Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

A new name for PCOS, a biomarker for period pain, and other Weekend Links

July 9th, 2016 by Editor

Although only a few weeks into summer, reproductive health has been no stranger to the newswire and popular culture. Personal testimony is at the forefront of many of the headlines, drawing attention to the lived experience of being a menstruator and having a vagina.

Photo by Laura Wershler

Photo by Laura Wershler

  • PCOS will now be known as metabolic reproductive syndrome. The name change comes after years of deliberation between doctors and women regarding the endocrine system disorder. The name change hopes to clear up confusion regarding the disorder, treatment plans and research.
  • “Not all women have periods. Not all who have period are women.” In an open letter to the transgendered community, RubyCup apologizes for their oversight in their most recent survey.
  • Earlier this year, period pain was cited as being “almost as bad” as having a heart attack, and yet little innovation has occurred within the field of menstrual pain management… until now. As reported in ScienceAlert, University of California researchers have identified the protein, hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) as a marker for menstrual pain and PMS. In their study of almost 3,000 participants, they found that women with higher levels of hs-CRP experienced more extreme symptoms than those with lower levels. Why? It’s all about inflammation. To quote from the article by Fiona Macdonald:

“Premenstrual mood symptoms, abdominal cramps/back pain, appetite cravings/weight gain/bloating, and breast pain – but not headache – appear to be significantly and positively related to elevated hs-CRP levels, a biomarker of inflammation, although with modestly strong associations, even after adjustment for multiple confounding variables,” the researchers report in the Journal of Women’s Health.

By finding a biological measure for period pain and PMS symptoms, the hope is that better treatment options will be made available. For starters, why not try an anti-inflammatory diet?

  • Maya Rudolph’s Vajingle for Seventh Generation adds to the already trending #ComeClean campaign led by Women’s Voices of the Earth. The jingle notes the importance of caring for one’s vagina by pinpointing the chemicals found in traditional feminine hygiene products and encourages menstruators to switch to better products or products with natural ingredients.
  • Have a story to share about your uterus? You are not alone. Inspired by her own relationship to her uterus, Abby Norman created, Ask Me About My Uterus. The website features real-life interviews from all walks of life centered on experiences one has with their uterus, including endometriosis, miscarriage and of course, periods.
  • This week on Twitter, the #pantychallenge went viral, but not in the way it was intended. What started as one woman’s Facebook post about her “clean panties” has spurred a much-needed conversation about vaginal discharge. Yes, vaginal discharge does exist and thanks to the #pantychallenge, helpful advice for what is and is not healthy discharge is trending.
  • Natasha Fogarty’s breastfeeding photo shoot is catching headlines. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, just three months after having her son, Natasha mourns the loss of her left breast through a beautiful photomontage of her last moments of breastfeeding.
  • Gourmet coffee, lounge chairs, yoga classes… more and more workspaces are co-opting amenities to suit most every need, why not provide co-working spaces with menstrual products?
  • Turns out women do know what they want. While levels of testosterone have been used as a marker to measure female sexual desire, new research suggests that hormones play little, if no part when it comes to desire.
  • Researchers in Italy have identified a link between an obscure virus, HHV-6A and infertility. While herpes viruses have been found to contribute to male infertility, HHV-6A is the first virus to be linked to female infertility. While more research is needed, the virus is transferred through saliva, kissing, and replicates in the salivary glands.
  • Access to menstrual products is a fundamental right and one that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Menstrual equity legislation made history in New York with proposed bills that will offer free tampons and pads in public schools, shelters and jails. While a step in the right direction, ensuring quality products are made available is key. For female inmates, access to menstrual products is limiting and even when available, the options and space to care for ones period are limiting.
  • Curious about who makes up the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR)? Check out the latest member profile blog posts on Menstruation Matters. Share your own research and join the conversation by becoming a member.

SMCR’s re: Cycling becomes Menstruation Matters

May 28th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

SMCRPC.BackMay 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. All over the world events are planned in honor of this year’s theme: Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. 

May 28, 2016, also marks the date that re: Cycling, the blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, gets its new name:

Menstruation Matters

The Society created this weblog to increase the visibility of both SMCR and menstruation research in September 2009. We named it re: Cycling to represent our view of menstruation as more than merely bleeding, but as a cycle within the larger cycle of life. The name also pays homage to our late colleague, Randi Koeske, who first used this term.

