Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

SMCR Member Profile: Leading the way on menstrual activism research

July 19th, 2016 by Editor

Chris Bobel, PhD (Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee), Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies, University of Massachusetts—Boston

Image of Chris Bobel by Lunette

Image of Chris Bobel by Lunette

When and/or why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I gave a paper at a conference and in the Q &A, someone suggested I contact Elizabeth Kissling who was doing similar work. In her gracious and generous reply to my email, Liz told me about SMCR, urging me to join and attend the next conference. So I did. I felt like I found my tribe—like-minded feminist scholars, activists and others who saw the value in studying menstrual health while so many of my colleagues just did not ‘get’ it. I remain eternally grateful for this community.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
It grew out of my interest in alternativity and micro-level social change. I had written a book (based on my doctoral dissertation) about what I called ‘natural mothers’—many of whom cloth diaper, co-sleep, breastfeed beyond the second year, homeschool, etc. I thought I had heard about most of the DIY approaches to home and body care. But I was wrong. At the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival one summer, I attended a menstrual activism workshop (Ax Tampax presented by the now defunct Montreal-based Bloodsisters). Here, I learned how menstrual health and menstrual care are fundamentally political and deeply feminist issues. I learned how we actually have OPTIONS to care for our menstruating bodies. I felt like I had glimpsed a rich and wonderful world of new activism and I had to know more. That began a 7-year period of study that resulted in my book New Blood, the first book-length study of menstrual activism. When I wrote that book, I had no idea how much the movement would grow and spread. I worried I was chasing something relatively small, fringy and inconsequential. But now we are seeing the mainstreaming of menstruation across the globe!

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area?
When I accessed SMCR, I met Phyllis Mansfield, Joan Chrisler, Alice Dan, Ingrid-Johnston-Robledo and Peggy Stubbs—and I read their work and realized how much important scholarship on menarche, menstruation and menopause existed. I was impressed by the spot-on feminist critiques of cycle-stopping contraception—a really helpful model of calling out the manipulation of science against women’s best interests. And I was drawn to Liz Kissling’s work. I learned a lot from her book Capitalizing on the Curse, a smart analysis of how the insidious marriage of capitalism and misogyny plays out on women’s bodies. 

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
Menstrual activism—which is moving at breakneck speed. I am fascinated by the body as a site of resistance, which gives rise to so many interesting and provocative interventions. But I am also interested in well-meaning activist efforts that sometimes lose their way, especially in the global development space.

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on menstruation?
Most of my published work is archived here.

What is your current research or work in this area?
I am working on a book based on my fieldwork and textual analysis of 40+ menstrual hygiene management (MHM) initiatives in the global south. I am wrestling with how many of these campaigns, while benevolently motivated, may in fact construct an overly-simplified consumerist approach to a complex set of issues. And these ‘fixes’ may, ironically, ultimately accommodate rather than resist menstrual shame and secrecy. 

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
It has grown and diversified, but let me just address the huge growth in interest in menstruation.

People across sectors—journalists, NGO founders and staff, social entrepreneurs, funders, state agents, and scholars—are finding their way to this issue. I wish I could put my finger on why NOW menstruation is having its moment. There’s been scholarship, there’s been activism, but it is now getting attention. Is it because of social media? Is it new products on the market? Is it related to cultural shifts to challenge the gender binary? Part of the socially media-enabled capacity to see activist potential in EVERYTHING? The newest wave of seeing the political in the personal? Probably a bit of all of the above?

But why not sooner? I think marginalization of the research is the consequence of the devious brilliance of menstrual stigma. We don’t research what we don’t know much about and we don’t know much about what we are find dirty, shameful, inconvenient. I think there has been, until recently, a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance breeding shame and shame breeding ignorance that we are now interrupting. I just hope we don’t cede this movement to the product makers. The menstrual revolution won’t be meaningful if all we end up with are better products in hands that already have them and commercial products in the hands of those who currently use rags. What we need much, much more is an attitudinal shift. If we don’t challenge the very idea that menstruation is shameful, no product in the world, no latrine, no disposal system, no puberty health curriculum, will substantially and durably change the lives of menstruators. 

