I am menstruating today. There is such radical possibilities for these four little words. When uttered by a menstruator in a public space - they cultivate such disgust, fear, detestation and panic. These four little words got me into the world of menstrual activism, and get me caught up in daily conversations with strangers about the importance of reproductive justice and menstrual health. Four little words that generated a crowd of 200 people from 27 countries and 6 continents at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference to cheer. This group of activists, academics, artists, scholars & researchers is the place where I connect with people from multiple backgrounds on menstruation, this is a place I feel most at home.
Why does Menstruation Matter? From the onset of menarche, menstruators are told that their bodies are sites of contestation in need of management and containment. For these reasons, menstruation provides fertile ground within which to theorize gender, being that it seeps into so many levels of body politics. One cannot speak about menstruation without somehow implicitly speaking about deeply rooted constructions of gender, sexuality, and, at times, race. Menstruation affects us all, and some of us base our life’s work on deconstructing the stigma surrounding menstruation.
This year’s Biennial conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research ended early in July and I am still reeling from the excitement and energy I experienced there. After spending close to a year on the Boston based planning committee, I met the first day of the conference on July 3rd with the expectation that I would learn a lot, have many new experiences, meet new people, and be very tired come Sunday. All my expectations were met, and then some. Throughout the weekend activists, researchers, academics and artists alike had the opportunity to present on their work and make connections with others on similar project.
I met the most inspiring artists, theorized alongside some of my academic heroes, strategized with fellow activists, and lamented graduate school with the other students in attendance. As a plenary speaker, I was able to challenge conference attendees on the concept of who menstruates and encourage everyone to think about what it would mean to understand the many men who menstruate, and the many women who don’t, but more on that later.
After Chris Bobel kicked off the conference with her empowering welcome message – that we are not just a movement, but a menstrual revolution – I spoke alongside 10 others about why menstruation is important to me. As I moved throughout the day I met new activists & students, connected with old friends and rubbed elbows with the many inspiring people who congregate at SMCR. As someone who does research and activism that is often pushed to the margins, the acceptance and support I (and many others) felt that weekend was insurmountable.
On the first day, we all sat and listened as scholars, educators and activists enlightened the crowed to menstrual hygine management (MHM) across the globe. Sinu Joseph from Mythri Speaks broke down the facts, and fictions, of MHM in India. She taught us how menstruation became taboo, and the potential to empower young women in India with this information. Beverly Mamba from WASH United explained the trials and tribulations of doing this work across the globe, and described the life-threatening situation, and the steps she was taking to help.
That night, we all marveled at the menstrual art show, Widening the Cycle, curated by Jen Lewis. The first ever of its kind, included art of many mediums depicting the menstrual experience, working to break the menstrual taboo. Next, the folks at Sustainable Cycles hosted a Bikes and Periods Party as the final event after their 3000 mile bike ride across the US. We listened to their empowering stories of cycling together (both menstrual cycling and bicycling), running workshops on alternative products, and even of new love found on the trip. The activism & art I witnessed on just the first day of the conference altered my perception of possibilities, and pushed me to think of creative ways to do my own work.
Friday brought along the brilliance of Loretta Ross, an original founder of Sister Song and creator of the Reproductive Justice movement. Tomi-Ann Roberts, an activist and academic spoke eloquently about the struggle in working with large corporations to do away with menstrual shame and secrecy. Select Artists from Widening the Cycle spoke about the process of creating their art, and what it meant for them individually and holistically.
As a committee planning member I had the honor of working alongside Lunette to plan their – now infamous – cocktails and comedy night Friday night at the conference. I witnessed the crowd laugh and giggle for two hours at the brilliant menstrual comedy brought by The Crimson Wave, and even got to share my own menstruation story. Thanks to product companies like Lunette, we were able to provide scholarships to menstrual activists & students from all corners of the globe.
This conference is the culminating moment where people working on menstrual matters across the globe get together to share their experiences and offer support to each other. Menstruation matters because it effects every last one of us in multitude of ways; through toxic products we are forced to purchase by mainstream companies, by the shame and secrecy we are all taught growing up, by access to running water and facilities, by the gendered expectations held of menstruations, by the needless waste produced from pads and tampons, and so much more. The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Biennial Conference is the only place and time in the world that menstrual scholars from across the globe get together to make menstruation matter, and I hope to take part for years to come.
Jax Gonzalez is a graduate student researching menstrual curricula in the Boston area and co-founder of the Menstrual Activist Research Collective. MARC is an activist research group that works to educate both menstruators and non-menstruators alike about the harms of mainstream menstrual products and the vast array of alternative menstrual products. Feel free to contact her with questions or concerns at [email protected]