Defying Shame, Secrecy and Medicalization Around Menstruation

Leslie Carol Botha: I resonate with what Janet Allnon has written about – but mostly what my Society for Menstrual Cycle Research colleague Chris Bobel talks about in her book – New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation when she states that we teach menstruation to young girls as a hygienic crisis. This is where the shaming begins – and this is where we our daughter’s start losing their self-esteem. A dangerous road that leads to self-destructive behavior.

Adventures in Menstruation: Time to Dump Those Silly Taboos
Menstrual activists confront shame, secrecy and the medicalization of a perfectly normal thing that all women do.

by Janet Allnon
March 31, 2013


female eunuch In 1970, Germaine Greer wrote in The Female Eunuch, “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood. If it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go.”

In 2013, “menstrual activists,” or menarchists (menstrual anarchists) are tasting, baking, making art and painting their lips with their own menstrual blood as a gesture of defiance toward the shame and secrecy that still attends periods, even in ostensibly modern, Western, secular culture.

Germaine would be proud.

These fearless feminists are just some examples of a recent wave of menstrual activists who are refusing to see themselves as biohazards just for doing what comes naturally and occupies a sizable portion of a woman’s lifetime. Other activists are questioning the medicalization of premenstrual syndrome and the over-prescription of anti-depressants to treat its symptoms. (Although some women certainly do suffer painful physical and sometimes psychological symptoms around their periods, the problem arises when Big Pharma sees big dollar signs.) These mostly young women are taking on the menstrual products industry, the mega corporations behind it, like Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly Clarke, and the shame-based advertising that has always been the hallmark of selling period products to women.

There’s also the environmental wing of the movement, which points out that the average (Western) woman will use somewhere in the vicinity of 11,800 tampons in her lifetime, tampons that are not particularly well-regulated in terms of their pesticide and dioxin content and which will fill both landfills and oceans. “Friends don’t let friends use tampons,” writes RandomGirl. In the U.S., the environmental impact is exacerbated by the fact that tampons are generally inserted with applicators—not so in Europe.

Finally, there are activists who are questioning the way we educate young girls about menstruation. “We teach them that it is a hygienic crisis,” says Chris Bobel, author of New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, “rather than what it is, which is an important gateway to talk about our bodies, our sexuality, our health, how we mature and age, as well as body image issues.  Talking about menstruation can be a way to begin teaching girls that they are not products for consumer culture, to be improved upon, sculpted and cleaned up. It opens up the discourse about all sorts of issues.”

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.