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

A doc about birth control, #LiveTweetYourPeriod, and other 4th of July weekend links

July 4th, 2015 by Laura Wershler
  • It’s old news that men find women’s faces more attractive when they are fertile, but the facial cues to explain this have eluded researchers. A new study from the University of Cambridge, as reported in the Science Daily, shows that women’s face skin gets redder at the point of peak fertility. However, as this change in face redness is too subtle for the human eye to detect, skin colouration has been ruled out as the reason for this “attractiveness effect.” Dr. Hannah Rowland, who co-led the study, said, “Women don’t advertise ovulation, but they do seem to leak information about it, as studies have shown they are seen as more attractive by men when ovulating.” The mystery continues.

When Elynn Walter walks into a room of officials from global health organizations and governments, this is how she likes to get their attention:

“I’ll say, ‘OK, everyone stand up and yell the word blood!’ or say, ‘Half of the people in the world have their period!’ ”

It’s her way of getting people talking about a topic that a lot of people, well, aren’t comfortable talking about: menstrual hygiene.

Women’s Reproductive Health journal explores postmenopausal hormone therapy

June 17th, 2015 by Editor

Free access to Women’s Reproductive Health, the journal launched by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in 2014, is available to all SMCR members. To become a member of the society or to obtain a subscription contact info@menstruationresearch.org.  For media, submission, and other inquires about the journal contact editor Joan C. Chrisler at jcchr@conncoll.edu.

 

Guest Post by Joan C. Chrisler

The spring 2015 issue of Women’s Reproductive Health contains our first special section: on postmenopausal hormone therapy. The section contains a thought-provoking anchor article by menopause expert, psychologist Paula Derry. It is followed by short commentaries by a multidisciplinary group of menopause experts–a physician, a sociologist, an anthropologist, and a nurse. This set of papers would make an excellent reading assignment for a women’s health course, and it is sure to generate class discussion. The issue also contains two other research reports: one on women’s experiences with gynecological examinations, and the other on the relative absence of mentions of menstruation in novels aimed at adolescent girls because publishers are worried about challenges by parents and school boards that could hurt sales. The issue is rounded out with three book reviews.

 

Women’s Reproductive Health

Volume 2, Number 1 (Spring 2015)

Special Section on Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy

Article
Evidence-based Medicine, Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy, and the Women’s Health Initiative – Paula Derry

Commentaries
The Science of Marketing: How Pharmaceutical Companies Manipulated Medical Discourse on Menopause – Adriane Fugh-Berman

Medicalization Survived the Women’s Health Initiative…but Has Discourse Opened up? – Heather Dillaway

Animal Models in Menopause Research – Lynette Leidy Sievert

Lost in Translation? – Nancy Fugate Woods

Articles
A Multi-method Approach to Women’s Experiences of Reproductive Health Screening – Arezou Ghane, Kate Sweeny, & William L. Dunlop

The Censoring of Menstruation in Adolescent Literature: A Growing Problem – Carissa Pokorny-Golden

Book Reviews
Investigating the Ubiquitous: The Everyday Use of Hormonal Contraceptives – Marie C. Hansen

Menstruation’s Cultural History – David Linton

WomanCode: Caveat Emptor – Elizabeth Rowe

Joan C. Chrisler is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and the founding editor of Women’s Reproductive Health. Her special areas of interest include PMS, attitudes toward menstruation and menopause, sociocultural aspects of menstruation, and cognitive and behavioral changes across the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual contagion, men and menstruation, and other menstrual explorations

May 29th, 2015 by Editor

Menstrual musings on period cravings, talking about periods, contagious periods,  communicating about periods, and what men know about periods will be presented in two concurrent sessions at 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

 

Examining Menstruation Friday, June 5th:

Priming Menstruation Schema Moderates Relationship between Menstrual Attitudes and Chocolate Craving
Joseph Wister & Margaret L. Stubbs, Chatham University

Women who had menstruation schemas primed had significant positive correlations between negative menstrual attitudes and measures of increased craving and eating, confirming existing stereotypes. For women in the no-prime condition, these correlations were not significant or were in a direction that opposed the stereotypes.

Perceptions of Women who Speak Openly about Menstruation
Jessica Barnack-Tavlaris, The College of New Jersey

The purpose is to examine people’s perceptions of a woman who speaks openly about menstruation. We will test whether a woman will be judged more negatively when she speaks openly about menstruation (e.g., less competent, less likeable, less attractive) than when she does not speak openly about menstruation.

