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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

Breaking the Silence and Dismantling Menstrual Stigma as Social Justice

Dr. Carmen McNeil (Courtesy of DVC Events Calendar)

Dr. Carmen McNeil led a powerful interactive conversation last month as part of the DVC Social Justice Speaker Series, taking on the social injustice around menstrual stigma.

McNeil, who has been a professor of psychology at DVC for 10 years, said at the March 6 event that during her time focusing on social injustices of women, one question in particular stuck with her: 

“Why is this bodily process that is required for the human species to continue being disrespected?” she asked.

For a decade, McNeil has been studying the stigma associated with the menstrual cycle. Then, last semester, she completed a sabbatical where she looked at diverse perspectives on the menstrual cycle, trying to see how she could help “dismantle the stigma.” 

During the speaker event, McNeil created more than just a safe space; in fact, she dubbed the audience her “family,” and invited them to take a “journey” together and support one another.  Specifically, she introduced people to the habit of snapping fingers when they heard something that resonated with them. 

In a blend of lecture, video clips and comments from the public, McNeil explored the often uncomfortable, taboo topic of women’s menstrual cycle. Too often, she said, people turn to humor or outright teasing women about menstruation, due to their discomfort with the subject.

This has caused women to feel the need to “hide their menstruation,” she said, and often to feel embarrassed about it.

In addition, “shame, trauma, anxiety and fear are all embedded in the menstrual cycle,” McNeil said.

Prompted by McNeil’s questions, the audience discussed injustices women face, specifically those related to the menstrual cycle. One audience member raised a comparison between tampons, which she said are taxed similar to cigarettes and liquor, “as if it’s a luxury item.” 

According to data from the Alliance for Period Supplies, more than 20 states apply a sales tax of between 4 and 7 percent on menstrual products, making them more expensive. 

Another audience member brought up the topic of free tampons and pads in some of the women’s restrooms at DVC, and said it’s not just women who menstruate but also individuals who are intersex, trans men, and nonbinary individuals. 

McNeil responded by telling the audience about the “out of body experience” trans men go through when getting their period, and feel as if “their body is betraying them.”

An audience member posed the statement: “If only men could experience a period one time, then maybe they would understand,” eliciting frustrated responses of agreement across the room. 

Another member from the audience brought up “how important the trans male perspectives are, as they are like a ‘bridge’ between the feminine and masculine perspective because they have been in both worlds.” 

Towards the end of the journey, McNeil invited the audience to brainstorm some positive ways to address the stigma of menstruation.

Dr. Carmen McNeil led a powerful, interactive presentation on the social injustice of menstrual stigma. Photo by Ella Potts

The first point raised by participants was how the community needs to work on not silencing the topic. Menstruation should not be a topic we avoid, especially since 1.8 billion people globally menstruate, McNeil explained. 

But how do we get to a point where it’s not a taboo topic? One audience member took on that question with a solution: “It starts at home, breaking the cycle.”

She shared how she was brought up in a home where menstruation shouldn’t be talked about, and this caused her to strive to create an environment for her family where menstruation has no stigma and no shame. 

It’s people like her, in McNeil’s language, who are helping to break the cycle of menstrual stigma and are a part of the solution. 

Another take from the audience was the simple reminder that periods are not embarrassing, but rather are a sign of good health. Many people tend to get their period for the first time and assume there is something wrong with them. This was a mutual experience shared with many during this conversation. 

Another participant shared how menstruation needs to be taught to younger people, so when they get their first period they don’t think something’s wrong because it’s actually exactly what is supposed to happen to their body. 

The audience came to the conclusion that it’s almost equally important to teach this to young people who don’t menstruate as well, in order to help normalize the topic and create a more supportive and understanding community. 

An audience member then shared how they thought it would be nice to destigmatize the vagina itself and to eliminate shame about the body part that brings new life into the world. 

An eruption of snaps filled the room.

Dr. Carmen McNeil will present her talk, “Dismantling Menstrual Stigma: Using Counter Narratives as an Act of Social Justice,” at the 2024 Faculty Lecture hosted by the Academic Senate on April 10, 6-8 p.m., at BWL-CCC, and April 11, 12:45-2:10 p.m. at the Diablo Room.

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About the Contributor
Ella Potts, Staff Writer

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