This article is published in the fourth issue of Disrupted: “The Reproductive Rights Issue.”
This article is for anyone who wants to change the way they think about periods or influence the way other people treat those who menstruate.
Many current interventions into period poverty and menstrual equity aspire to provide short-term, product-based solutions, and can be prey to the bias of historic taboos peddled by corporate media. In this fast-growing area of global development, underserved communities can become particularly at risk of being exploited by those with underdeveloped campaigns, unexamined menstrual shame, or even unscrupulous principles. Many people immediately feel swept up by a crimson wave of enthusiasm when they first discover these issues but can miss some important sensitivities in the details. Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and former president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Chris Bobel, a leading expert in global menstrual literacy describes this in sensitive yet critical depth in The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South. This 2018 book is essential reading for anyone hoping to synthesise the current paradigm with the recommendations below and it is both a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when menstrual policy is reductive or too product-focused, and a roadmap for how to develop ‘trained and trusted’ leadership in a new literacy-focused paradigm.
Communicating a new mindset or method is difficult in a swiftly evolving field such as improving the menstrual discourse. In this article, I will present the rationale for a new framework to create a future of taboo-free menstruation-related policy, product provision, school- and community-based education and accurate and understandable public health messages.
The Period Positive Pledge – and the rationale behind this guided and nuanced holistic approach – follows a comprehensive literature review, one-to-one sessions, workshops, interviews with service users, clients and members of the public and advisory meetings with key decision-makers at a number of UK-wide and global public services, NGOs, and companies. This resource is the culmination of case studies with pilot and partner projects in the UK, EU, and the Global South, reporting successful outcomes, and opportunities for improvement. My research process concluded with recommendations for developing best practice using the Period Positive Pledge (The Pledge) as a global benchmark.
I found my way to these ideas through a number of formal and informal research projects since first discovering the Ad*Access Archive in 2005, and it’s important for readers and supporters to know where the ideas came from. The archive is a collection of vintage adverts with, I noted, surprisingly familiar sounding messages. When I realised modern ads carried the same negative tropes, I began responding with art, activism, and research. My route into this field is detailed in a recent chapter I wrote for the monograph Down the Pan (Quint, 2019), and my research since moving from art to activism and into scholarship including interviews, action research in education settings, focus groups, questionnaires, practice-based research involving critical artefacts created in response to close readings of adverts from the archive and from the present day. Menstrual discourse analysis is a growing field of research and there are already some excellent and respected examples in the literature that support this work and represent some of this fascinating field of study. I would invite more colleagues to explore this work. Once you notice the examples of shame in menstrual media they can’t be unseen – this is just one aspect of menstrual literacy.
Dr. Elizabeth Kissling, a noted scholar in menstrual media, and her 2006 book, Capitalizing on the Curse, was crucial to my understanding that the patterns I was noticing in old and modern advertising messaging were not the product of an overactive imagination. I became determined to take my newfound interest into my classroom-based research. After finding very little in UK journals contemporary to my research I was pleased to discover a 1994 book by Shirley Prendergast, a Cambridge senior research fellow. She interviewed pupils in 1989, but my own pupils responded to the same focus group questions in the same way twenty-five years later. I knew the reason was related to something that we weren’t seeing – we would have to think outside of the current paradigm.
It is also important to note that my MA research coincidentally developed in parallel with Vicky Newton’s research while she was also studying in Sheffield and those with a particular interest in school- or youth-based menstrual work should absolutely check out her book, Everyday Discourses of Menstruation (Newton, 2016) as the teens we are each working with lived in broadly the same area during the same time. I was also not just sticking to traditional research; I was carrying on menstrual activism outside of my teaching and research roles in my free time and sharing installations and comedy sketches on social media. Breanne Fahs’ (2016) Out for Blood: Essays on Menstruation and Resistance catalogues mine and others’ acts of menstrual activism and the rationale behind it. Developing the ideas behind the actions into a shareable resource has been a long, slow process. From improvised and impassioned beginnings, I have begun to learn how to influence policy in a way that focuses on social justice and inclusion and challenges messages of shame.
The Pledge serves as a set of proactive guidelines to elevate the burgeoning global policy dialogue around an improved menstrual discourse without undue sway from highly influential multinational disposable menstrual product corporations (or Big Tampon for short). Statements in the Pledge are presented visually in the style of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide and align menstruation advocacy for allies and policymakers. On a more accessible level, the Pledge also serves as a general entry point to championing global menstrual literacy, regardless of the size or type of organisation or number of individuals, at any level of expertise.
1. It’s Period Positive to say menstrual products, not sanit
ary products*, because periods aren’t dirty.
*or feminine hygiene, or sanpro, or CSPs, or femcare
2. It’s Period Positive to include all genders, because whether you menstruate or not, everybody had a room that was a womb.
