Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual Poetry from #SMCR2015: “She who dreams the world awake”

July 9th, 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 second in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening.


Who is Witch? – by Giuliana Serena

Red Witch by Giuliana Serena


She who sweeps the space, lights the candle, calls the circle, stokes the fire, fans the feathers, stirs the cauldron.

She who straddles the hedge, the edge, of culture and the wild, bridging the divide.

She who holds holy the mysteries of existence, practicing reverence.

She who brings forth the transformation of consciousness at will, as medicine for the people.

She who soothes, and comforts, and holds those in need.

She who chants and drums, and dances the spiral dance, raising the power, and giving it back.

She who keeps the old ways, and manifests new ones.

She who says yes, and no, with discernment.

She who knows all and nothing.

She who seeks knowledge, sitting at the feet of death, and of birth, as teachers.

She who dreams the world awake, drinking deeply of the divine.

She who journeys, and conjures, and sings over bones.

She who navigates the depths of the river beneath the river.

She who celebrates, feasts, and makes love with abandon.

She who walks the wisdom path, who carries the vast fertile ocean within, who cycles, who flows, who bleeds on the earth, then holds her wise blood inside.

She who draws down the moon, and the light of a thousand, thousand suns.

She who embodies the magical nature of the cosmos, the transcendent feminine force.


She who is Woman; Maiden, and Empress, and Maga, and Crone.

She who is rooted and grounded, present, aware.

She who is her authentic self, without apology.

She who is.


Giuliana Serena is a ceremonialist, Rites-of-Passage facilitator, menstrual cycle educator, and founder of Moontime Rising


Menstrual representations in religion, bible stories, TV comedy and menstrual education films

May 19th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Four presenters discuss Menstrual Representations on Friday, June 5th 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.

1) Menstrual Mystery: Female Bodies in Catholic Theology
Doris M. Kieser, St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta

A good deal of contemporary Catholic theological focus has to do with women’s capacity to control their bodies regarding reproduction (e.g., various contraceptives, abortion, reproductive technologies). By contrast, feminist and other liberation theologies (e.g., mujerista, queer, womanist) face the moral questions regarding reproduction from the direction of the whole health and flourishing of particular women, autonomy and choice in decision-making, and the place of intention and conscience in personal faith life. However, between these two perspectives, mysteriously little mention is made of menstruation, particularly menarche, as an embodied aspect of female sexuality.

In this paper I suggest that more meaningful consideration of actual menstruating female bodies could bolster both the traditional and the feminist theological perspectives on control and reproduction while, most importantly, empowering young females through their sexual development. Regardless of future choices regarding birth control, females who learn the practicalities of menstrual awareness have the opportunity to experience an embodied sexual self, based on the connection of body and spirit in their reproductive lives.

2) Biblical Blood: Image Representations of Menstruation in Bible Stories
David Linton, Professor Emeritus, Marymount Manhattan College

How do you tell important stories that involve a detail fraught with taboo, a detail that might discomfort the narrator or embarrass the audience? Such a challenge confronted artists and illuminators faced with the task of illustrating Biblical stories that involved mention of women who were menstruating. Social engagement by menstruating women during that phase of their cycles was (and in many settings still is) severely restricted. This paper describes how Biblical menstruators were treated in image art.

There are only three specific references in the Bible to an actual woman’s menstrual flow, two are explicit, the other somewhat veiled. One is found in the Genesis story of Rachel’s confrontation with Laban, her father, regarding her theft of his household gods. Another is in the story of King David’s sighting of Bathsheba taking a post-menstrual bath. The other is embedded in the brief recounting, told in three of the Gospels, of Jesus’ healing of a character who has come to be known as “the bleeding woman.” This paper traces the various treatments the three menstrual stories have received.