During the blog’s seven-year history, menstrual advocacy and activism have exploded worldwide. Though it all, this blog has addressed and documented all matters menstrual, at the discretion of its many and varied authors. As noted when the blog launched:

“The views expressed are not necessarily those of SMCR, nor even the unanimous views of all blog contributors. Indeed, although we believe in holding writers accountable for their words, we also reserve the right to change our opinions on the basis of new information. We adhere to a vision of academic freedom that is ethical, fair, and responsible.”

This will not change. Readers of our blog know that our writers share and interpret research, report menstrual happenings, express strong opinions, and offer fresh, informed analyses of menstruation matters related to academia, social justice, media, the arts, advocacy and activism.

Expect this to continue as our blog takes on the name of the heavily used hashtag we founded in the lead-up to our 2013 Biennial Conference in New York City: #MenstruationMatters.

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been making menstruation matter since 1977, when this nonprofit organization was founded by a multidisciplinary group of women who were pioneers in understanding the importance of menstrual cycle research to women’s health. Our 150+ members produce, publish, and convey research findings that impact menstrual health across the lifespan, and are involved in a broad range of advocacy initiatives.

We know Menstruation Matters, and now, finally, so does the media.

As leaders in the field, SMCR applauds all of today’s menstrual advocates and activists—including our members—who have made menstruation mainstream news. Our hard work to break taboos, derail stigma, share accurate information, secure menstrual rights, and meet the menstrual health needs of girls and women around the world led to 2015 being named “The Year of the Period” by Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Feministing and NPR.

And the period party continues.

Newsweek Cover_Apr-2016On April 20, 2016, Newsweek’s online edition published The Fight to End Period Shame is Going Mainstream, which became the cover story for the April 29, 2016 print issue. The bright red cover featured a tampon and the bold headline There Will Be Blood–Get Over It.

The Atlantic, on April 28, 2016, published Seeing Red: The Rise of Mensesplaining. The subhead reads: With women explaining periods to men, pop culture is finally treating menstruation as a societal issue everyone should care about.

Menstruation, a societal issue everyone should care about.” 

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been caring for the last 40 years!

 

Menstruation Matters will carry on the re: Cycling legacy as we continue to report, comment, summarize, analyze and opine on all matters menstrual.

Please keep reading.

Laura Wershler is the editor-in-chief of Menstruation Matters, the blog formerly known as re: Cycling

We all must learn about endometriosis because ignorance breeds insensitivity

March 26th, 2016 by Editor

“What I heard shocked me. How was such a thing possible? How had this happened to a friend without my awareness?”

Guest Post by Suzan Hutchinson

SMCR#2013NYC

It is estimated that one in 10 teens and women worldwide are living with endometriosis. They are our friends, our relatives, ourselves.

The first time I heard the word “endometriosis,” I was at a loss as to what it was and stunned that I’d never heard of it before.

I was 20, enjoying dinner, when someone asked, “Have you heard about Pat*? She was diagnosed with endometriosis and the doctor said the only cure is a hysterectomy.”

“What’s endometriosis?” I asked.

Endometriosis was described to me that day as a situation in which the lining of the uterus transplants itself outside of the uterus to the lining of the abdominal cavity and to other organs. And, that when the lining of the uterus bleeds, the transplanted uterine lining bleeds, too–into the abdominal cavity–causing bloating and intense pain, some of which never goes away, and creating scar tissue that causes all sorts of ugly issues deep inside the body. This was not a totally accurate or complete explanation of the disease as I now know; endometriosis is indeed a complex disease.

What I heard shocked me. How was such a thing possible? How had this happened to a friend without my awareness?

I thought of what I knew of Pat. I had no idea she had been suffering physically, and certainly not period wise.

My questions received few answers. Speculation, lack of facts, incorrect information…these all muddied the water for me, so I said I would go to Pat for answers. This received a resounding “NO!” What I intended went beyond bounds, overstepped and intruded on what should remain private and personal. I argued that she might like to be heard, to be understood, to let others know about endometriosis.

“Don’t say anything to her about this. She’s embarrassed and doesn’t want a lot of people knowing.”

Embarrassed.

As I sat listening to the conversation, I wished to have been with her when she talked with the doctor…wished for more information about this thing called endometriosis and wondered where I could obtain it. This was before personal computers and the internet. My only option was to head for the library. The meager offerings provided me little more than what the dinner discussion had.

