Johnston-Robledo, I. & Chrisler, J.C. (2013). “The Menstrual Mark: Menstruation as Social Stigma.” Sex Roles January 2013, Volume 68, Issue 1, 9-18. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0052-z
In this article from 2013, Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler take a theoretical approach to examining negotiations of power and gender subjugation through popular media representations about menstruation. They perform a textual analysis through a lens of culture and media studies, anthropology, feminism and social psychology, using an examination of cultural practices and messages to seek “menstrual justice” (p. 14). They brand the marginalization specific to menstruation as a stigma, which “refers to any stain or mark that sets some people apart from others” (p. 9).
The authors ask what has made menstruation so shocking and defiled that it would lead to cultural othering and make the female body be viewed as defective or their morality, mental state and character questioned. For this, they employ classical categories of stigma, using Goffman’s system: body deformities, character flaws, and “tribal” identities or social markers (p.10). Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler draw upon empirical studies to determine what manner of stigma among these categories is most off-putting and most influenced by the belief of control of stigmatic conditions, determining that menstruation fits all three of Goffman’s categories.
With menstrual blood being viewed as more abhorrent than other bodily fluids, menstruating women carry a false perception in society of being unclean. Medical studies in the past have even attempted to prove evidence of toxic elements in women during menstruation, the authors point out. Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler seek to prove that menstruation is a hidden stigma expressed culturally, with a strong social push to control it via medicine and hygiene products for the comfort of others, not for the women themselves. The authors posit advertising as the main cultural creator and carrier of socially constructed meaning and messages surrounding menstruation, “emphasizing secrecy, avoidance of embarrassment, and freshness” (p.11). They cover the methods used by advertisers to mask any reference to menstruation and the push for concealment as further evidence of stigma.
Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler also examine cultural artifacts such as humor, cultural euphemisms for menstruation, greeting cards, and educational pamphlets, in order to conduct content analysis in support of their claims. They assert that illustrations and terminology used is purposefully vague or discursive, presenting negatives attitudes, shame, secrecy and embarrassment leading to social stigma. The authors focus on the negative consequences of these messages on girls and women that sway away from self-acceptance, drawing on Foucault and self-objectification theory to review how these cultural messages have been internalized negatively by women. As discussed in class, cultural representations and visual artifacts solidify ideologies. In this case, the prevailing ideology is that women must fall in line with what is appropriately feminine, taking us away from our embodied and corporal experiences to process these experiences more in the form of cultural and, ultimately, personal policing.
The authors employ both quantitative and qualitative content analysis of advertising to find that messages sent to women seem to carry heavy social weight that evidence of menstruation should be kept from public view and knowledge. They conclude by suggesting ways to resolve menstrual stigma, such as talking openly about the subject to raise self-awareness and consciousness. Their research points out that younger generations of women are rewriting more positive messages towards menstruation in online spaces, leading to greater agency and empowerment as well as an ability to craft one’s own message. They call for more analysis into popular culture menstruation narratives that must be actively resisted and reduced in order to overturn the stigma of menstruation. Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler’s scholarly conversation is definitely one I will seek to join in my project. This piece is a very concise and well-written work with a tight effective analysis that provides conclusive solutions in the end. It reaffirms my research position and also provides a wealth of sources and studies cited within for investigation for inclusion in my own work towards similar aims.