Illustration by Elizabeth Kissling

3) All Postfeminist Women Do: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Television Comedy
Elizabeth A. Kissling, Eastern Washington University

This essay explores how women’s sexual and reproductive health issues are represented in four television comedies by, for, and about young women – Girls, The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls, and New Girl – in ways that fill in some of the gaps of abstinence-only sex education that has been dominant in U.S. public schools since the passage of Title V of the Social Security Act 1996. Simultaneously, these shows reproduce the postfeminist sensibility of late 1990s television programming and align with the same neoliberal values.

Citing multiple specific scenes from these four current television series, and using a material-semiotic analysis and a critical, feminist lens, I show how postfeminism is deployed and reinforced, along with important information about women’s sexual and reproductive health. Examples include characters from Girls discussing the transmission of HPV, the gradual realization among characters on New Girl that PMS is socially constructed, Dr. Mindy Lahiri of The Mindy Project educating high school students about birth control, and more. This health information is frequently presented in realistic interpersonal scenarios and is largely medically accurate, leading to the conclusion that it may be a valuable source of information about sexual and reproductive health for viewers.

4) Menstrual Documentary: Menstrual Education Films of the 1970s
Saniya Ghanoui, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Menstrual educational films are used widely in American school curricula to educate and prepare girls both practically and emotionally for the changes they are about to undergo. This presentation explores the mediated treatments of the first period and examines the ways girls are told to prepare for its arrival.

The 1960s produced little new sex and menstrual hygiene films aimed at girls since The Story of Menstruation (1946) and Molly Grows Up (1953) were both used in schools through the decade. However, the 1970s saw a rash of menstrual education films with new form and configuration.

This paper examines the social underpinnings of menstrual education films and how they were directed at young girls to exemplify the evolution of menstrual hygiene education that embodied the public sphere. By focusing on the 1970s I conclude that the new style of menstrual hygiene film mirrors the new style of sex hygiene instruction.

Religious and cultural menstrual traditions, Jewish ritual around menstruation, and abortion rights in Israel

May 11th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three papers will explore the theme Religion and Reproductive Rights and Traditions on June 4th at 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

Tour a Jewish ritual bath on a Mikveh Visit with Mayyim Hayyim, a pre-conference event on Wednesday, June 3, 3:30-5:30 p.m. The Jewish ritual bath is intended to mark transitional moments, including niddah (the practice of monthly immersion following menstruation). This event it open to the public.

Menstruation and Reproductive Practices: Religion and Traditions and the Influence of Immigration on Mother-Daughter Dyads across Cultures
Sheryl Mendinger, PhD, Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice, Northeastern University &
Julie Cwikel, PhD, The Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion, 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

A menstrual hut in Ethiopia. Image provided by Sheryl Mendlinger.

“In Ethiopia there is no rest until you go to the hut, only during menstruation the women rests.”

This paper presents a theoretical analysis of in-depth interviews with multicultural mother-daughter dyads and quantitative data that examines how women from different cultural and religious backgrounds view menstruation and family planning practices. Both of those practices changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters following immigration to Israel.

Some of the themes identified in this analysis include traditions, ceremonies and religious observance in relation to menarche, such as European women and ‘the slap’ and Ethiopian women going to the menstrual hut during their menstrual cycles. In terms of family planning, the data show how women from Ethiopia practiced extensive breastfeeding and women from the CIS used therapeutic abortions as birth control. Both of those practices—menstruation and family planning—changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters, following immigration to Israel. The move away from a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter may also reflect a movement from a ‘mother to daughter’ model of knowledge transmission to a ‘peer to peer’ channel of transmission.

The Jewish Ritual around Menstruation: How “Family Purity” Laws Affect Modern Women
Naomi Marmon Grumet, PhD, The Eden Center, Jerusalem, Israel

The Jewish rituals surrounding menstruation are complex. For those who observe the religious framework, these rituals affect and circumscribe actions throughout the monthly cycle. This lecture will explore the scope of these rituals, and how modern women make meaning of the practice of these ancient laws.

The presentation will give voice to a range of Jewish women’s experiences with the framework of these laws, often known as taharat hamishpacha. This aspect is based upon formal interviews with more than 70 religious women (as well as separate interviews with their husbands) who are observant of taharat hamishpacha, and informal discussions with dozens of others.

