A History of Menstrual Activism

By Rachel Walden — February 10, 2009

A recent issue of the journal Health Care for Women International includes the article “From Convenience to Hazard: A Short History of the Emergence of the Menstrual Activism Movement, 1971-1992,” a succinct and fascinating history from author Chris Bobel. This article is well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy (the link above is to the abstract only). The article highlights “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the ways in which our classic book addressed menstruation and menstrual products over the years and editions.

Bobel notes milestones in the history of menstrual activism, including growing concerns about menstrual products and changing attitudes and growing discussion about menstruation in the 1970s, concerns about toxic shock syndrome and the FDA’s inaction in the 1980s, and growing concern about toxins and interest in alternative products in the early 1990s.

Regarding past editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Bobel notes that the topic was addressed briefly in the 1970 OBOS precursor “Women & Their Bodies,” but had “its own four-and-a-half-page subsection in Chapter Two” by the 1973 edition. By 1979, the text “suggest[ed] that conventional products were not for everyone,” but Bobel wonders why “the introductory passage acknowledging cultural and historical differences in the ways women absorb their flow also was deleted.”

Bobel observes that strong language about toxic shock syndrome and the lack of uniform absorbency standards from the FDA made it into the 1984 edition, as did the problems of menstrual products for women using wheelchairs. By “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 1992, the text included “an expanded discussion of menstrual products by including still more alternative options and introducing the potential health hazards associated with the industry’s standard chlorine bleaching process.”

If this topic is of interest to you, Bobel also has a book coming out soon which will elaborate on the themes of the article entitled “When the Private Becomes Public: Menstruation, Resistance and ‘Doing Feminism’ in the Third Wave” — we’ll try to review it when it becomes available!

7 responses to “A History of Menstrual Activism”

  1. Sounds interesting! I myself am a fan of alternative products. I used The Keeper for few years (though I heard about it from The Tightwad Gazette, not OBOS), and have had a Diva Cup for 4 years, as well as Gladrags.

  2. Excellent news – Bobel’s ‘Doing Feminism’ article is regularly among the most memorable for my women’s health students. I look forward to your book review, Rachel.

  3. Very informative I use something called Winalite

    they are a sniatry napkin made without chemicals and synthetic materials. They have something called an anion strip embedded in every pad this allows for less cramping and irritability. They are also antibacterial and are made of cotton and thin silk allowing for great comfort and excellent absorbency. They are definitely worth checking out.

  4. u a’r so jenious i’m very grateful when i found u’r blog…plss update u’r blog,i’m waiting for it so much.en if u can can u plss show u’r sister used bloddy pads.thx

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