Brassieres and Red Ribbons

Art, Language, Menstruation

Guest post by Karina Billini

In the beginning of my college career, I was given powerful advice: “In every class you take, apply your craft. Challenge it and challenge yourself.” From gay studies to Child Development, I have taken the opportunity of higher education to explore myself as a writer. So there I was in my last semester as an undergrad, taking the most spoken about course at Marymount Manhattan College—Social Construction of Menstruation. As a theatre and creative writing student, I haven’t had much explicit exposure to the social construction of menstruation. Yes, I have been exposed to it through Always commercials and even the opinions of my female friends, but never within my craft. The only thing I have been exposed to that is relevant to menstruation is The Vagina Monologues, which is not really much. Plus, I had NEVER stumbled across any menstruation-themed poetry. So, when my class was presented with the rubric for our final project, I decided to put together a poetry collection of menstruation-themed poetry and yes, even write my own for the very first time.

I have always liked a challenge, particularly one that deals with the legitimacy of my craft. In the academic world, poetry has always been seen as flowery. Many fail to acknowledge it as a potent social commentator. Poetry is not just about the aligning of words for lovely rhythm and vivid imagery, but to provoke the minds of its readers and be the voice for the growing unheard. Poetry allows the preservation of the human experience and all its aesthetics that can sometimes be drowned out by the stiff language and observations of theoretical work. For example, the poetry of Audre Lorde really spoke for women of color who were, at that time, written into invisibility within the mainstream movements for woman’s rights. I think about Langston Hughes’ poetry and how it beautifully and explicitly illustrated the struggle of African Americans. If poetry can help illuminate the menstrual experience and possible attack some of its negative social constructions, why isn’t there more menstruation-themed poetry? Why is it that when I Google menstruation-themed poetry, the results are so scarce? Why haven’t I written any poetry on menstruation?

As a female playwright and poet, I thought I wrote explicitly on the woman experience. I have dramatized attacks on gender inequality, given birth to strong female protagonists, and poetically sculpted what I thought woman should be. I have even let my readers become Peeping Toms to my womanhood, allowing them to read my struggle with the power dynamics of love, sex, money, and education. However, I never wrote about the major factor that played in all my experiences as a woman: my body. As I decided on my final project to be a collection of menstruation-themed poetry, I realized that I never wrote about this phenomenon that had such a tremendous impact on my shaping as a woman.

Why haven’t I? Why was I so brave and comfortable to allow my readers into the playground of my bed and the fallen country of my broken heart…..but not menstruation? Why was it second nature for me to script words like “sex” or “fuck”, but not “menstruation” or “vagina”? After all, I had spent most of my childhood waiting for my first period and will continue to revolve my calendar around my cycle for the rest of my menstrual life. I had secretly pocketed away my menstrual experiences in the manner that I slip neon-colored pads into my purse’s interior pocket. I had done it for the same reasons: 1) learned/inherited embarrassment and 2) maintenance of “lady-like” appearances (whatever that means). I was not writing, but being written, shaped, and formed by these societal norms.