Abortion Legal Rights in Israel: Reproductive and Sexual Health
Yael Magen, Esq., Multigenerational Family Law and Taxes

In Judaism a fetus is not considered a “nefesh”, a soul, or a human being, until it is born.

This presentation will present an overview of the abortion issue in Israel including Israel’s legal system, Jewish legal position of the fetus vs. the mother, Israeli legislative history, and its applicability and practicality in Israel today.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Reclaiming “The Change”

May 31st, 2013 by Ashley Ross

The Change.

Stormy skies above Bagnor (UK)
Photo by Andrew Smith // Creative Commons 2.0

This name for peri/menopause has appeared in many cultures and has been passed down through the eons, generation to generation. I, myself, really like calling it The Change, as it describes the awe and magnitude of peri/menopause. The Change honors the call to attention, the rupture from the known, the reflective incubation, the life choices and the leap of faith that a conscious, mindful passage through peri/menopause requires. The Change encapsulates the seismic shifts, the unexpected turns, the disturbing reorientations, the annoying distractions, the unsummoned losses, and the depth of self-discovery that is available to every woman willing to answer the call and step into the initiatory potential of this passage to Eldership.

As I prepare my workshop (The Chrysalis and the Crone: A Conscious Menopause) to bring to the SMCR Conference next week, I find myself deeper and deeper in the reality of our contemporary, global culture and the crisis of the absence of rites and initiations. Specifically, how does it affect each and every one of us, that our experience is being defined only by our ‘symptoms’? What does it mean for us and our planet if we pay attention to the attempts of the psyche to guide us out of our work-a-day-lives and into discovering what else might be possible? What if we choose not to be thwarted by the unimaginative beliefs that the soul’s needs are unquantifiable and thus unimportant?

Marion Woodman describes this vacuum:

“The doors that were once opened through initiation rites are still crucial thresholds in the human psyche, and when those doors do not open, or when they are not recognized for what they are, life shrinks into a series of rejections. Torschlusspanik [a German word connoting the terror of disconnection] is now part of our culture because there are so few rites to which individuals will submit in order to transcend their own selfish drives. Without the broader perspective, they see no meaning in rejection. The door thuds, leaving them bitter or resigned. If, instead, they could temper themselves to a point of total concentration, a bursting point where they could either pass over or fall back as in a rite of passage, then they could test who they are.  Their passion would be spent in an all-out positive effort, instead of deteriorating into disillusionment and despair“. (from Richard A. Heckler’s Crossing: Everyday People, Unexpected Events and Life Affirming Change, p. 134)

If this is true, then instead of suffering ‘symptoms’ and struggling, each of us, to suppress or get rid of these symptoms, we might consider peri/menopause as a collective imperative to initiate and embody change – in ourselves and our society. Peri/menopause might be the catalyst to shake us awake from our collective trance, to step away from our habituated notions of who we are and how our world is supposed to work.

Here’s the rub: change is pain. We are, for the most part, creatures of comfort. We like, for the most part, to be lulled. But our souls long for more, and at peri/menopause we can no longer ignore the small whisper, deep in our psyches, asking: “Is this it?  Is this all there is?”

Change is afoot …

Things We Don’t Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent

March 19th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

What would the world be like if young women were mentored by older women?

What would the world be like if we knew we had a place for our stories to be told?

So intones the voiceover at the start of the trailer of a forthcoming film.

And it is right on time.

The recent media attention paid to Tomi- Ann Roberts and Nikki Dunnavant’s research recent re: religious identification and menstrual traditions has got me thinking (more than usual) about women, bonding and menses. Roberts and Dunnavant’s religious women harbored more negative attitudes toward their periods than their secular counterparts, but they reported a sense of woman-to-woman connection during their menstruation that non-religious women did not.

So how do we create community and lose the shame?

Red tents anyone?

