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?

It Had to Be Done

Film, Independent Film, Menstruation

httpv://youtu.be/gdRHmy6O6yU
Menstruation appears far more frequently film and television than you might think — Lauren Rosewarne recently identified more than 200 scenes in her study, Periods in Pop Culture. Other scholars, including David Linton, Chris Bobel, and me, have also written frequently about how menstruation is represented in media and pop culture. Certain themes recur, such ideas about fear, illness, shame, secrecy, and premenstrual craziness, to name just a few.

But this scene from the independent film Rid of Me is one-of-a-kind. A woman sees her husband’s new girlfriend in the grocery, and after a moment of icy stares, she quietly slips her hand into her jeans and then wipes it on her romantic rival’s face, leaving a wide streak of menstrual blood. No words are exchanged, and when the other woman discovers what is on her face, she runs screaming from the store.

[Spoilers ahead]

Rid of Me is described on its website and on Netflix as a ‘black comedy’, which seems to mean comedy which doesn’t make you laugh. It’s the story of Meris, a socially awkward young woman who moves to with her husband to his suburban Portland hometown, where he is soon reunited with his high school girlfriend. He leaves Meris for his ex, and alone in an unfamiliar place, she makes friends in the local punk scene.

When Meris is baffled at being terminated from employment at the candy shop a few days after the menstrual scene shown above, her officious co-worker Dawn tells her that it’s because of the disgusting thing she did: not only the assault, but “touching your own menses”. But the menstrual assault gives her street cred in her new community. When her BFF Trudy asks why she did it, Meris sighs and says, “It had to be done”.

But did it? While the new punked-out Meris is more confident, the use of her menstrual blood doesn’t read as an empowering act in the way of riot grrrls throwing used tampons on stage. This seems meant to embarrass or punish a sexual rival, a reinforcement of menstruation as a stigma.

I’d love to hear what re:Cycling readers think.