For those reasons, I provided my writing friends and myself with the writing prompt to write a menstruation-themed poem. I placed the prompt on Facebook and encouraged my friends to let their inspiration guide them; I wanted them to write the good, the bad, the ugly….as long as it was honest. As expected, I did get a lot of immature (uneducated) responses to my prompt via Facebook. One individual exclaimed, “Dear god” while another individual asked me what kind of “school” did I go to. However, I had a stronger positive feedback. My writing friends, both male and female, were excited and willing to take on the prompt. I even had one friend who already had written a menstruation-themed poem prior to my prompt. When the prompt’s due date came along, I was handed extraordinary work that captured hot topics on menstruation that was covered in my social construction class. To my surprise, my fellow writers wrote about various things in regards to menstruation without ever really receiving a menstrual education. They questioned menstrual myths, promoted menstrual sex as the highest level of intimacy (which my female poets were so excited to discuss with me!), illustrated menstruation as a celebration of womanhood, and even employed lunar references. In the end, my writers expressed to me that this prompt has inspire them to continue writing menstruation-themed poetry.As for myself, I also completed my first menstruation-themed poem ever. Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve been fully ready to write if I hadn’t taken a class on menstruation. I now understand the advice that was given to me in the beginning of my college career. When I finally understood how heavily socially constructed menstruation was and how I was very much embedded in it, I learned how much responsibility I had as a writer. With menstruation and any subject, I have the responsibility to challenge their stereotypes, create new (positive) ideologies, and open up MINDS! Now educated, I have regained the power of my pen. Armed, I now have the duty to write menstruation out of invisibility. However, I must be honest about my menstrual experiences within my work. Not everything I write on menstruation will be hyper-positive or hyper-negative. In Brassieres and Red Ribbons, I speak about my menstrual experience. I get really strong and painful periods. On the first day of the month, I have extremely painful cramps that lead to fainting spells. And I always seem to get sick at the public bathroom at work! Brassieres is about that experience. Menstruation is illustrated as an obstacle in Brassiere, but it’s also an opportunity for the speaker to escape the chaos of adulthood and be alone with her body. This moment of menstruation allows her to finally let go of the superficiality of life and finally be naked (literally and figuratively.) Being educated in the social constructions of menstruation has done the same for me; it has provided me newfound nudity and liberation as both a woman and poet. Freed, I wrote this poem.


Brassieres and Red Ribbons

by Karina Billini

You are naked.
Hunched over in a bathroom stall—
your legs,
snow white and skinny,
stick out
just as Dorothy’s nemesis did
under that conjured-by-red-shoes house.

There’s no place like home.

You can’t afford
the forty-dollar cab drive
or another sick day
so just as before,
you cash out
your mother’s advice—
attempt to master mind over body
by fantasizing
of the last moment
your body was pre-menstrual.
You were twelve.

You stop caring
when cramps break
the seams of your trousers,
the buttons from your blouse,
and unstraps your brassiere
more skillfully
than any man has
in the playing field of your bed.
And for once,
the lights are on
and you don’t mind your nudity.
Your work clothes
are wrinkled and damped
by foreign liquids outlining
the floor’s teal tiles—
purposeless like feathers
during a bird’s wing moult.
You can’t make flight.

Only pain clothes you,
thick like tweed in late August—
You wipe away streams
from your swollen breasts
and remind yourself
you are your body’s keeper.


You wait
for the revolt to be over,
watching the blood
like red ribbons
you tied around your ankle,
six years old and secretive—
your mother
once discovered
and chopped up,

Why do you want to be a woman so fast?

Event: “Zine Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”

Art, Humor

Cover of Adventures in Menstruating issue #5Friend of re:Cycling, Chella Quint, will be doing a reading with Jenna Freedman & James M. Parker at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center (172 Allen St, New York, NY), Thursday night (August 25, 7:00 – 9:00 pm).

Join Chella Quint and friends for some comedy readings that attempt to explore the why’s and the how’s of having grown up writing zines — from her 4th grade construction-paper and paper-fastener-bound school report on Benjamin Franklin to the latest issue of “Adventures in Menstruating.” New titles since her last visit to Bluestockings are Adventures in Menstruating #6 (deconstructing feminine hygiene advertising with wit, irony and brute force), The Venns (introducing the world to the great British pub quiz in a spoof research paper using charts, graphs and diagrams) and It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection). She’s also reprinting issues 1-5 of Adventures in Menstruating for a trip down memory lane. Collect the set!

Chella Quint is a comedy writer and performer living in Sheffield, England, but she is originally from New York.  Fresh from performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she’s looking forward to her annual trip home. Check out

Joining Chella are

Jenna Freedman, Lower East Side Librarian author and Wrangler in Chief of the Barnard Library Zine Collection will be reading from her in-progress Orderly Disorder: Librarian Zinesters in Circulation tour zine, tentatively titled “Anything You Say on a Zine Tour Can & Will Be Quoted out of Context in a Zine-Tour Zine.”


James M. Parker, poet laureate of all the little people who live inside his head, is a NYC-based writer with delusions of grandeur. He’ll be reading prose and poetry from his chapbook, Spinning the Cube, including his contribution to Adventures in Menstruating #6.

We’re back!

Advertising, Art, Menstruation, Meta, PMS

Tap, tap.

Is this thing working? Is this thing on?