3. It’s Period Positive to teach yourself and others about sustainable menstrual products, because single use plastics and disposable culture are unsustainable.
4. It’s Period Positive to learn and teach about the entire menovulatory lifetime, because we all deserve to know what happens from menarche to menopause and beyond.
5. It’s Period Positive to audit your environment to make sure it supports people who menstruate and doesn’t reinforce taboos.
6. It’s Period Positive to read more about the biology of menstruation and reproductive health, because knowledge is power, and it empowers those addressing ignorance.
7. It’s Period Positive to advocate for menstruators on the margins because oppression is intersectional.
8. It’s Period Positive to centre education, training, and choice in rigorous holistic solutions to period poverty because anything less is ineffective long-term.
9. It’s Period Positive to challenge corporate messages that reinforce shame or bias and challenge companies* to find more ethical models for promoting their product.
*including within your own company
10. It’s Period Positive to cite your sources and give credit where it’s due because this movement only has a future as long as it celebrates and draws from its history.
11. It’s Period Positive to ensure your research – and any other research you share – is robust, because of the need to be trained and trusted.
12. It’s Period Positive to set ethical boundaries when working with corporations* and put the focus on media literacy, because periods come before profit.
*and for corporations, to honour these boundaries when working with non-corporate partners
13. It’s Period Positive to call in before you call out, because everyone is learning.
14. It’s Period Positive to remember that there is always something to learn, because you might not know what you don’t know, and learning is amazing.
15. It’s Period Positive to reject embodied shame, because acknowledging it may be hard but living with it is far harder.
16. It’s Period Positive to challenge negative media messages, because they have been plaguing us for a century.
17. It’s Period Positive to say menstruation, because euphemisms allow people to hide from the subject.
18. It’s Period Positive to talk about periods, good or bad, because even when they’re a pain in the uterus, sharing and understanding our own and others’ bodies will help people now and in the future.
19. It’s Period Positive for anyone of any age, class, gender, ability, race or culture to talk about menstruation, and for everyone to include those on the margins or affected intersectionally in this discourse.
20. It’s Period Positive to update and revise these statements because we are learning and growing as a society and these views may grow with us as we learn more.
Some of the Pledge’s statements are fairly prescriptive, such as the first, which points out the pervasive reframing of periods as dirty by corporations that profit from masking menstruation. Others are more of a light-hearted reminder of good practice. Pledges 9 and 12 include corollaries that explicitly include corporations within the frame, albeit in a more non-hierarchical way than they may be used to. The final pledge reminds us that navigating the menstrual discourse is a bit like going through puberty. We are learning and growing as a global society and have begun questioning and rejecting the accepted pervasive culture of menstrual taboos.
The next stage of this process is to write up pilot case studies and develop a toolkit that can be disseminated to help people develop resources for evaluating their output in relation to the pledges in academic, commercial, social, and policy contexts. In the meantime, these pledges should learn and grow with us. This is their first incarnation and I invite readers to use them as a tool to reflect on their own practice and feed back to me through the website with observations and reflections. I expect that the dissemination of The Pledge will serve as an example of the challenges in developing new mindsets or methods.
The #periodpositive campaign and the concept of period positivity started as a phrase coined by artist, activist, researcher and former teacher Chella Quint. It has grown into a trademark, a charter program, and a movement. If you’d like to earn the charter mark and apply for a licence to use ‘Period Positive’ or the logo, please get in touch at www.periodpositive.com.
Chella Quint is a writer, designer, performer, educator, and the UK’s leading expert on menstruation literacy. She is the founder of #periodpositive and researches shame and taboo.
Bobel, C., 2018. The managed body: Developing girls and menstrual health in the Global South. New York, Palgrave MacMillan.
Kissling, E. A., 2006. Capitalizing on the curse: The business of menstruation. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Modess., 1935. Women! End accident panic! [advertisement]. Ad*Access Archive, Duke University, Durham, NC.
Newton, V.L., 2016. Everyday Discourses of Menstruation. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Prendergast, S., 1994. This is the time to grow up: Girls’ experiences of menstruation in school. London: Family Planning Association.
Quint, C. (2006). ‘Adventures in menstruating’ [Print zine]. Sheffield, UK.
Quint, C., 2012. ‘Adventures in menstruating: Don’t use shame to sell’ . Sheffield. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/periodpositive. [Accessed 20 January 2020].
Quint, C., 2019. ‘From embodied shame to reclaiming the stain: Reflections on a career in menstrual activism’. In: Pickering, L. and Wiseman, P. (eds.) Down the Pan: New Directions in the Sociology of Dirt Sociological Review, 67(4).
Quint, C. 2014. Period Positive Schools M Ed Dissertation (unpublished, research conducted 2012 – 2013).