Rosie in Atlanta, Georgia, en route to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference held in Boston, June 4-6, 2015.

Flow. My feet flow through each cycle. Every revolution takes me further into the cycle. Life cycle. Bicycle. Upcycle. Recycle.

My small wheels move along the road, a mirror to the larger wheel of which I am a tiny, insignificant, and yet pivotal part. My essence is essential to the whole. The microcosm of my womb reflects the entire universe!

I look at my legs powering my bicycle across state after state. I watch as I bleed and listen to my body as my ovulation is reflected by the road. My menstrual cycle is a perfect replica of the seasons, of the stages from egg to caterpillar, to pupa, to butterfly. The Earth rotates around the sun, just as my pedals rotate around my crank shaft, and foot by foot, mile by mile, I move forward. We move forward. Propelled by our destiny as cyclists. Life Cyclists.

We cycle, and millennia of oppression melts away. We are part of something immense. Individually, we are just a tiny cog in the giant clock of evolution, but together, we can say menstruation. Period. I bleed. You bleed. We were, are and will be bleeders. Without our blood, life as we know it would not be. Cycling, together, we conquer fear. We surmount shame.

Sustainable cycles? It’s a pun about bikes and periods, but it’s so much more than that. Our message is clear. Love your cycle. Love the cycle. Take care of yourself, and you take care of the planet. Learn about your body, and you will be empowered.

I watch a teenage girl ride her bike through the streets of Philadelphia. Will she have knowledge of her cycle?

I see an old woman on a park bench in New Orleans. Who is learning her life lessons?

A middle aged dame in Texas tells me she doesn’t like “that word” and I wonder. Does her daughter know her – Period?

A transgender man tells of his forgotten tablets and using soft leaves to soak up his accidental summer-camp flow.

So many perspectives from so many places and we’ve only just scratched the surface. So many lessons to learn from our neighbours. Collectively, we have a purpose.

Learn to love. Love to grow as our cycle continues. I watch a playground of children. What world can we envision for them?

A world where we know our bodies? Where we can be ourselves without fear?

A world void of hatred?

Who knows. I am but a tiny wheel on the cycle of life.

Yet one small action can trigger a revolution.

One cycle. One. Cycle. We are in it.

Where do you want to go?

Rosie Sheba is the owner/director of Sustainable Menstruation Australia and rode from Austin to Boston with Sustainable Cycles to present at #SMCR2015. She has a background in evolutionary biology and ecology. Rosie sees positive relationships and experiences of the menstrual cycle as the keystone for the evolutionary survival and success of humanity.

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.