By Jackie Bischof
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Is menstruation still surrounded by silence? Researcher Elizabeth Kissling says yes, which is why her society's new blog "re: Cycling" seeks to spur talk about a wide range of topics and provide a gathering place for menstrual activism.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Elizabeth Kissling, president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, says she's used to people saying: "You study what?"
Since the 1980s she's researched the social and commercial treatment of menstruation and has written one book and numerous articles on the topic.
This past September she launched a blog, re: Cycling, which has so far covered a wide range of topics, from Tampax to television to menopause.
The blog's goal is to broaden the audience for the Society for Menstrual Research and dispel the lingering stigma, shame and phobia that she finds clinging to this "unclean" aspect of female identity. It aims to "make it okay to talk about menstruation," said Kissling, 46, who teaches communications and women's and gender studies at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash.
One of Kissling's first posts looked at reactions to a picture of teen actress Dakota Fanning with what looked like menstrual blood on her leg. The picture was published on "ohnotheydidnt," a LiveJournal.com community board, and comments about the pictures were made on Broadsheet.com.
Kissling noted that many people assumed the blood was fake because it hadn't been immediately cleaned. "Telling, no? It's only OK for us to see this menstrual blood because it's FAKE," she wrote.
Often, Kissling and co-writers comment on the difficulty women have discussing menstruation with doctors, friends and intimate partners.
Posts also examine the extent to which menstrual product advertisers shy away from direct communication. Some advertisers have begun using the word "period," but for years euphemisms were standard. Certain ads continue to refer to menstrual blood as a "fluid," and blue liquid is often used in graphics to represent what is really red.
"Can't [advertisers] just promote the damn products without promoting shame and body hatred?" Kissling wrote in a recent post on the Tampax "Mother Nature" campaign, which she felt framed the period as a "gift nobody wants."
The blog also includes sharply partisan views.
Recently, for instance, Kissling and Chris Bobel, an assistant professor in women's studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who is a regular blogger on re: Cycling, took aim at Redbook magazine for what they considered a dismissive review of the book "Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation."
The book, by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim and due out this month, was described as "one to snub" by Redbook. The reviewer wrote: "You welcome it, bemoan it, or just live with it. However you feel about your period, we're pretty sure most of you would rather spend your cash on a three- to five-day supply of Ben and Jerry's than this 250-plus-page tome that teaches you about menstruation in the animal kingdom and the origin of tampons."
Kissling contacted the authors--neither of whom belong to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research--and extended support.
Re: Cycling blogger Chris Bobel, whose book, "New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation," will be published by Rutgers University Press in early 2010, called the snub "dim-witted." She also re-posted a mocking representation of the magazine's front page by menstrual activists Chella Quint and Sarah Thomasin, renaming the magazine Bledbook."
Bobel hopes the blog can help reframe the cultural discourse around menstruation, which she finds destructive. "The dominant discourse is cover it, hide it, don't talk about it, plug it up, tidy it away, it's a pain in the ass, you're going to necessarily hate it. The first chance to get rid of it you should take advantage of," said Bobel. "Our cultural attitudes about the menstrual cycle are reflective of our cultural attitudes about women's bodies and, more generally, our cultural attitudes of women."