Timeline & Abstracts
Sept 25 2020: Abstract submission deadline.
December 5 2020: Draft of proposal to steering committee.
January 15 2021: Proposal to publishers.
June 2021: Co-editing workshop of first drafts.
December 2021: Submission of final versions
The bloodless nation: Ending Period Poverty in the context of the Scottish independence movement
My thesis is that Scotland has emerged as the first country about to enshrine access to free period products as a universal right in law because of its ongoing political campaigns to gain independence from the United Kingdom. The concern with menstruation can be seen in the light of an attempt to construct an independent, free national body to mirror that of independent, free young women no longer marginalised by their bleeding. This imaginary leaves the historical stigma attached to menstrual blood untouched.
Using a theoretical approach shaped by Critical Menstruation Studies (Bobel/Winkler et al. 2020) as well as cultural historical theories about the national body (Anidjar 2016, Linke 1999), I investigate the corpus of the full records of the Scottish Parliament, including debates, bills and committee minutes. My “close reading” method of literary criticism shows what the language used betrays about the speakers’ underlying, often unconscious, bias and assumptions that they communicate to their audiences.
1. The ideal Scottish body is imagined as bloodless. While older concepts of the national body invoke the blood and heart of Scotland, the current independence movement is rightly proud of its bloodless, non-violent mode of conflict. This, however, leaves blood still perceived as a pollutant to be avoided, perpetuating the stigma around menstrual blood (visible also in the committee on blood-borne viruses). What suffuses and holds together the nation instead of blood or even instead of the capitalist flows of money is white “sanitary” products that are to be “accessed” “freely” and “without barriers” by all members of the body politic universally. This gives capitalism a feminist and anti-poverty but still racially biased gloss rather than radical rethink.
2. This is paired with a subject position that always sets the speaker on a higher level to those whose menstruating bodies they discuss. Menstruation is only spoken about in the third person, as a problem for those young, poor and female, allowing speakers to deny their own embodiedness. Again, this perpetuates rather than alleviates the historical stigma, despite all good intentions.
The take-away for activists, politicians, charities and quangos is to beware of the language used that might express unconscious bias and stigma, and falsely suggest a superior, disembodied position.
Gayle Davis & Jessica Campbell
‘A Crisis of Transition’: Menstruation, the Female Lifecycle and Fin-de-Siècle Scottish Psychiatry
By the later nineteenth century, Scottish psychiatry had achieved professional status. Asylums were recognized as the officially approved response to madness, and mass institutionalisation allowed the medical profession unparalleled opportunities to observe, classify and treat those deemed insane, generating knowledge that was consolidated and disseminated through new specialist journals. The depiction of madness as a ‘female malady’ in asylum records and medical publications has become a popular theme in historical scholarship, doctors allegedly portraying the female sex as more vulnerable to insanity due to the perceived instability of their reproductive system. This article will examine prevalent theories that connected insanity to the various biological ‘crises’ of the female lifecycle – puberty, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, considering whose interests it served to pathologise the female body, and with what consequences. It will also attempt to offer a more nuanced interpretation of the supposed gendering of madness, by comparing how the male lifecycle was portrayed.
The prolific and widely cited doctor, Thomas Clouston – physician-superintendent of the Royal Edinburgh Asylum (1873-1908), Scotland’s largest and most prestigious asylum – will offer a particularly illuminating case study, in his conceptualisation of the fragile menstruating female body and the demands placed on the female mind by her transition from child to womanhood. Clouston portrayed asylum doctors as ‘priests of the body’, tasked with protecting females from themselves. In particular, girls were urged to reserve their finite energy for motherhood, and to avoid the perils of over-study and a ‘misdirected education’. Such attempts to provide medical legitimacy to a patriarchal worldview will be contextualised within contemporaneous moves towards female emancipation and attempts by women to gain entry to medical schools. By examining the multiple ways in which the female reproductive body and lifecycle were constructed within fin-de-siècle Scottish psychiatry and the wider significance of such portayals, this article ultimately seeks to highlight the enduring tension between perceptions of menstruation as a normal or pathological process, and the deleterious impact of menstruation upon female access to education, both features of the recent period poverty debate.
Bee Hughes, Camilla Mørk Røstvik & Catherine Spencer
Bloody Presence & Absence: Exploring the Visual History of Menstruation in Scotland
Menstrual art has always been important to menstrual culture and discourse, but how much do we know about menstrual visual culture in Scotland? This article will critically reflect on the initial stages of the authors’ collaborative project Blood Lines: Exploring the History of Menstruation at the University of St Andrews, and the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the project. It will focus on the dynamic of presence and absence, working outward from the particular challenges presented by undertaking a residency when the artist cannot be present, to examine how this might parallel – and provide an important analytical perspective on – the wider problematic of menstrual presence and absence in Scotland.