“Things We Don’t Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent” explores the increasing reach of the “Red Tent Temple Movement” seeded by women’s empowerment facilitator Alisa Starkweather and inspired by Anita Diamant’s 1997 bestselling novel The Red Tent – a rich fictionalized treatment of biblical character Dinah. In the novel, Dinah and her tribeswomen gather during their menses in a sacred women-only space.

The practice in a book became a movement.

Starkweather and others in more than 50 red tents across the nation and beyond (in 30 states and 6 countries) believe that the simple practice of gathering women and girls in a space dedicated ONLY to them (whatever their date on the menstrual calendar) is precisely what women and girls need to feel supported and nurtured. This is the stuff of healing, they say.

Red tents are an initiative within what I call the ‘feminist spiritualist’ wing of the menstrual activist movement — a loose collection of activists who emerged in the 1970s and share an earnest celebration of embodied womanhood. This style of activism, I’ve argued, has endured and innovated for more than 4 decades, but remains on the fringe of feminist movements as a mostly white middle class concern.  Liedenfrost’s film, however, may nudge an expansion of the movement (or perhaps, show that it is already slowly capturing a diverse following?). A commitment to inclusion rings through the voices of the women captured in “Things We Don’t Talk About….” Red tents, as one woman explains during the trailer, are safe, welcoming and invite each woman to “come as you are and who you are is enough.”

Filmmaker Isadora Gabrielle Liedenfrost, a seasoned filmmaker specializing in “multicultural motifs and embedded cultures and spiritual traditions” presents a rich palette of reds, auburns, and fuchsias and a haunting soundtrack in this piece. Her camera brings us images of small and large groups of women crying, laughing, dancing and hugging together woven with the heartfelt stories of the empowering benefits of women-in-community.

Photo credit: Isadora Gabrielle Liedenfrost (used with permission)


I am left asking: could red tents offer women—whatever their spiritual inclination—a shame-free community? Could they restore a lost tradition now updated in a contemporary body-positive context? Surely, the feminine intimacy offered here is not for every woman, but for many, it might feel like home is a lovely little tent.

Menstrual Bonding, Birth Control Brouhaha, and other Weekend Links

March 10th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Research by SMCR members Tomi-Ann Roberts and Nicki Dunnavan garnered a lot of attention this week. Stories showed up at Live Science – Why Why Women Should Bring Their Periods ‘Out of the Closet, popular ladyblog Jezebel – Your Period Is a Time for Deep Lady-Bonding, and the Daily Mail – Women, start talking about it. Period! Roberts and Dunnavan surveyed 340 religious and non-religious women about their experiences and attitudes about menstruation. As the Daily Mail reported: “U.S. researchers say women across the world need to be more positive about menstruation – and that means talking about it in public.”

Credit: MK Carroll

There’s been lots of public discussion about contraception, some might say too much!  The birth control/medical insurance coverage brouhaha hit a boiling point last week with Rush Limbaugh’s egregious comments about Sandra Fluke, and the heated debate rages still. Maureen J Andrade at OpenSalon writes that Birth Control Is Not a Women’s Issue: It’s a Human Right, while Asma T. Uddin and Ashley McGuire, blogging at the Washington Post, insist It’s about religious liberty, not birth control.  A group of crafters has come up with a  unique protest action: sending “interfering” male government members a knitted or crocheted uterus, vagina or cervix, while has invited readers to Talk About Birth Control For REAL.

Back to women’s experience of menstruation,  Enith Morillo in Menses’ non-sense: Menstruation and the Muslim Woman’s “Red Tent” and Carolyn West in Menstruation – Celebration or Taboo?, explore different cultural menstrual traditions.

Respecting the Maori Menstrual Taboo

October 14th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Female visitors to Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) are faced with a difficult moral dilemma regarding the taonga Maori collection included in an upcoming tour.

An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections included the condition that “wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]” were unable to attend.

Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

“There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals. That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women,” Keig said.

She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.

“Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”

The policy does not apply to the entire exhibit, but to a “behind-the-scenes” tour offered November 5. Visitors’ reproductive status will not be verified in any way, but women are expected to be honest about it and obey the request.

Blood on Screen: Red Moon

August 2nd, 2010 by Giovanna Chesler

Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture and the Politics of Gender may have crossed your path as The Moon Inside You (its original title prior to 2010 its current distribution through Media Education Foundation). It is a film that has enjoyed wide release, with exhibition on French television and inclusion in an EU showcase of films that circulated last year. The broad exhibition strategy of Red Moon is fitting; it has a casual, heartfelt and humorous style that should appeal to many.

The purpose of Red Moon, as articulated by the filmmaker Diana Fabianova in voice over, is to answer this question: “At any given time, 25% of the female population is menstruating. Invisible. Discreet. Why is this normal, biological function taboo? There must be some deeper meaning.” There are problems with this statistical framing device – 25% is an over inflated number that eliminates girls and post-menopausal women as “females”. It also glosses over females that do not menstruate because of gender transformations and amenorrhea. Outside of this statistical malfunction, there are a few other facts provided through voice over which are not supported by specific research or attributed directly to any menstrual researchers. However, beyond these slights, Red Moon has great potential to make a taboo subject approachable.

As it begins with man-on-the-street interviews, the film seems to have interest in addressing men as equally as women. Through interviews with researchers who have written about menstruation in the 80’s and 90’s, the film attends to menstrual taboo historically and highlights menstrual suppression as an issue to address within patriarchy. There is a fantastically creepy interview with Elsimar Couthino, famous for inventing Depo Provera, Norplant and for writing Is Menstruation Obsolete (the book that launched millions of suppressed periods.) In his interview Couthino believes that women should have no more than one period in her lifetime and he likens menstruation to pending death: “First of all, menstruation is incompatible with life and nature, because an animal cannot survive bleeding longer than a few minutes in the forest. Blood, the smell of blood (he sniffs) attracts the predators. This one is bleeding. She is going to die.” Fabianova comically cuts to a hooting owl, waiting for your blood.

Fabianova is critical of pill-popping mentality and finds it better to challenge the negative view of menstruation, and silence around it, rather than do away with the period altogether. While she provides some examples of solutions to painful PMS (a belly dancing class delights, for example) the film does not directly address dysmenorrhea and severe menstrual challenges which have become justification for suppression in the first place. It does however, remind menstruators on hormonal birth control that the blood you see is a fake-period.

In fellow Re:Cycling blogger Chris Bobel’s recently released book New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, she focuses on the type of menstrual activist stylings akin to Red Moon. In short, feminist spiritualism, according to Bobel, is a narrowly focused mode of menstrual positivism that essentializes the idea of womanhood through menstruation. The movement typically appeals to middle class white women and identifies menstrual change through the self. In feminist spiritualism, political action is limited to the individual menstruator or to the girls the menstruator is encouraged to educate. Red Moon treads in this territory throughout as interviewees speak to menstrual energy, the preciousness of menstruation, and the spiritualism in bleeding. The film ends with this logic as a nude woman walks through city streets, dropping red blobs that spring new trees to life through CGI effects. In voice over we hear about the filmmaker’s changed subject position: “I no longer fight with my hormonal clock, because it is she that reminds me once a month that I have a personal, intimate connection to nature and the universe.” It’s too bad the film narrows its final message to the individual, rather than reflecting on some of the broader work done throughout, like connecting negative menstrual associations to patriarchy, and demonstrating how certain menstrual practices harm the environment and our wallets. Overall, Red Moon is a conversation starter that requires additional reading to supplement its message.

Menstrual Tracking 2.0

March 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Mikvah CalendarI haven’t studied every online tool for period tracking but this one appears to be the most sophisticated yet: helps observant Jewish women track their cycles, including her niddah (ritually impure) time. It automatically calculates sunrise and sunset, sends email or text reminders, and can be customized for Chabad, Ashkenazic, and Sephardic traditions. And it’s Rabbincally Approved.

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.