Menstruation as contagion? Women’s subjective beliefs about menstrual synchrony
Breanne Fahs, Arizona State University 

This paper utilized qualitative data from a diverse 2014 community sample of women to examine their beliefs about menstrual synchrony (women’s menstrual cycles syncing up). Results revealed an overwhelming endorsement of menstrual synchrony, belief in it as magical or “animal-like,” and targeted a wide range of potential women co-menstruators. (Image supplied by Breanne Fahs)

Examining Knowledge, Cognitive Involvement, and Behavioral Involvement with Menstrual Practices: Implications on Health Education and Communication Campaigns
Arpan Yagnik & Srinivas Melkote, Bowling Green State University

There is a scarcity of baseline research on menstruation and menstrual hygiene that can guide health communication intervention campaigns. The outcomes of this study on Indian women and men will provide practitioners, health communication managers and researchers scientifically accurate knowledge about understudied facets of menstruation (cognitive/behavioral involvement, and knowledge).

 

Figure 4 from Katherine Fishman’s Master’s Thesis: Putting men back in the menstrual cycle.

Men and Menstruation Saturday, June 6th:

Masculinity & Menstruation: An Exploration of a Complex Relationship
Kate Richmond, Muhlenberg College & Mindy Erchull, University of Mary Washington 

This exploratory study aimed to learn more about men’s knowledge and attitudes about menstruation. Men completed measures assessing their endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology, their attitudes and knowledge related to menstruation, their general levels of comfort talking about menstruation, and their reports of how they learned about menstruation.

She Got Her Period: Men’s knowledge and perspectives on menstruation
Ishwari Rajak, Minnesota State University

Myths, taboos, and shame associated with menstruation limit conversations about it. It is important for men to engage in conversation to understand at a deeper level why society silences conversation about menstruation. This research aims to explore men’s knowledge and perspectives on menstruation.

Putting men back in the menstrual cycle: A qualitative analysis of men’s perceptions of menstruation

Kate Fishman, Southern Illinois University 

This paper will explore qualitative findings of men’s perceptions of menstruation and the implications of negative attitudes, specifically as they relate to women’s bodily experiences and expressions of emotion. Participants’ creative artworks depicting their perceptions of menstruation will be presented, and future directions related to educational goals will be addressed.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Exploring menstrual shame, embodiment, and the parameters of premenstrual distress

May 26th, 2015 by Editor

Concurrent sessions on Saturday, June 6th explore unique cultural experiences of menstruation and delve into the parameters of premenstrual distress at 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.


Strekkja (stretch, flexible) Original artwork by Magdalena Margrét. Used with permission.

Culture and Embodiment: 

Menstruation and objectification in an Icelandic context
Herdís Sveinsdóttir, University of Iceland

The aim of the study is to describe objectification among Icelandic women and how it relates to menstrual attitudes, women´s body consciousness and health behavior. Participants were 320 women aged 20-40 years drawn from the Register of Iceland in fall 2013. Findings regarding disordered eating and objectification will be discussed.

Shame, secrecy, or celebration: Experiences and constructions of menstruation across cultures
Alexandra Hawkey, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney 

Through qualitative interviews this study aims to reveal culturally specific experiences and constructions of menstruation with migrant women from a range of backgrounds, in Australia and Canada. Analysis of the data highlights a range of themes including, cultural silencing; celebration of the girl to women transition; and menstrual rules.

Black Women, Red Tent: Doing Blood Work and Recovery of Black Girlhood, Spirituality and Ritual Exclamations for Black Girl Periods
Sevonna Brown, Williams College

This project invites black women to explore their relationships to their menstruation and their bodies more holistically through a consideration of blood, spirituality, and monthly ritual. This conversation-making and interactive study anticipates collective issues of shame, survival, birth, infertility, sexuality and disease. The research inquiries desire to find Black women in their own Red Tent in celebration of their own bodies, reproductive mysteries, traumas and triumphs.

Premenstrual Distress:

Psychosocial factors associated with Premenstrual Syndrome
Ina Rosvall & Sandra Ekholm, University of Lund

Inspired by critical feminist research the association between PMS and psychosocial factors was studied using 1320 responses to a web survey. 33,9% of the total variance in PMS could be predicted, emphasizing the importance of social norms, family structure and relational factors over hormones in the understanding of premenstrual distress.

