"Menstruation at the Margins" Discussion Panel Highlights

On Tuesday, October 22nd, Gettysburg College’s Women’s Center and the Brown Nipple Collective co-hosted the discussion panel event “Menstruation at the Margins” as part of the Women’s Center Fall Lecture Series. The panel included Dr. Christopher Fee, English Professor; Dr. Tyeshia Redden, Africana Studies Visiting Assistant Professor; Dr. Stephanie Sellers, English, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Adjunct Professor; and Dre Ceja, from the LGBT Center of Central PA. These Gettysburg College faculty and staff were purposefully invited for their research insight into the topical marginalized groups. The discussion ranged from experiences of menstruation by homeless individual and prison inmates, to Native American and LGBTQI+ communities. Here are some of the main takeaways from this lecture panel, if you were not able to attend. 

Homelessness

Some of the main causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing and domestic abuse. At this, Dr. Tyeshia Redden strongly asserted that housing should be a constitutional right. The panel suggested that parents are often “the front end of human trafficking,” in that restrictive parents who kick out their kids onto the street make them vulnerable to exploitation.

For homeless people who have menstruation cycles, it can become a choice between a meal or a pad. The panel pointed out that this situation is a health issue, because free bleeding or improper hygiene can lead to infections and disease. Dr. Christopher Fee additionally noted that this is an issue of dignity, making it a human right issue. There have been pushes to have period products freely available, the same way toilet paper often is, for issues such as these - when lack of access to sanitary conditions becomes a public health and a human rights issue.

Image Via: The Harvard Crimson

Prison Inmates

Dr. Redden talked about how a recent law has been approved in Maryland allowing free access to tampons and pads for prison inmates. Studies had found a culture of degradation of female inmates, with guards demanding sexual favors in exchange for the sanitary products. However, the free products have yet to be implemented, because the law is not getting enforced. These levels of degradation are major human rights issues, and demonstrate how people are completely stripped of their human rights when they have been criminalized. Much of the sources of imprisonment are due to criminalization of poverty, such as the accruement of fines due to housing maintenance. Studies have been done showing over-policing of minority neighborhoods, excessively dealing out parking tickets. Prison strips people of their rights and their ability to be productive members of society or the economy.

Image Via: The Guardian  

Native American Communities

Dr. Stephanie Sellers presented Native American conceptions of menstruation compared to Western attitudes. In contrast to Western culture, which assigns value to a person based on their relationships and personal identity, Native American culture puts more emphasis on an individual’s role in the community. They are also matriarchal societies, with female goddesses. In Native American culture, young woman’s first period is a highly sacred and celebrated time because it marks a coming-of-age into adulthood and participation into a greater role in the community.

Dr. Sellers spoke strongly about destabilizing our “colonized notion of menstruation;” encouraging using neutral and positive terms when talking about bodies and their processes. She encouraged the maintenance of an expectation of respect about people’s bodies in order to deconstruct heteropatriarchal structures about shame around menstruating bodies. Dr. Sellers overall urged the audience to acknowledge the US’s occupation of native lands, and awareness about how our notion of the status quo is informed by our cultural socialization, rather than any essential truths.

Image Via: NPR

LGBTQ+ 

Dre Ceja discussed some of the otherized experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals who experience menstruation. They pointed out the typically codified feminine language around discussions of menstruation. Discourses that link gender with sex (genetalia and/or reproductive organ status), reinforce the dominance of the cis- and het- binary. This assumption denies the experience of transgender, non-binary, intersex, and other queer identities. In other words, non-woman-identifying menstruating bodies are erased, and their gender identities invalidated. For example, pads, tampons, and other menstruation products are sometimes referred to as “feminine” products, and if they are made available in public, they are located in women’s restrooms. Ceja underlined the importance of de-gendering the language around the topic of menstruation, to acknowledge and respect the experiences of all menstruating bodies, whether female, male, non-binary, or other.

Image Via: Clue