Blood Lines was conceived to investigate the recent legislative developments in Scotland, seeking to understand attitudes in St Andrews, and provide evidence of change (or lack thereof) connected to new policy. While menstruation is more present in public discourse, and menstrual materials are present in bathrooms, and food banks, these structures also sustain the careful (re)production of menstrual absence/invisibility through their use.
Here, Røstvik and Spencer will explore the historic contexts of feminist art in St Andrews and Scotland, broader histories of menstrual art, visual culture and performance, alongside the history of menstruation in Scotland. They will assess collections of menstrual visual culture in Scotland, including at Glasgow Women’s Library, Surgeons Hall Museum Edinburgh, and Lifespace in Dundee, reflecting on how their histories might be both present (institutionalised) and absent (when not on display). The authors will situate Hughes’ art practice alongside these histories and their experiences of St Andrews. They/Hughes will reflect upon the project, exploring the tensions which emerge when external factors make it impossible for the artist to be in residence through considering the presences/absences inherent in the project, in menstrual products, and the menstrual cycle, alongside the materiality of menstruation.
Saniya Lee Ghanoui
‘Place a Duty’: Menstrual Education and Menstrual Bills in the U.S. and Scotland
In this essay I examine the politics of “sterile” menstrual education and its films in the 1970s and 1980s. By “sterile” I indicate the way product companies crafted menstrual instruction in a particularly positive way so as to promote and sell their products. Working on films from both the U.S. and Scotland, in particular the American film Naturally … a Girl (1973) and the Scottish film Having a Period: Menstruation (1980), I seek to connect the discourse around menstrual instruction from forty years ago with today. I explore the media constructions of the period as related to puberty and sexuality to examine the longer thread of discourse that appeared in the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. As such, this essay asks, broadly, “how have U.S. and Scottish messages around menstruation changed (if they have) over time and in what ways do these messages maintain the idea of sterility?” and “How have these messages transferred to actual political bills.” Depending on the parameters of the essay and my sources, I may include discussion of the American bill the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act to talk about difference ways that American legislative/Scottish parliamentarian bodies constructed the period.
This essay fits in the larger collection alongside Pavel Vasilev’s work on feminine product introduction and advertising in Russia in the late 1980s and into the 1990s and with Bettina Bildhauer’s analysis on Scottish product usage as exhibited in the Scottish bill. My article, alongside Pavel’s, will show an alternative to the Scottish perspective while tying issues of education and product placement to the current debate and concerns in Scotland. I am not conducting solely an analysis of the Scottish bill, and thus will not duplicate Bettina’s work in anyway.
Researching the researchers: Menstrual stigma and the lived experience of studying menstruation
Menstruation has been historically stigmatized (de Beauvoir, 1953; Johnston-Robledo & Chrisler, 2013) through a variety of strategies cross-culturally (Buckley & Gottlieb, 1988) which include silencing and marginalization (Pascoe, 2007; Vostral, 2010). Such stigmatization has affected the inclusion of menstruation as a topic of research across disciplines (Owen, 2020). In addition, stigmatization has been shown to affect the career paths of academics focused on menstrual research (Chrisler et al, 2011). The research detailed in this paper set out to discover the effects of such stigmatization on menstrual researchers themselves.
The research cohort studied was an interdisciplinary group of ten scholars from the humanities and social sciences, living and working in the UK, USA and Russia. This group came together in 2020 to research the antecedents and details of new Scottish legislation to provide free menstrual products in the community. Thus the group’s research took place within and covers a historic junction during which time the social and political capital of menstruation was changing in the public domain, for example through the recent decision of Scottish legislators to take meaningful account of difficulties undergone by menstruators in certain contexts, such as poverty. Funds for menstrual research had become more available, more researchers had entered the field, and the cultural capital of the menstrual researcher appeared to be changing.
My qualitative research concerned both the longer term and more recent impact of doing menstrual research on the lived experience of the researchers, including their inner as well as their professional lives. I was also curious as to how the collegiality of the project may have affected their experience. My research utilised semi-structured interviews via online video meetings, and took place over a six month period between 2020 and 2021. Contributions were anonymised and data analysis was performed using a dual bureaucratic and charismatic technique (Sullivan 2012, Owen 2020). I was also a member of this group and to incorporate my self-reflexivity, the paper is structured through an autoethnographic enquiry.
Buckley, T. & Gottlieb, A. (Eds.) (1988), Blood magic: The Anthropology of menstruation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chrisler, J. C. (2011). Leaks, lumps, and lines: Stigma and women’s bodies. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 202–214. ——(2013). Teaching taboo topics: Menstruation, menopause, and the psychology of women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(1), 128-132.