Pregnancy could halt it and relieve some of the symptoms for some women…temporarily (I could hardly call that a solution). Hormones to halt menstruation were an option, but for women with scar tissue, it offered no relief to the daily and constant pain they endured–it just kept it from bleeding more and creating more pain and problems. And, hormones/pain meds don’t come without risks.

I never did talk with my friend about her diagnosis, or the hysterectomy, or her life following. Protocol of the day dictated I couldn’t approach her with questions unless she approached me first. And, she wouldn’t and didn’t.

Fast forward to 2016.

The world hasn’t changed all that much in all the years that have passed since that Sunday dinner. We still aren’t comfortable speaking freely about matters that concern us. Endometriosis remains an obscure topic for most. We still don’t know what causes it or what to do to prevent it, but we know a lot more about how best to help those who suffer from it. It’s a unique experience for each woman who has it. Many who suffer with endometriosis are invisible and often undiagnosed. We still don’t see it or believe it exists because so many who have it look just like we do. We have a hard time believing in what we can’t see and talking about what we are not comfortable with.

As was stated at the Sunday dinner table so many years ago, so it is often today—how can it be that bad? She worked and carried on just like normal–she didn’t seem to have anything wrong with her. I think it’s all in her head and she should just get over it.  After all, we all have a little period pain at times.

Ignorance breeds insensitivity.

Endometriosis—it may not be what you think. Get the facts.

(* Pat is a name chosen to represent my friend who suffered silently and alone with endometriosis for many years.)

Suzan Hutchinson, a menstrual educator, coach and activist, is the founder of Period Wise. She works for Lunette and has held multiple volunteer roles with the Toxic Shock Syndrome Awareness non-profit organization You ARE Loved. Follow Suzan on Twitter @periodwise and like PeriodWise on Facebook.

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.

Ms. December – Menstruation Pin-Up

December 1st, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. December: Season’s Bleedings
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis
Seasons Bleedings

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).

Ms. November – Menstruation Pin-Up

November 4th, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. November: Pink Parachute
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis
Pink Parachute

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.

De-Tox and De-Tax the Period

October 9th, 2015 by David Linton

Although the social status and understanding of the menstrual cycle has (at least among industrialized and relatively better educated societies) improved slowly but perceptibly over the past 50 years, there are still many ways that menstruation is still stigmatized and used as a way to diminish women. Period jokes, PMS slurs, and even jibes at women’s capacity to hold political office or conduct political debates abound. For these reasons the SMCR has often broadened the scope of its efforts beyond the realm of “research” stated in the organization’s name to include artistic endeavors as well as political and social activism.

Social activism includes a variety of campaigns such as provision of menstrual management products to homeless and incarcerated women or raising awareness of the environmental impact of disposable products. In the area of political action there are two separate initiatives currently in the works. In order to highlight the relationship between the two efforts in conjunction with Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) 2015, I coined the slogan De-Tox & De-Tax The Period.

The De-Tox part of the two-pronged campaign focuses on a piece of legislation that has been introduced into the U.S. Congress by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, H.R. 1708: Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015. The aim of the bill is to require the regulation and testing of the content and manufacture of menstrual management products. A separate blog post later this month will spell out the details of the bill and suggest ways of advocating on its behalf.

The De-Tax aspect of the political effort concerns the levying of sales taxes on the purchase of tampons, pads, and other similar products. In the U.S. this is a difficult topic to mobilize around since sales tax policies vary widely as they are levied under state, city or other municipal authorities. Currently only five states have exempted menstrual products from sales taxes: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts. See this Fusion post for complete state-by-state details.

In some other countries where sales taxes are nation-wide mandates, organizing against them is easier. For instance, a drive in Canada was successful in garnering wide support and led to the repeal of the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all menstrual products as of July 1st, 2015. Similarly, activists in Australia have succeeded in raising a nation-wide drive to mobilize support for the elimination of menstrual product taxation.

Simply put, this is a discriminatory, gender-based tax that is paid almost exclusively by women.

In New York City there is a move in the City Council to address the problem; however, the NYC budget structure is linked to the state legislature’s approval so the drive faces numerous bureaucratic and procedural roadblocks. A separate item dealing with this topic will be posted later in the month.

For now, the first step toward bringing about change is to ascertain what the tax practice is in any particular setting and, where anti-women menstrual taxes exist, to educate both elected officials and the general public about them. Even for those individuals who can easily afford the extra fee on their monthly purchases, the issue has symbolic significance that warrants attention. It’s taxing enough just to cope with the social demands placed upon women. It’s time to eliminate the additional fee.

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.

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

 
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.