Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle

Women*s’ Rights as Workers’ Rights

The average person (although, who or what ‘average’ really means is an entire debate of its own…) doesn’t know very much about the menstrual cycle.

This shortcoming leads to a host of problems, including (but not limited to):

– the silence of women* so everpresent in our patriarchical societies
– the instrumentalisation of women’s bodies (e.g. as tools for opression)
– a distancing of women* from their own bodies
– ignorance towards the potential power and special needs connected to a woman*s cyclically changing hormone levels

{I’m sure there are tons of other issues I am forgetting/omitting right now. Are you thinking of any that you would like to see listed here? Let me know!}

All of these issues are, of course, highly interdependent. The perspective I’d like to focus on today: women*s’ rights as workers’ rights.

Over the course of one menstrual cycle, the hormonal fluctuations lead to directly noticeable changes in energy-levels, activity and power. To be fair, every woman*’s hormonal make-up is sightly different and the widespread use of hormonal contraceptives heavily messes with the system. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the fluctuation of hormone levels during the different phases of the menstrual cycle lead to differences in energy and productivity.

Imagine a world in which you would be able to say to your employer: “My energy levels are lower right now because I’m in phase XY of my period; I will take things a bit more slowly during the following days and use this time to contemplate and plan on the coming weeks.” What a beautiful world that would be!

Right now, not only does it seem impossible for women* to make such a statement; most of us have such little knowledge of our own cycle and limited bodily awareness, that we berate ourselves on a regular basis (of course! the cycle recurs every month!) for working too little/not being productive enough or too tired/to irritated… you name it.

The latter raises an interesting point: the irritability that can accompany certain stages of a woman*’s cycle, seems to be the only part about menstruation that is ever mentioned publicly instead of staying shrouded in a cloud of confusion and taboo. It is common practice to belittle women* who are openly voicing their opinion (or being critical of accepted norms, or even being more emotional than is societally accepted at that particular point in time) by saying something along the lines of “Are you on your period, or why are you making such a fuss?!” Such a statement is equivalent with disallowing any validity or credibility of the feelings or statements voiced. Ironically, the exact same sentence “Are you on your period”, stated as a sincere question, could start a revolution!

Are you on your period? could mean:

>> I am aware that you may need a bit more time, a bit more sleep and/or a bit more support and understanding, right now. I am aware that you might be in pain [Menstrual Knowledge: About half of women* experience menstrual cramps, and about 15% describe the pain as severe]. I respect that you need to concentrate on taking care of yourself more, at the moment, instead of taking care of others (or producing goods or knowledge).

In turn, this awareness of the different stages of the menstrual cycle also means, that the beautiful bursts of power and energy and creativity that make up about half of the cycle can be more appreciated and harnessed!

On this note, I would like to empower you to deepen your knowledge of the menstrual cycle and train your awareness of it – regardless of the gender you identify as. I’ve put together some resources for you to explore and I will continue to update you on my own ongoing journey of discovery on this blog. I’d be happy to hear your experience, if you’d like to share!

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Female Empowerment

Bare Necessities

I recently read an article about breast health (via Occupy Menstruation) and what influence wearing a bra has on a woman*’s breast tissue/muscles/all of that lovely physical substrate that makes up this body part.

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As a scientist, I am curious to read more scientific papers on the topic. Beyond this inquisitiveness, though, my feminist urge for equality and awareness joins the picture. Let’s face it — most of the time, a woman*’s breasts are seen as objects. To be lusted after.. desired..riddiculed..sneered at.. judged… [this list can be expanded with a plethora of experience you may have made]. So I was curious what my experience would be like if I, as a young woman with fairly large breasts, would go without wearing a bra.

{I grew up with some — very few! — hardcore feminist women around me, who never confined their breasts to a bra. Thinking back now, I remember judging them as being quite strange, when I was a little girl… it’s sad, really.}

I was interested both to discover my own experiences – how would my body feel, walking..running..riding a bicycle… As well as the reactions (if there would be any) from others. Very quickly, this self-experiment turned into almost a sociological study:

Before I delve into the details, let me just say that I, of course, had a heightened sense of awareness during this “experiment”. It would be silly to assume that this didn’t influence my perception of other people’s reactions, or that my perception was anything but subjective. Of course it was! Keeping this in mind…

I have never gotten more looks at my chest, as I did on that day.

The eyes of people, regardless of whether I read them as men* or women* kept on wandering to my chest, as if I had a nasty ketchup stain on my shirt that I was unaware of but that was provoking them to look. Not a single person said a word to me about this. But by the end of the day, I was intensely uncomfortable. And angry.

Interestingly enough, I had forgotten that I had a job interview that day. By the time I realized this, it was too late to go home and change. So I went to my job interview, acutely aware of my bra-less state. The woman who interviewed me was such a pleasant person that I completely forgot my discomfort for the duration of our conversation. This was the first time, all day, that I didn’t feel reduced to this one area of my body and actually felt like I was being treated as an sentient being.

This experience has made me wonder… why is it, that it seems outrageous for women to not wear a bra (at least in western societies)? What does it say about us, that we want a part of our body to conform to a certain shape (and location!) that often times is quite far removed from reality?

Don’t get me wrong — I love beautiful underwear! But I would also love to wear it because I feel like it and not because I feel like I don’t have a choice. Plus: my chest was not made for bras! To this day, I have not found one model that works for my anatomy. And I’m not the only one … Some studies say that up to 88% of women may have differently sized breasts – a fact that next to no bra-maker has ever bothered to pay any attention to. So we’re supposed to spend tons of money to subsequently keep pushing and squeezing us awkwardly into the place and shape designers see fit for our breasts?? On so many levels, that just seems plain wrong.

This is why I have reached a decision: I will go bra-less at least once a week; more, if I feel like it or feel courageous enough to do so. And yes, I do need courage for that. I hope that someday I won’t anymore and I realize that for some people it might come easily. For me, this is a learning process. But it is one that I am excited for. And the next time I catch someone staring at my “untamed” breasts, I hope to have the courage to confront them about it!