Wow – it’s been a busy few days out there in media cyberspace for us menstrually-inclined types. For those of you who might have missed it, on October 2nd the UK’s Guardian published a really interesting piece by Kira Cochrane about the current state of menstrual activism. The article (which included a provocative photo of a woman wearing her menses as lipstick) elicited 160 comments, many of which were negative. The article was complemented by another post on the same site from Rowenna Davis, who wrote a wonderful account of her own coming to consciousness around her period and how using a menstrual cup helped shift things for the good. Her post generated over 100 comments, including many (mostly men) who found the topic disgusting.
Salon.com’s Amanda Fortini responded to the Guardian articles on October 6th with a scathing post questioning the necessity of menstrual activism. Her premise is essentially that societal discomfort with menstrual matters is largely a thing of the past (maybe she didn’t read the comments to the Guardian pieces?) and that feminists have rustier axes to grind, such as pay equity and violence.
While this type of argument can make pretty much any pursuit seem petty (“well, it’s not going to stop a nuclear war, is it?”- my example), it is my perception that menstrual activism occurs on a crucial spectrum that ranges from body self-acceptance, sexuality, fertility, birth, breastfeeding and menopause – basically everything to do with women’s health and self-esteem. Given this, I think it does matter – a lot.
Menstrual activists are typically women who both happen to menstruate and care about women’s health, in much the same way as most birth and breastfeeding activists are pregnant, birthing and/or nursing women who care about women’s health.
Some critics may say, so who cares if one nursing woman gets kicked out of a department store? Thousands of “lactivists” (Suzanne and the rest of the Lunapads team included) will tell you that a culture that does not support breastfeeding does not support women’s or children’s health. Similarly, we need to pay attention to and respect women’s cycles.
For me, the most important reason to be vocal in the face of silence or squeamishness around menstruation is for girls.
A recent blog post at progressive teen sex education site Scarleteen.com about why to chart your cycle presents a compelling argument for spreading information that should rightly be part of every girl’s education… and yet isn’t. Why not? Whether it’s discomfort with the topic of menstruation itself, or a wider-spread fear of all things powerful and female, we still do not adequately educate girls (or celebrate them – another form of activism in my eyes) with respect to their cycles. It’s a cornerstone to building their self-esteem, and as a society we are collectively missing the opportunity to contribute to stronger, more self-aware generations of women.
Speaking of girls, what about the needs of girls in developing nations, and the consequences of their unmanaged menses? In their case, lack of adequate supplies can actually reduce their life expectancy (less education due to missed school leads to earlier marriage leads to earlier childbirth leads to higher maternal mortality rates.) Viewed from this more global perspective, menstrual activism is thus in fact saving lives – hardly the trivial pursuit Fortini derides.
In an odd coincidence, the issue has recently risen in the Canadian media, where popular comedienne and Elvira Kurt’s menstrual humor was edited from the podcast version of a popular show where she is a regular guest. Contrary to Fortini’s assessment, it in fact appears that some folks are still not totally OK with a little period talk here and there. Get the whole story at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research’s blog here. Maybe menstru-phobia isn’t so far back in the mists of time, after all?
As many of you are already aware, Lunapads recently sponsored a contest for artwork for the cover of an upcoming book on menstrual activism: Chris Bobel’s upcoming New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. Chris has some powerful thoughts on this recent controversy, which I encourage you to read and respond to.
On a final note, I happened to find one of our “ditch the disposables!” stickers on a tampon dispenser and took the picture shown here. It made me wonder how many women saw it and as a result were made aware, perhaps for the first time in their lives, that there were alternatives to disposable pads and tampons.
The collective difference that all of us who choose reusable menstrual products is massive and growing all the time, as we are helping to reduce solid waste and industrial effluent. When taken as an isolated act by a few women, it may not seem like a significant choice, but again there is a continuum here: we are powerful beyond measure when we act together. It has not escaped our notice that gals who choose to reuse their menstrual products also do nutty, planet-improving things like wash their kids diapers, eat organic, locally-grown food and get conscious about how and what they consume.
Do you see a place for menstrual activism? What does it look like to you and why does it matter?