Geschichte | Geographie | Wirtschaft | Gesellschaft
Marika Lange, 2003 | Worb, BE
At least half of the world’s population is directly confronted with menstruation. Despite this, menstruation is virtually absent from public discourse, being considered embarrassing, and menstrual blood is concealed at all costs. This raises the question of the impact of menstruation’s image and its role in society in the past and today. This paper presents and compares the perception of menstruation and its impact on women in the USA at the turn of the 20th century and today. The findings on the situation today are used to create a video series published on social media with the dual aims of raising awareness and gathering current views on menstruation.
The central questions this paper aims to answer are: What role does menstruation play in general patriarchal structures? Are women currently faced with discrimination because of their menstruation? Have they been in the past (i.e., at the turn of the 20th Century)? How are prejudices and perceptions of menstruation transmitted, and what effect do they have? The research is made with the hypotheses that: (I) menstruation has been a basis for discrimination in the past, and (II) menstruation is a basis for discrimination today.
The main method is a comparative literature review based on secondary and primary sources from or about the USA. The focus is on the causes, the transmission, and the detectable effects of menstruation’s perception. A video series created based on the findings and published on social media serves to gather current views on menstruation in society in the form of comments. These are analysed qualitatively and discussed to verify the findings from the literature analysis.
At the turn of the 20th Century, menstruation was pathologized. Women’s menstruation was presented as endangering their mental and physical health (and their fertility) if menstruation was combined with intellectual or physical work. Women’s responsibility to society in producing offspring was emphasized. In contrast, today menstruation is stigmatized. Women that are revealed to be menstruating face negative social reactions, thus experiencing an imperative to conceal menstruation. This is a mental and physical effort, enhanced by the inconsideration of the menstrual experience (resulting in insufficient education, lacking infrastructure, limited awareness of menstrual difficulties, and no universal access to menstrual products). These findings can be confirmed by the experiences published as a reaction to the video series. Commentators describe a menstruation stigma, negative social reactions to menstruation, and efforts to conceal menstruation. That is despite commentators having a generally positive attitude to menstruation.
Being a distinctive female feature, at the turn of the 20th century, menstruation was instrumentalized to justify women’s assigned roles in society. Women were restricted to the spheres of wife- and motherhood, reduced to their ability to menstruate and bear children. Accordingly, the first hypothesis can be confirmed: menstruation served as a basis for discrimination in the past. The second hypothesis can be refuted: today, women are not discriminated against because of their menstruation. Instead, menstruation is expected to be concealed, while the menstrual experience is not considered. Menstruation thus presents a disadvantage caused not by its physical effects but by how it is (dis)regarded socially. These findings are confirmed by the accounts gathered on social media: menstruation and menstruation stigma impact individuals independent of their personal attitude regarding menstruation, menstruation being concealed and causing shame. While providing valuable qualitative insight into experiences with menstruation, the data gathered on social media is to be considered cautiously, the method being biased and the results potentially unrepresentative.
It can be concluded that menstruation reflects and reinforces patriarchal structures in society, today and in the past. Menstruation stigma is part of gender inequality and must be addressed when aiming for gender equality. The research for this paper is incomplete and limited by the few sources available. The impact of menstruation stigma, also considering the social environment and intersectional discrimination, requires further research, as to understand how the menstruation stigma can be dismantled. Furthermore, methods of transmitting a positive and destigmatized image of menstruation, and of reducing the effect of menstruation stigma, need investigation.
Würdigung durch die Expertin
Dr. Christina Maria Kunz
Die Arbeit von Marika Lange besticht durch eine theoretische Fundierung zum Tabuthema Menstruationsstigma. Die Autorin untersuchte mittels einer vergleichenden Literaturrecherche zwei Zeiträume in den USA, zeigt positive Entwicklungen von der ersten zur zweiten Zeitspanne auf, ortet die Wurzeln der Schweige-Dramatik in einer patriarchal-orientierten Gesellschaft und diskutiert Auswirkungen auf Frauen, was sich auch in den Kommentaren zu den von ihr erstellten Videos bestätigt. Die Arbeit ist in fliessendem Englisch verfasst und überzeugt durch eine klare Struktur.
Sonderpreis «MILSET International Science Summer Camp (ISSC)» gestiftet von der SJf-Trägerschaft
Gymnasium Kirchenfeld, Bern
Lehrerin: Suzanne Schibig