Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Tampon tax battles, period leave, and the sports medicine gender gap: SMCR Weekend Links

July 30th, 2016 by Editor

Fight against the tampon tax ongoing:

If 2015 was the year of the period, 2016 is looking to be the year of menstrual legislation. Women are fighting back and menstrual activism is on the rise! A class action lawsuit has been filed by a Tampa, FL woman against major retailers (CVS, Walgreens etc.) as well as State agencies to repeal the tampon tax and refund women for their payment of the tax. Not just a frustrated customer, Carlee Wendell is also founder of FLOW (For the Love of Women), a non-profit organization that helps distribute feminine hygiene products to women in shelters. She is requesting that the State stop taxing women on tampons and other menstrual products (essential products), just as they do for Rogaine (a non-essential, hair re-growth product) for men. Will Florida follow the lead of other states with such legislation? On July 21, 2016, New York became the eleventh state to eliminate the tampon tax.

Truth & Perception by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis and Photographer Rob Lewis

Truth & Perception by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis and Photographer Rob Lewis

“The ‘tampon tax’ is not a marginal issue – it’s the force of structural sexism at work”

Gabrielle Jackson of The Guardian, in an article suggesting that sexism is entrenched in the consumer products industry and by extension society as a whole, writes that “not only should the tax on menstrual products be lifted immediately but menstrual cups and pads should be available through pharmacies and listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, available for a basic flat fee or free for women on benefits.” If such benefit claims could be made, this would create a whole new avenue of support for working women who pay into a benefit plan. While the tampon tax remains in Australia, the city of Sydney is reviewing a proposal that if approved will provide free tampons and pads in public buildings.

Period policies in the workplace:

While the tampon tax is still a very real battle, some period positive policies are occurring. Period leave is now a real thing… at least for women at the not-for-profit, Coexist in Bristol, UK. The organization is encouraging their employees to take better care of themselves, and in turn is seeing more creativity and efficiency from team members. Will others follow suit?

The call for workplaces, and public agencies to better support women’s period needs in the workplace is not new. Since 2013 Nancy Kramer, founder of freethetampons.org, has been advocating for business owners and public agencies to provide menstrual products to women, free of charge, helping to meet women at their most basic needs.

“Sport, exercise and the menstrual cycle: where is the research?” ask BMJ

Not only do women need access to menstrual products, they should also be given equal and accurate information regarding their health when it comes to medicine research. Last month, an editorial in British Medical Journal (BMJ), revealed a gender gap in sports medicine research spurring a conversation not only about sport medicine, but the inclusion (or really exclusion) of women in medicine research. Doctoral student Georgie Bruinvels noted the gap stating that because of the complexities of the menstrual cycle and variance that occurs physiologically due to hormone changes, investigation into women’s health and sports medicine is limited.

An earlier study also found a gender gap in sports medicine research. In that study, researchers looked at exercise studies published in three major sports medicine journals between 2011 and 2013, and found that 39 percent of all of the participants were women, and 61 percent were men, according to the findings published in the European Journal of Sport Science in 2014.

This isn’t the first time conversation about women and sports medicine has made headlines. When Heather Watson attributed her poor performance at the Australian open in 2015 to her period, conversation among athletes and experts in sports medicine brought menstruation to center stage. SMCR member Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, founder and scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) issued her own concern regarding the BMJ findings in an interview with CBC.  “Half the human race doesn’t have accurate information about the response to whatever the intervention is,” Prior said. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges.” 

Gaps in gendered research like that found in sports medicine are one of many reasons the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research started the journal Women’s Reproductive Health. It is bringing attention to issues of women’s health often overlooked in academic research. The journal welcomes submissions from multiple disciplines.

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.

Media all over “end-the-tampon-tax” advocacy

January 30th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

As U.S. advocacy to end the “tampon tax” on all feminine hygiene products continues, Democratic politicians, including President Obama, dialled up the media conversation about the issue as 2016 got underway. Here’s a January timeline:

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

Jan. 5, 2016, Michele Gorman, NewsweekCalifornia legislators seek to end “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products

Jan. 7, 2016, Josh Barro, The New York Times, The Latest Sales Tax Controversy: Tampons

So why shouldn’t tampons get the same tax break as other necessities? It’s a question that’s been debated in legislatures around the world, with tampon tax cuts adopted in Canada and rejected in France last year.

Jan. 8, 2016, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon,  Time to end the tampon tax: Sales tax on feminine hygiene products unfairly penalize women

But while arguments over what makes something a necessity are open to debate, arguments over a fee that only affects one segment of the population are not. That’s what makes the sales tax unfair. And that’s a price women don’t deserve to pay.