Sarafem Redux: PMDD, Antidepressants, and Big Pharma
Shannon M. Peters, Madeline Brodt & Lisa Cosgrove, University of Massachusetts 

Industry-facilitated approval of antidepressants was used to justify inclusion of PMDD in the DSM-5. We provide data on industry funding of clinical trials of antidepressants for the treatment of PMDD, discuss the consequences of these commercial ties, and discuss the role of implicit bias in psychiatric research.

Evaluation of the relative efficacy and mechanisms of a couple-based intervention for Premenstrual Syndrome through a randomised control trial
Janette Perz & Jane Ussher, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

120 women took part in a randomised controlled trial comparing one-to-one and couple psychological therapy for PMS, in comparison to a wait list control group. Whilst women in all three conditions reported reductions in premenstrual distress and improvements in coping, women in the couple condition reported significantly greater reductions in distress post-intervention.

Measuring the Syndrome: An Introduction to the Measurement of Premenstrual Distress Disorders
Marie Hansen, Long Island University Brooklyn

This presentation will cover the history of the scientific measurement of Premenstrual Disorders and will explore the way in which these disorders are measured by researchers today. Included will be an analysis of two widely used scales: Premenstrual Tension Syndrome Observer Scale/ Self-Rating Scale (PMTS-O/SR) and the Daily Record of Severity of Problems (DRSP).

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Young women’s experiences with cancer-related infertility, and HPV vaccine uptake and avoidance in Eastern Europe

May 21st, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This session will explore Cancer and Menstruation at 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.

The Significance of Menstrual Flow for Young Women with Cancer-Related Infertility
Kathryn Nattress, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Although the dominant menstrual discourse is one of pain, mess and unpredictability, interviews with 20 young women who were diagnosed with cancer in childhood and adolescence suggest the possibility of alternative discourses. Five themes were identified:

1) A mark of womanhood: “People would talk about puberty or periods like it’s a foregone conclusion that everybody has them. So I would feel a little like I was orbiting and slightly outside of other women.”

2) Connection or disconnection: “People would talk about their periods and what a pain they were. I loved it because it made me feel more like a woman.” For others their differing experience led to disconnection.

3) Menstruation as a signifier of fertility: “I told everyone when I got my period back, I was so excited.”

4) Considering menstruation as abnormal: “My periods are very odd…It was like a tap, it just did not turn off.”

5) Maintaining a natural cycle: “Here I am, trying to do the natural fertility, and not be on the contraceptive pill, and really do everything to have a good cycle, and keep my hormones balanced.”

These young women strongly resisted contemporary, dominant patriarchal discourses and instead accommodated historical, matriarchal discourses where menstruation is seen as a powerful and sacred symbol of life and fertility. Their experiences provide greater understanding of the significance of menstruation for women with cancer-related infertility and allow alternative discourses to be explored.

Young women’s constructions of their post-cancer fertility
Amy Dryden, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Young women diagnosed with cancer often face compromised fertility as a result of their treatment. However, little is known about young women’s constructions and experiences of their fertility post-cancer, or their interactions with healthcare professionals in discussing fertility concerns.

Semi-structured one-to-one interviews were conducted with 8 women aged 18-26 across a variety of cancer types including breast and brain tumours, leukaemia, lymphoma and sarcoma. Foucaultian Discourse Analysis identified three subject positions associated with fertility concerns: Inadequate woman: Accepting the motherhood mandate; Adequate woman: Resisting the motherhood mandate; and Survival of the fittest: Woman as genetically defective. Implications for subjectivity included feelings of inadequacy, fear and devastation; feeling undesirable to romantic partners due to compromised fertility; and feelings of guilt and worry about passing on cancer-positive genes. For the majority of participants, motherhood was constructed as an essential component of what they wanted to accomplish in their lives. Alternative pathways to motherhood (i.e adoption, egg donation) were constructed favourably by the majority of participants, although some constructed these options as inferior to biological motherhood.

Overall results suggest that issues surrounding fertility were important to this group of cancer survivors, and that compromised fertility can negatively impact on the subjectivity of young women with cancer. As such, the results reinforce the importance of the provision of information about fertility by healthcare professionals amongst a demographic who remain underserved in the area of reproductive health.

