Making a Menstrual Movement Inclusive

 
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When I was getting my graduate certificate in holistic health studies, I did so at a women’s university. The course curriculum was rich in women-focused perspectives on health, culture, and spirituality. Many of my classmates were women who had children, and almost all of them defined “femininity” and a woman’s “power” in her ability to become pregnant and birth life.

At the time, my husband and I were experiencing round after round of failed fertility treatments, and I wasn’t feeling very “powerful.” Infertility is an isolating, lonely place, and the program I was in only compounded my feelings of ostracism from the female sphere. I didn’t know where I fit in among these women. I often found myself doubting my femininity as a woman who could not get pregnant. I felt excluded from their definition of "womanhood."

I tell that story so I may more clearly express my next point:

2015 was proudly declared “the year of the period,” and the fight continues today. This makes me happy. Silence surrounding menstruation only validates stigma and stereotypes about it. Yet, I worry that while many of us who are cheerleading for #periodpositivity, we may be accidentally isolating women, girls, trans and non-binary people from joining the movement.

We must be cautious not to marginalize menstruating people who suffer painful or irregular cycles.

We must acknowledge that not all people who menstruate want to, not for reasons of body illiteracy, but for reasons of personal choice.

We must be careful not to silence the voices of our sisters and *brothers who are brave enough to speak their truths.

We must not judge those who use disposable menstrual products or hormonal birth control.

We must not make “menstrual enthusiasm” the stick upon which we measure the success of the cause.

If we are to continue building upon the momentum of 2015, we must go forward by including all types of menstruating people by accepting their informed choices, even if those choices go against the ones we would make for ourself.

It is a terrible thing to feel you don’t belong because you get a period when you don't want to, or it’s not realistic to use reusable menstrual products, or you prefer to use hormonal birth control, or because your monthly cycle is painful.

Let’s not make this mistake.

There is an egregious overreach of lawmakers, marketing executives, and physicians who continue to perpetuate shame, stigma and the over-medicalization of women’s bodies. And yes, taking back the power and declaring menstruation as our own absolutely needs to be done. But we must remember to listen to the stories, concerns, and objections of our sisters and brothers. Because when we come together as a whole: straight, trans, cis, non-binary, post-menopausal women and women and girls with menstrual irregularities, our voices will be strong, our voices will be powerful and we cannot be ignored.

*Many transgender men still experience their menstrual cycle, it is imperative we do not exclude their experience from the discussion.

Amy Sutherland