Elevate Difference

New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation

When I first picked up New Blood, I immediately thought about Sarah Haskins, the feminist comedienne who does the segment ‘Target Women’ (on Current TV), in which she uses humour and sarcasm to draw attention to ridiculous media representations of women and female stereotypes. Watch ‘Target Women: Your Garden’—in which she exposes commercials that dare not name ‘lady parts’ and you’ll understand why I thought of her and now, after reading New Blood see in her a great representation of the contemporary feminist movement.

In New Blood, Chris Bobel, an associate professor and chair of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts and the author of The Paradox of Natural Mothering, shines a timely and important spotlight on the small menstrual activist movement. Borne out of divergent feminist leanings that shape contemporary menstrual activism, it is based on the effort to speak openly about menstruation, the bleeding body, and to rebel against the notion of period as a ‘dirty little secret’ as well as to act against negative campaigns and build an environment in which alternative, environmentally sustainable and body-positive feminine health care is mainstreamed.

Bobel’s research for this book brought her in contact with two strands of menstrual activists: feminist spiritualist who celebrate the inherent female experience of menstruation (think: red-tents, menarche rituals at moonlight); and the radical menstruation activist who, choosing the term ‘menstrator’ to replace ‘woman’ to free themselves of the sex/gender dichotomy and resist the exclusivity of static gender identity. Bobel calls them ‘revolutionary’; (think: radical cheerleaders; anti-corporate rallies, eco-warriors, and dressing up as Tampons to cause stir in campuses across the US).

Though Bobel spends much time on charting the development of today’s menstrual activism, she also reviews the history of menstrual activism, its manifestation and different approaches (i.e. working to lobby the FemCare Industry and government to improve the safety of disposable products rather than today’s radical menstrual activists, who have turned their back on such products and the corporations completely) during the 1970s and 80s in the times of the ‘Toxic Shock Syndrome’ scare. Furthermore, Bobel’s underlying message goes out to all those of today’s 'Third Wave Feminism' to not dismiss its ties with the ‘Second Wave’ (of the 1960s, 70s and 80s), whose tactics and some messages and efforts were very similar.

What struck me most, when reading this book was that there is a dearth in literature that so eloquently combines the scholarly theoretical developments in feminism with the practical, human, and material activism as New Blood does. What I furthermore particularly liked about Bobels material was that she has made a great effort here to question the demographic (overwhelmingly white, middle-class, though in the case of radical menstrual activists, mainly homosexual/genderqueer) of this movement and provides an important and interesting hypothesis that accounts for the absence of larger numbers of women of colour in this movement and the apparent complete lack of trans-identified participants.

Written for an ‘undergrad/general public’ audience, this book is an important and interesting read for anyone who wonders what’s going on with feminism today, wants to know about its relationship with its recent past and has ever felt that ‘bleedin’ is everyone’s business’. Let’s just say that this feminist went online yesterday to buy a Mooncup and not just because it’s all the rage. Last year, The Guardian’s Kira Cochrane said: Menstrual activism is ‘having a moment.’ Lets hope that it is not just a fleeting apparition on the left-wing media landscape but, like Bobel advocates, continues to be used to ‘interrogate the material body and identity, the cultural and the biological, and the social and the individual…to be better equipped to make profound change.’

Written by: Anna Matussek, September 13th 2010