Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Bored by Research Updates and News Headlines

January 3rd, 2013 by Heather Dillaway

"— Allons, à ton tour, ma petite... vas-y ! — Non, Papa ; si on devient si vilaine que ça en un an, j'aime mieux pas entrer".

By Achille Lemot (1846-1909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I think biomedical researchers and media spokespersons are just searching to find the pathology in our lives. Not that we don’t know this already, especially when it comes to women’s health. Because of how medicalization works, of course anything that veers from the defined “norm” for women (here, a young woman who menstruates every 28 days like clockwork) is pathological. Thus, menopausal women are pathological by definition. But, sometimes this gets pretty depressing, and really, it’s not very accurate considering that the vast majority of women go through menopause at some point during the midlife (so doesn’t that make menopause pretty normal and non-pathological?). In my Google alerts last week, here were the “menopause” headlines:

Diet, Exercise Post Menopause Help Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer
Medical Daily

Menopause linked to higher brain aneurysm risk

Healthy lifestyle during menopause may decrease breast cancer risk later on
Medical Xpress

Weight-y menopause
The Star Online

Diet To Overcome Menopause Problems

I do understand that there are many more health risks in middle age and beyond, and that changing/waning hormone levels at menopause induces different concerns/risks than women might have faced before menopause. Researchers, doctors, and media spokespersons have made it crystal clear over the past few decades that this is the case. But, as feminist and social science researchers have urged us to get beyond the “menopause as death” or “menopause as problem” perspectives, it seems that we’re not making much progress in thinking differently or more broadly about this transition. As I read the articles on menopause leading to more breast cancer risk, risk of brain aneurysm, and risk of weight gain, it is reaffirmed in my mind that we’ve made very little progress in broadening the dialogue (at least the published and mainstream dialogue) on this important life stage.

Sure, this life stage is filled with problems, risks, and interesting situations, but what life stage isn’t? Isn’t there published research coming out on ANYTHING ELSE about menopause? I want to read about something different! Readers, feel free to comment about any other interesting stuff you’ve read about menopause recently because I for one am searching for new takes on menopause. Seriously, people, was there nothing else new last week on menopause? As we head into 2013 I’m hoping for something new.

Brief News Update: Screening for Cervical Cancer

March 5th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

England’s Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) has developed new guidelines [pdf] for screening cervical cancer in young women who experience symptoms such as bleeding after sex or between periods, pain during sex or an unusual discharge. Screening for cervical cancer normally begins at age 25 in England, as it is rare in young women. The new guidelines were developed after the ACCS discovered that young women seeking medical consultations for abnormal bleeding often experience delays in diagnosis because they do not receive a full pelvic examination.

New Technique for Management of Hot Flashes

March 4th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Indianapolis Star has a short interview today with Professor Janet S. Carpenter of Indiana University’s School of Nursing. Dr. Carpenter is conducting a study of whether menopausal women can control hot flashes through breathing techniques.

She told the Star:

Breathing techniques are something nurses use all the time. After surgery, we teach patients to inhale and take deep breaths to clear the lungs of anesthesia. We also teach patients slow, deep breathing to decrease anxiety. Because the study is blinded, I can’t talk specifically about what the two breathing programs are.

Some research seemed to show that it helped hot flashes. We actually think breathing techniques change a woman’s physiology so she will have fewer hot flashes, and if she has the same number of hot flashes, she will cope with them better.

I’ll look forward to seeing the results of her study (maybe I can talk her into presenting them at the next meeting of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research!). If her hypothesis is correct, we’ll have an easy, cheap, and medication-free method for helping women cope with the discomfort of hot flashes.

It’s In The Blood

October 3rd, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling
Image via menstrual activism commmunity

Image via menstrual activism commmunity

I was quite excited to see our own Chris Bobel and Giovanna Chesler quoted in this piece from The Guardian about menstrual activism, and then to discover that the Guardian published a second piece the same day about menstruation: Rowena Davis explains What My Period Means to Me. Kira Cochrane’s article about menstrual activism provides a broad, useful definition of the term, and several examples, ranging from avant-garde artworks to Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s collection of menarche stories to Chris’ forthcoming book about third-wave feminist activism and menstruation.

It seems that menstrual activism (otherwise known as radical menstruation, menstrual anarchy, or menarchy) is having a moment. The term is used to describe a whole range of actions, not all considered political by the person involved: simple efforts to speak openly about periods, radical affronts to negative attitudes and campaigns for more environmentally friendly sanitary products.

Davis’ essay is a personal one, describing the transformation of her negative attitude toward her own period to one of not only acceptance but appreciation of menstruation for the opportunity it provides to reflect:

[T]hese days I can’t wait for the next one – really! Like the women in The Red Tent, I use it as a time to slow down, rest and check in with myself. ‘What’s happened in this last chapter of my life?’ I ask myself. ‘What is my body telling me?’ If I’ve had a bad month where I’ve been suppressing tension or working too hard, my period is much heavier and more painful. It’s a sign that I haven’t been listening to my needs.

My enjoyment of these articles was marred, however, by reading the comments from Guardian readers. The vitriol is staggering. There are offensive remarks equating menstruation with elimination and menstrual blood with feces, admonishments to women to keep silent about their periods, criticism of the Guardian for publishing such “twaddle”, and rebukes to feminists for concerning themselves with something as trivial as women’s bodies. I think it’s that last one that disturbs me the most; modern feminism owes a great deal to the second-wave concept that the personal is political. As we have documented elsewhere in re: Cycling and the work of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, it is not menstruation that oppresses women. But attitudes toward women and menstruation and the communication and silences regarding menstruation can be oppressive. To draw upon one of my favorite theorists, Simone de Beauvoir, menstruation does not make women the Other; it is because she is Other that menstruation is a curse.

Just as the penis derives its privileged evaluation from the social context, so it is the social context that makes menstruation a curse. The one symbolizes manhood, the other femininity; and it is because femininity signifies alterity and inferiority that its manifestation is met with shame. (The Second Sex, p. 354)

Menstrual activist Chella Quint told Cochrane says that she plans to continue writing “Adventures in Menstruating” until it is time for Adventures in Menopausing instead, “but, of course, it would be great if I didn’t have to, if there was no shame whatsoever”.

Likewise, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research will continue our work until it’s no longer necessary.

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.