Constructing the HPV vaccine in the context of Eastern Europe
Irina Todorova, Northeastern University & Health Psychology Research Center, Sofia, Bulgaria 

An image about the HPV vaccine circulating in Bulgaria. The text reads “Attention: poisonous vaccine!”

This research paper explores the relevance of local context for understanding meanings, discourses and disparities related to uptake and avoidance of a vaccine for the prevention of Human Papilloma virus (HPV) transmission, associated with cervical and other cancers, in Bulgaria and Romania.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide, and differences between and within country disparities are striking. Instead of falling, as in many other countries of Eastern and most countries of Western Europe, cervical cancer morbidity and mortality rates in Bulgaria and Romania have been rising. The vaccine embodies an array of personal and cultural meanings and discourses, including those of responsibility, control, morality, health rights, and gender. It also represents multiple interests of many actors, whose attitudes vary depending on local meanings of sexuality, religious beliefs, stigma, their experiences and trust in the health care system.

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with women, health-care providers and key informants, as well as focus groups with parents, and analyzed thematically. The paper will share dimensions of women’s narratives related to personal experiences, cultural constructions of gender, and the relevant structural and policy contexts in which vaccination behaviors are constituted. The discussion will address the relevance of history, healthcare policy and gendered attitudes in Bulgaria and Romania for the constitution of preventive attitudes and behaviors, and critically reflect on what a consideration of local meanings of medical interventions means for equitable health promotion.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

Menstrual Hygiene, Human Rights, and Gender Equality – A Focus on the Global South

May 18th, 2015 by Editor

Scholars and practitioners from the fields of human rights and water and sanitation will discuss menstrual hygiene from the perspective of gender equality on June 4th at 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.

Human Rights in the Private Sphere: Menstrual Hygiene as a Priority for Gender Equality and Human Dignity
Inga Winkler, Scholar-in-residence, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, NYU School of Law 

In many countries, menstruation is shrouded in taboo and secrecy. Removing the taboos and ensuring better access to menstrual hygiene is essential for achieving gender equality and realizing human rights. The presentation seeks to explore human rights obligations to create an enabling environment for women and girls to practice adequate menstrual hygiene. It discusses various strategies including awareness-raising and breaking taboos, promoting good hygiene, and embedding menstrual hygiene in policies and programs by using examples from different country contexts. With a topic as personal and culturally specific as menstruation, incorporating women’s and girls’ views and preferences into programs and policies cannot be overestimated.

Poor menstrual hygiene, stigmatization, or cultural, social or religious practices that limit menstruating women’s and girls’ capacity to work, to get an education, or to engage in society must be eradicated. Considering menstruation as a fact of life and integrating this view at all levels will contribute to enabling women and girls to manage their menstruation adequately, without shame and embarrassment—with dignity.

Investigate and Expose: Challenges in Building an Evidence Base around Menstrual Hygiene as a Human Rights Issue
Amanda Klasing, Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Menstrual hygiene has emerged recently as a human rights issue, but this recognition alone does not mean that human rights practitioners will take up the issue. One barrier is the perceived or real limitations in their methodology.

This paper considers how human rights fact-finding methods may not readily lend themselves to building the evidence base for menstrual hygiene as a human rights concern. It will explore examples of how, despite challenges, menstrual hygiene concerns can be exposed within the context of broader investigations and it will address how practitioners can more deliberately incorporate menstrual hygiene in their investigations.

An important first step is for researchers to recognize the impact of menstrual hygiene on a broad array of women’s and girls’ human rights. Next, researchers should consider how best to expose this in the course of their research. Finally, researchers should consider how to include menstrual hygiene in the recommendations it makes to governments and other duty bearers.

Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools: Meeting Girls’ Rights and Needs in Zambia
Sarah Fry, Hygiene and School WASH Advisor, USAID WASHplus Project

Image by Sarah Fry

Zambia’s schools fall short of acceptable standards and ratios for access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The ratio of girls to toilet can be as high as 200:1. These shortfalls are believed to be factor in the high rate of school drop-out among girls, many of whom do not even finish primary school. As in other low-income contexts, dropout rates for girls in Zambia appear to increase after puberty. Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is burdened with cultural taboo and myths. Girls are still excluded from school for as long as one month at their first menses.

