Sweden’s Year of Menstruation – Is it the Menstrual Decade? Maybe the Menstrual Millennium?

Activism, Language, Media, Menstruation

Guest Post by Josefin Persdotter, Gothenburg University

As I write this, it is only hours until the acclaimed Swedish television program Kobra airs an episode about menstruation in art, and as a growing social movement in Sweden. They’ve interviewed none other than menstrual art and activism pioneer Judy Chicago. In the trailer she jokingly exclaims: “Oh, so Scandinavia’s discovered that women menstruate!” And it seems we have. Or at least Swedes seem to have. Sweden’s currently enjoying a kind of menstrual boom. Maybe one could even call it a menstrual revolution. From my (albeit very menstrually focused) horizon I see menstruation everywhere. During the last year it’s gone from (almost) total menstrual silence to it being in national newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and naturally, all over social media.

I guess one could say it began last summer.  Feminist cartoonist and writer Liv Strömquist (bravely!) did a two-hour radio show about menstruation, depicting menstrual taboos in history, arguing that it ought to be a much larger part of culture. The show aired on prime-time when “everyone” was listening. Being a menstrual activist for many years, I listened with a pounding heart wondering how Sweden would react. Though I’m sure she got some internet hate and many negative comments, the reception from those who liked it seems to have been quite overwhelming for Strömquist, and quite palpable to everyone else.

Instantly, something changed. Just as I had experienced when I met people through my own activism, but this time on a national scale. People began to open up; they shared their own menstrual stories openly on various social media platforms. And they haven’t stopped.

To only name a few of the many amazing things that have happened since then: several menstrual art projects have enjoyed unprecedented attention in the media, menstruation-related diseases make the headlines in the tabloids, several other radio-shows have had menstrually-themed episodes, a menstrual documentary has been made and another one is in post-production, new books about menstruation have been launched and sold out in weeks (!), and on top of that two national organizations for menstruation and PMS respectively have been founded. Menstruation’s become something that’s publicly handled as a truly relevant and important issue.

I may exaggerate a little, but I don’t want to downplay it either,  as I really do think that something rather spectacular has happened. First I called it a menstrual spring, then it became a menstrual year, and now it’s going on year two. Could one dare to hope for a menstrual paradigm shift? Or might the public lose interest? I see no signs of menstrual fatigue, but quite the opposite. More and more people and institutions engage in menstrual issues publicly. The need to talk periods seem to be stronger than ever.

Sweden’s got a small population of about 9 million, speaking an equally small language. This has been a pain in the neck in my menstrual activism, until it wasn’t. I was quite jealous of menstrual activists friends who got to do their work in English or Spanish, having so many millions more that could like, comment, and retweet on social media. But now I’ve begun to think the small size might be a huge advantage. I think we have the size to thank for some of what’s happened. It might be easier to reach everyone, to become in some way part of the media mainstream and have a national impact in a small country like this. Sweden has only a couple of national newspapers, fewer television news shows, etc., compared to larger nations.

I post this to the international menstrual community wondering if I am witnessing something unique, or something universal? Are there currently similar menstrual surges elsewhere as well? And naturally: what’s it been like historically? What can we learn from eachother? What should we think about to make these changes last and become real shifts in the menstruculture?

4 thoughts on “Sweden’s Year of Menstruation – Is it the Menstrual Decade? Maybe the Menstrual Millennium?

  1. Since the Kobra show, I have received a number of emails from viewers which has caused me to think again about menstruation. In 1971, as many people know, I created “Red Flag”, a photo litho depicting (as far as I know) the first image of menstruation in Western art. The
    image was greeted by complete silence and for many years, I did not exhibit it. Then, in the early 1990’s – because of the development of Women’s Studies and feminist theory – there began to be interest in both that image and the “Menstruation Bathroom” that I created in 1972 as part of “Womanhouse”, the first female-centered art installation in the United States. But when I re-installed that work in a museum show 20 years later, there was almost as much shock as there had been to the initial presentation.

    Now, suddenly, there is a flurry of interest, art and scholarship on this subject and it has made me realize againg that the ongoing taboos surrounding menstruation reflect deeply held (negative) cultural attitudes towards women. So I celebrate the possibility that by depicting, discussing and presenting various views of menstruation, it will become what it should be; a natural part of human life.

    Judy Chicago

  2. Hooray for Sweden and for Josefin Persdotter for leading the way in menstrual awareness. Her work both as a scholar and activist has been instrumental in making Sweden a leader and model in political and artistic efforts to move the cycle out of the menstrual closet. SMCR is fortunate to have her on our side.

  3. Thanks, Josefin, for filling us in on Sweden’s menstrual awakening. How satisfying to see your years of menstrual activism affirmed with such a groundswell of support and acknowledgement.

    I echo what Judy Chicago wrote here:

    “So I celebrate the possibility that by depicting, discussing and presenting various views of menstruation, it will become what it should be; a natural part of human life.”

    It’s what SMCR has always worked towards. And what re: Cycling is trying to accomplish with each blog post.

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