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New Blood

New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation

Chris Bobel
Foreword by Judith Lorber
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    New Blood
    Book Description:

    New Bloodoffers a fresh interdisciplinary look at feminism-in-flux. For over three decades, menstrual activists have questioned the safety and necessity of feminine care products while contesting menstruation as a deeply entrenched taboo. Chris Bobel shows how a little-known yet enduring force in the feminist health, environmental, and consumer rights movements lays bare tensions between second- and third-wave feminisms and reveals a complicated story of continuity and change within the women's movement.Through her critical ethnographic lens, Bobel focuses on debates central to feminist thought (including the utility of the category "gender") and challenges to building an inclusive feminist movement. Filled with personal narratives, playful visuals, and original humor,New Bloodreveals middle-aged progressives communing in Red Tents, urban punks and artists "culture jamming" commercial menstrual products in their zines and sketch comedy, queer anarchists practicing DIY health care, African American health educators espousing "holistic womb health," and hopeful mothers refusing to pass on the shame to their pubescent daughters. With verve and conviction, Bobel illuminates today's feminism-on-the-ground--indisputably vibrant, contentious, and ever-dynamic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4953-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Judith Lorber

    Chris Bobel’s account of third-wave menstrual activism is a generational eye-opener. For a second-wave feminist like me, whose early goal in life was to have a full-time career and a family at the same time, menstruation was something to be minimized, managed, and made invisible. The idea of flaunting its bodily manifestations and making it the basis of political activism would have been unbelievable and retrograde to me. My generation gratefully seized on tampons and “the Pill” to accomplish the goal of making menstruation and birth control less of a bother. We soon learned to manipulate oral contraceptives so the...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    On a Thursday morning in August, I am thumbing through the impressive list of workshops offered at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, highlighting those that grab me. I discover one titled “Ax Tampax,” which promises to “explor[e] the politics, issues, and experiences of menstruation including discussion of the dangers of disposable products and the presentation of safer alternatives.”

    The politics of menstruation? Dangers of products? Alternatives? What?

    I’m intrigued and circle “Ax Tampax” with my pink highlighter. Two days later, I join about two-dozen women who listen with rapt attention to the twenty-something workshop presenter. Representing “the Bloodsisters: a radical...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Encountering Third-Wave Feminism
    (pp. 14-27)

    The Clarence Thomas–Anita Hill debacle of 1991 stirred the pot of feminist emotion. With rapt and often lascivious interest, the American public watched the televised Senate nomination hearings during which conservative African American nominee Clarence Thomas responded to accusations of sexual harassment. His accuser was a former colleague, African American Anita Hill, who alleged that on repeated occasions, Thomas made sexually charged comments and pursued her for dates, which she rebuffed. The sordid story, told and retold with crowd-pleasing detail, fired debates in countless kitchens, on shop floors, in break rooms, and in classrooms. For many feminists, some donning...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Feminist Engagements with Menstruation
    (pp. 28-41)

    InThe Curious Feminist, Cynthia Enloe asserts the need to develop afeministcuriosity, which begins with “taking women’s lives seriously.”¹ This essential and focused attention, she argues, is not simply an act of valorization, but an earnest reckoning with all kinds of women in all kinds of places and times. When we take women’s lives seriously, we attend to the gaps and the absences in women’s lives, and accordingly to their consequences. Close attention to menstruation, for example, can reveal much about cultural values and identities. Some feminist analyses already point to the wide-ranging social and personal implications of...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Emergence of Menstrual Activism
    (pp. 42-64)

    Because Deb’s engagement with menstrual activism is nearly as old as the movement itself, I asked her to explain what led her to swim against the mainstream and embrace “alternative menstruation” beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing through the early 1980s.

    I remember we were getting into organic foods and healthy alternatives in cosmetics, with natural lotions and toothpastes, et cetera. There were a lot of feminist and holistic health books coming out right then, it was the height of the women’s movement in ways, andOur Bodies, Ourselveswas just out, and we would read books and magazines for...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Feminist-Spiritualist Menstrual Activism
    (pp. 65-96)

    Nineteen-year-old Kami McBride was ill. It was 1981. When McBride sought medical advice, four different doctors told her she was simply manifesting the stress of a recent breakup, on top of college finals. While McBride acknowledged that stress is undoubtedly implicated in numerous health problems, she was not satisfied with this explanation. So she consulted a nurse practitioner and started to get different answers. Ultimately, a CT scan identified a tumor on her pituitary gland that McBride believed was linked to high dosages of estrogen-based birth control. During surgery to remove the tumor, the surgeon had to lift the front...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Radical Menstruation
    (pp. 97-134)

    Yonah EtShalom was an early bloomer. At age sixteen she attended a Bloodsisters workshop at a local anarchist community center, where she heard talk of menstruation laced with good doses of humor, including:

    Question: How do you know if a squatter is menstruating?

    Answer: She’s only got one sock on.

    EtShalom admits that she had to find out that a squatter is someone who occupies a house they do not own (a practice often linked with punk subculture) before she could make the connection. The joke was a play on the punk do-it-yourself ethic, or DIY, a commitment to self-reliance...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Making Sense of Movement Participation
    (pp. 135-153)

    When I first encountered the menstrual activism movement, I wasn’t surprised when I scanned the human landscape. Almost immediately I detected something similar between the menstrual activists and the natural mothers, a variant of mother activists I studied several years ago. In fact, I am quite certain that my fascination with natural mothering led me—with almost magnetic force—to the Bloodsisters who introduced me to menstrual activism. During the mid-to-late 1990s I researched a loose network of mothers who embody a feminist critique of the denigration of women as mothers. Through alternative mothering practices, these women resist mainstream consumerism...

  13. CHAPTER 7 When “Women” Becomes “Menstruators”
    (pp. 154-170)

    A Korean FemCare commercial begins with a long shot of a beautiful woman striking a provocative yet demure pose in a navy blue, form-fitting dress, seated on the edge of a chair in front of a circular window that looks out on the lush green outdoors. Our eye is drawn to her long, slender legs, crossed at the ankles. We hear strains of ethereal music—a harp and a solo soprano. A succession of close-up shots follows. Frame by frame, the woman wordlessly communicates confidence, sensuality, innocence, and playfulness, all with the utmost femininity, as a woman’s voiceover almost whispers:...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-180)

    A year after meeting the Bloodsisters and beginning my research into menstrual activism, I have returned to the this increasingly controversial feminist event. Here, the womyn-born-womyn policy that excludes transwomen is all the buzz, and perhaps nothing more clearly demonstrates that feminism as we know it is in a state of crisis. The policy articulates the palpable tension between those who wish to preserve womanhood as a core category of feminism and those who wish to explode not only that category, but also the gender binary on which it rests. Will this dilemma ultimately destroy the movement or strengthen it?...

  15. Appendix A. Methods
    (pp. 181-186)
  16. Appendix B. Interview Protocol
    (pp. 187-188)
  17. Appendix C. Demographics of Interviewees
    (pp. 189-190)
  18. Appendix D. Selected Menstrual Activist Resources
    (pp. 191-192)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 193-224)
  20. Index
    (pp. 225-238)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)