USAID/SPLASH in Zambia address girls’ right to education by removing barriers to menstrual hygiene management in schools. SPLASH and the Ministry of Education research cultural norms, improve girl-friendly facilities and access to menstrual products, break taboos, and integrate MHM in the education system through water, sanitation and hygiene in schools

Menstruation is still a sensitive topic, but experience in Zambia has shown that taboos can break down rapidly and MHM can become a normal part of discourse around girls’ rights at local and policy levels.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

 

“Menstrual Hygiene” Explored: Capturing the the Wider Context

December 9th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

This summer, I bought a new camera. I needed it to snap pictures during a research trip to India where I explored diverse approaches to what’s called in the development sector, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). I chose a sleek, high tech device with a powerful, intuitive zoom.

Photo by author

In Bangalore, I captured the sweet intimacy of two schoolgirls as they watched the menstrual health animated video “Mythri” at a government school. In Tamil Nadu, I used my zoom for close shots of skilled women tailors sewing brightly colored cloth menstrual pads for the social business, Eco Femme.

Photo by author

In South Delhi, I used my zoom to preserve the mounds of cloth painstakingly repurposed as low cost menstrual pads at NGO Goonj.

But here’s the problem. These close up shots may please the eye, but they leave out the context that surrounds and shapes each photo’s subject. And what exists outside the frame is at least as important as what is inside. That’s hardly a revelation, I realize, but when it comes to doing Menstrual Hygiene Management work, in an effort to find solutions, the “big picture”—both literally and figuratively—sometimes gets obscured.

Photo by author

For example, when I snapped the picture of the mound of menstrual pads pictured here, I focused on a product, a simple product, that could truly improve the quality of someone’s life. But when I trained my attention on the product, what did I miss?

In short, a wider angle lens reveals the context of menstrual product access—a complicated web of many intersecting issues: infrastructural deficits (safe, secure, and clean latrines and sites for disposal), access to resources (like soap and water), gender norms, and menstrual restrictions rooted in culture or religion.

Imagine that one of brightly colored packages of menstrual pads ends up in the hands of a 15 year old girl. I will call her Madhavi.

Madhavi is delighted to have a dedicated set of her very own clean rags to absorb her flow.

Goonj worker with pads ready for distribution and sale
Photo by author

But does she have access to clean water and soap to wash them?

Does she have family support to dry her rags on the clothesline, in direct sunlight, even though her brothers, uncles, and neighbors will be able to see them?

Does she have a safe, secure place at school to change her rags?

Does she have someone to turn to when she has a question about her menstrual cycle?

These questions are important because they point to what gets in the way of effective and sustainable MHM. My own review of the emerging empirical literature on MHM revealed that the top three impediments to school girls’ positive and healthy menstrual experiences are 1) inadequate facilities 2) inadequate knowledge and 3) fear of disclosure, especially to boys. I want to focus on this last one for a moment by widening the frame a bit more.

Menstrual Hygiene Management is part of a complex and enduring project of loosening the social control of women’s bodies, of working to move embodiment, more generally, from object to subject status—something absolutely foundational to taking on a host of other urgent issues; from human trafficking to eating disorders to sexual assault.

As we know throughout the West, menstrual taboos do not disappear as we upgrade our menstrual care. Without the heavy lifting of menstrual normalization, any menstrual care practice will make a minimal impact.

Thus, menstrual activism must always incorporate an analysis of how gender norms maintain the menstrual status quo. And it must engage the potential of men and boys as allies, not enemies. That’s a tall order that cuts to the very core of gender socialization. But if we don’t take this on, no product in the world will be enough.

Anyone with a camera knows that framing a picture is a choice. Am I suggesting that we should never use the zoom, that we should forgo the rich and textured details possible when we tighten the shot? Of course not, as focus is crucial to our understanding. But when we do aim our figurative cameras and shoot, let’s not forget what lies outside the visual frame. Let’s not forget what else must change for the pad to be a truly sustainable solution.

With this in mind, I turn back to Madhavi and her new pads. Inevitably, even with them, one day soon, someone will know she is menstruating.

Will she be shamed? Will she be supported?

The answer lies in how we frame the picture.

This blog post appears on Girls Globe as part of a series of invited posts organized by Irise Interational.

Call for Abstracts for SMCR 2015 in Boston

September 25th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

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.