After some rest, reconnaissance, and re-organization, re:Cycling is back — bigger, bolder, and with more menstruation and women’s health news than ever. Most of our old team is back, along with a few new recruits and some exciting guest bloggers. There’ll be some new features here as well. More about all of that is coming soon. Our posting will be spotty and irregular throughout August, but expect to see a more consistent, regular flow after September 1. (Yeah, see what I did there? )

We’ve missed a lot of action in four months away. We can’t possibly summarize all of it, but here are some of my personal highlights:


July 19 – The Institute of Medicine (U.S.)  just released a report on preventive health services for women, and the consensus is that health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 should cover contraception without demanding co-payments. You can read and/or download the full report here.


July 18 – Remember Summer’s Eve marketing disaster last summer? They still don’t get it. This year’s “Hail to the V” campaign may be saluting vaginas, but it’s still telling everyone vaginas are dirty.

As Maya put it over at,

That chatty hand claims to be my vagina but is clearly an impostor, because my vagina would never refer to herself as a “vertical smile,” knows better than to even mention vajazzaling to me, and is too busy complaining about how long it’s been since she’s gotten laid to give a damn about if my cleansing wash is PH-balanced. My vagina is not a whiny little pussy.

If you’re not offended enough, check out the stereotypes in the Black and Latina vaginas. For a satisfying satirical response, check out Stephen Colbert’s July 25 program.


July 13 – Bloggers at Ms. magazine have done yeoman work drawing attention to the sexism in the latest PSA from the milk industry, criticizing the sexism toward both women and men in the Milk Board’s stereotype-rich “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign about PMS. Ms. has also promoted’s petition protesting the campaign. Update: By July 24, the campaign had been pulled in response to protests.

2011 Ad for Always brand maxi padJuly 5 – As copyranter astutely notes, the use of a RED spot in the center of a maxi-pad to represent menstrual blood is an historic moment in advertising history. Are we finally done with the mysterious blue fluid? (By the way, copyranter is THE source for smart, snarky analysis of advertising;  he oughta know — his day job is writing the stuff.)


June 20 – Corporate and subsidized donations of disposable menstrual pads may be good for girls, but not so good for the environment.


June 2 – British artist Tracey Emin  art student at University of Wisconsin, follows in Judy Chicago’s inspirational footsteps and turns her tampons into art.


What else have we missed? Add your links in the comments, and don’t be shy about sending us suggestions!



Marked for Life

anatomy, Art, Celebrities, Communication, Humor, Language, Menstruation

CarewNorwegian athlete John Carew just revealed his new tattoo, which features wings and the phrase ‘Ma Vie, Mes Régles’. Apparently Mr. Carew believed that reads “My Life, My Rules”, but with an acute accent (é) instead of a grave accent (è), the actual translation is either ‘My Life, My Period’ or ‘My Life, My Menstruation’.

That’s frankly awesome.

The Menstruation Machine

anatomy, Art, Menstruation
Hiromi Ozaki's Menstruation Machine

Hiromi Ozaki's Menstruation Machine

Researcher and artist Hiromi Ozaki has created the Menstruation Machine, an art installation featuring an appliance for men or boys (or other people who do not menstruate) to wear to simulate the menstrual experience. It features electrodes attached to the lower abdomen to simulate cramps and a blood-dispensing mechanism that deposits simulated menstrual fluid between the wearer’s legs.

The device is reminiscent of the Empathy Belly® pregnancy simulator, although it is being greeted with much more snark and misogyny. The blogger at Gizmodo is certain he’ll never try it (just skip the comments), and the DC Caller says, “This may appeal to the crowd of women who pull the ‘you don’t understand how I feel’ card once a month to their significant other.”

But the Menstruation Machine is an art project, and the Empathy Belly® is a real product, retailing for $649. It’s intended to be provocative, rather than profitable. Suddenly I’m reminded of the time my college boyfriend told me he wanted to dress as a woman for Halloween. I sneered and told him if he thought its was funny to dress like a woman, he should wear a tampon.