Jan. 8, 2016, Sarah Larimer, The Washington Post, The ‘tampon tax,’ explained

It’s an issue that’s gaining more and more attention around the world. Canada’s tax on feminine hygiene products was lifted over summer, after thousands signed an online petition on the matter. In Britain, a few women staged a “tampon tax” protest while on their periods last fall.

Jan. 20, 2016, Sade Strehlke, Teen VogueWatch YouTube Star Ingrid Nilsen School President Obama on the “Tampon Tax”

As Ingrid and our president point out, however, periods are not optional for most women, and we shouldn’t be burdened with an extra charge when it’s that time of month.

President Obama sheepishly admitted that he doesn’t know why states tax tampons, but he suspects “it’s because men were making these laws when those taxes were passed.”

“I don’t know anyone who has a period who thinks it’s a luxury,” Ingrid responded. President Obama agreed, and said his wife, would probably agree with her too. “It’s something that’s part of our everyday lives, and is crucial to our health as women,” she continued.

Jan. 26, 2016, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, The NationWhy Are We Paying Sales Tax on Tampons?

Jan. 28, 2016: Haley Snyder, Huff Post PoliticsThere Will Be Blood–So Long As There Is Inequality

For a woman making decent money, a simple tax on tampons may be unnoticeable, but for someone who is poor who spends a larger percentage of her money on tampons, a “small” difference may strip away her ability to afford a product entirely.

Jan 28, 2016, Kerry Close, Money (Time Inc.), The Tampon Tax Could Finally Be Eliminated in These States

At home, there’s hope for women who live in the majority of states that still somehow consider tampons a luxury. The issue has been getting a lot of press lately, with even President Obama admitting he doesn’t understand why the tax exists.

When asked this month by YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen why tampons are considered luxury items in so many states, the president replied, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.

Meanwhile, the Change.org petition (No Tax On Tampons: Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.) launched by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Cosmopolitan magazine needs just over 6,000 more signatures to reach the 50,000 mark.

Canadian Laura Wershler, SMCR member and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling, was proud when the Canadian parliament agreed unanimously to lift the federal tax on femcare products in mid-2015. 

Michelle Obama-Menstrual Activist, and other Weekend Links

November 7th, 2015 by Editor

This weekend we offer two extremely different examples of how menstruation is being referenced in social and political activism.

1. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, is a menstrual activist. In an article for The Atlantic, headlined Let Girls Learn, also the name of a program launched last spring by the President and First Lady, Obama addresses the crisis in girls’ education, challenging cultural practices and beliefs that diminish access to education for girls.

“Scholarships, bathrooms, and safe transportation will only go so far if societies still view menstruation as shameful and shun menstruating girls.”

– Michelle Obama

SMCR member Giuliana Serena noted on Facebook the significance of this declaration:

Giuliana-Obama

2. Across the ocean, Enda Kenny, the (male) leader of the Irish political party Fine Gael, is getting an earful from Irish women. The headline of this Irish Mirror article says it all: Women are tweeting Enda Kenny about their periods in a bid to highlight abortion rights in Ireland. The hashtag #repealthe8th, references a campaign to repeal the eighth amendment that effectively “criminalises abortion in all cases except where to continue a pregnancy would result in death.”

Comedian Grainne Maguire started the movement on Monday, November 2:

Ireland-repealthe8th

The hashtag quickly gained momentum and was also used to bring attention to the tax on menstrual products.

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.

Menstrual-Related Weekend Links: By the Numbers

July 11th, 2015 by Editor

1.   Naturopathic Doctor Lara Briden explains 4 Causes of Androgen Excess in Women on her Healthy Hormone Blog this week. If you are experiencing hair loss, facial hair (hirsutism) or acne, or have been diagnosed with PCOS, you’ll want to check this out for a better understanding the hows and whys of too much androgen.

2.   Over at Forbes.com Emma Johnson, who writes about women and money, discusses 7 Businesses Revolutionizing the Way We Think About Women’s Periods with this lead in:

Business, art and technology are addressing the biological event happening every single month (to) half the world’s population of child-bearing age. Cool things are happening. Social change is afoot.

Several menstrual cup companies get a mention, as does SCMR member and menstrual designer Jen Lewis as an art and media reference.

3.   In 9 Fascinating Facts About InfidelityAlterNet writer Kali Holloway admits, “We’re not championing infidelity, but we are saying it’s a reality, and aspects of it are fascinating.” Fact No. 1? Women are most likely to cheat when they’re ovulating. Also, apparently, women are cheating more than ever and are better at not getting caught than men.

 

Image by Beauty in Blood

Ms. December: Landscape, Cycle: January 2013, Cycle 2, Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis, Photographer: Rob Lewis

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.

MOOCs, menstrual cups, and more weekend links

October 11th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

Birth control do’s and don’ts and more weekend links

October 4th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

Advantages of a menstrual cup and more weekend links

September 27th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling
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.