Chrisler, J. C., Johnston-Robledo, I. & Gorman, J. A. (2011). Stigma by association? The career progression of menstrual cycle researchers. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Pittsburgh, PA.
de Beauvoir, S. (1953). The Second Sex. New York: Vintage, 2011.
Johnston-Robledo, I. & Chrisler, J. (2013). The menstrual mark: Menstruation as social stigma. Sex Roles, 68(1-2), 9- 18.
Owen, L. (2020). Unpublished PhD thesis: Innovations in menstrual organization: Redistributing boundaries, capitals and labour.
Pascoe, C. (2007). Silence and the history of menstruation. Oral History Association of Australia, 29, 28-33.
Vostral, S. L. (2010). Under wraps: A history of menstrual hygiene technology. Plymouth: Lexington Books.
Noelle Elizabeth Spencer
Access to Resources Related to Menstruation as a Public Health Issue
Conversations on menstruation have often centered around concerns related to access to resources related to menstruation, including menstrual products. The ACLU has asserted that menstruation globally is a human rights issue in relation to issues of stigma, access to products and facilities, and barriers to equitable participation in society.1 Concerns around access are closely tied to concerns around cost and in particular the concept of period poverty – significant financial and educational barriers related to menstruation and access to resources.1,2 One 2020 publication characterized period poverty “as a public health crisis”.3
The Scottish Government has introduced measures to address stigma – through the Let’s Call Periods, Periods’ campaign4, and barriers to access – through creation of a scheme to provide free products in educational facilities4 and proposal of the Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill.5
In the context of this article, resources related to menstruation will be understood to include such topics as education, facilities, and menstrual products themselves. The Social Ecological Model (SEM) will be used to explore the multi-faceted aspects of the main construct of access to resources related to menstruation. The SEM is a theoretical framework utilized to explore the diverse ways in which a construct impacts upon, and is impacted by factors at each of four levels: individual, relationship, community, and society.6 The main research question that will guide this article is: In what ways is access to resources related to menstruation, a public health issue? The main aim of this work will be to establish the public health significance of barriers and facilitators to access to resources related to menstruation in the Scottish context. In order to explore this question, I will provide overviews of (1) historical factors related to access and (2) current and proposed factors related to access, guided by the structure of the SEM.
1. United Nations Population Fund. Menstruation and human rights – Frequently asked questions. Published 2019. Accessed.
2. Bloody Good Period WfRW. The effects of “period poverty” among refugee and asylum-seeking women. 2019.
3. Rapp A, Kilpatrick, Sidonie. Changing the Cycle: Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis. University of Michigan School of Public Health. The Pursuit: Trending Topics from Michigan Public Health Web site. Published 2020. Accessed.
4. Let’s call periods, periods. Scottish Government, Riaghaltas na h-Alba, gov.scot. Published 2020. Accessed.
5. Burn-Murdoch A, McTaggart, Joel. Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill In. McTaggart AB-MaJ, trans. SPICe Briefing2019.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Prevention. Published 2020. Accessed.
How Mooncup Came to Moscow: Changing Menstrual Habits in Late 20th and Early 21st Century Russia
Emerging literature in critical menstrual studies seeks to contextualize and de-centralize the modern Western experience of the menstrual cycle by paying closer attention to its various historical and cultural specificities (especially in the Global South). This paper extends the discussion by focusing on post-Soviet Russia and examines how new menstrual discourses and practices emerged and developed in the wake of the Soviet collapse.
What makes the post-Soviet case quite distinct is that, despite the USSR being a rather ‘developed’ country by international standards, Soviet menstruators had to rely heavily on do-it-yourself substitutes and improvisational bodily techniques instead of having a ready solution in the form of industrially produced tampons and sanitary pads. Seismic shifts in Russian politics, economy, society, and culture that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new capitalist economy also resulted in profound changes in the politics of menstruation. In particular, commercially produced sanitary pads and tampons from abroad became readily available and aggressively advertised on literally every medium available.
Drawing on oral history interviews, memoir readings, visual materials and Internet archives, I show how the inclusion of the Russian Federation in the neoliberal financial and gender order since the early 1990s has been accompanied by the often uncritical adoption of Western beliefs and practices relating to menstruation (such as the emphasis on the importance of disposable products). I further demonstrate how, in the increasingly globalized and interconnected world of the digital era, emerging Russian menstrual activism also draws on international discussions about menstrual taboos or reusable menstrual products. Overall, I argue that we should view the most recent developments in the politics of menstruation (such as Scotland’s Ending Period Poverty campaign) in the broader international context and account for the continued influence that corporate players continue to exercise on such policies.