Strawberries and Spinach: Menstrual Monday 2010

Activism, Art, DIY, Menstruation

Guest Post by Geneva Kachman, MOLT: The Museum of the Menovulatory Lifetime

Back in 2000, when my Menstrual Monday journey began, an ever-reasonable friend had pointed out it took 13 years for Julia Ward Howe to establish Mother’s Day. Being a holidaymaker, and more on the creative side than reasonable, I poo-poo’d my friend’s caution. Seriously – Julia Ward Howe didn’t have the Internet! Thirteen years is two centuries in Internet time!

Eleven Menstrual Mondays later, I humbly look forward to the year 2012, and raising a glass (of tomato juice) to Julia Ward Howe, unmoved by any doomsday scenarios erroneously attributed to the Mayan calendar. Holidaymaking is just not as easy as it looks!

Display of Uterine Flying Objects (UFOs)

Display of Uterine Flying Objects (UFOs)

On the other hand, Menstrual Monday parties are rather easy to throw. Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Check out the official mission statement for Menstrual Monday – of note, the first goal is to create “a sense of fun around menstruation.” One benefit of “silly” party favors and decorations, such as the U.F.O. (Uterine Flying Object), PMS Blowt-Out, and Tampose (tampon + rose = tampose), is that women from all walks of life are put at ease, wondering “what is that?” rather than being focused on menstrual negativity (taboo and shame are such heavy words, aren’t they?).
  2. Ask everyone to bring something from the Five Menstrual Monday Food Groups: Green stuff, red stuff, chocolate, poppy seed, egg. Or serve a spinach salad with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and poppy seed dressing, with chocolate for dessert. Before sitting down to eat, why not chant “green stuff, red stuff, chocolate, poppy seed, egg” a few times, just for fun?
  3. To get the discussion going, you can download A Cuppa Questions from MOLT – the questions are printed on drawings of human ova. Cut the ova out, drop them into a cup, and let each guest select a question. Make sure to download the answer sheet as well. You can also cut out extra circles, for guests to write their own questions on.
  4. If you haven’t tried reusable menstrual pads or menstrual cups before, a Menstrual Monday party is a good time to learn about them. Two such companies are LunaPads and Glad Rags. You and your friends can decide to try these products yourselves – as well as donate pads to young women, who would otherwise be kept out of school.
  5. Display of MOLTwheels and red packaging.

    Display of MOLTwheels and FloFlags

    If you like working with fabric, check out Have a Hester at MOLT, and learn about scarlet letters and flow-dyeing. Right now I’m enamored of red shop rags – I add glitter glue, and use them to package MOLTwheels – the mini-frisbees in the photo. See what ideas you and your guests can come up with.

  6. Individuals can purchase a DVD copy of the documentary Period: The End of Menstruation? for $29.95. For more film suggestions for your party, see the FloFilm Index at MOLT.

I notice I’ve mentioned a couple of things that require spending money – the most intriguing question to me this Menstrual Monday is: Where is the intersection of feminism, menstruation, and entrepreneurship? I’m wondering: How can there be a transformation in attitudes toward the red stuff, without a corresponding transformation in where women’s green stuff (money) is being spent?

Strawberries and spinach: Food for thought, indeed.

Vagina Vérité

anatomy, Art, books

Vagina Vérité logoArtist (and friend of re:Cycling) Alexandra Jacoby is working on a project for women called Vagina Vérité®. She’s making vulva portraits, proud and unabashed, straight-up documentary photographs-so that we can see ourselves for ourselves. The project began as a response to a friend who “didn’t like the way her vagina looked”. Alexandra wanted her friend to know that there was no one right way to look, and it became something of a mission for her to create a document of respect and appreciation for our vaginas, our vulvas, our bodies, ourselves… Alexandra’s been working on vagina vérité® since 2000, and is looking for our help toward completing photography. From there, she plans to publish a book of v-portraits & to exhibit widely. You can learn more about the project and how we can help here [pdf].

Scenes from Vulvagraphics

Activism, anatomy, Art, Sex

If you’ve been with us for a while, you may recall that last fall our friend and colleague Alexandra Jacoby participated in Vulvagraphics: An Intervention in Honor of Female Genital Diversity, sponsored by the New View Campaign challenging the medicalization of sex. For the benefit of those of us unable to get to New York for this event, there is now video available of some of the exhibits and speakers.

[via The Red Tent Sisters]