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Title: Pondering periods: Young women talk about menstruation in the age of menstrual suppression
Author: Berenson, Carol
Advisor: McCoy, Liza
Keywords: Sociology
Issue Date: 4-Jul-2014
Abstract: Seasonale, a birth control pill designed and marketed expressly to suppress menstruation, has been on the Canadian market since 2007 yet ‘menstruation by choice’ remains a controversial issue. This dissertation investigates menstrual suppression from the perspectives of experts in the field of women’s health and those of young women as a target group for this practice. It also explores the broader question of what everyday menstrual life looks like for young women in this time when menstruating seems to be on the wane. Utilizing a history of medicalization to contextualize the current state of affairs, this thesis draws upon insights from practice theory to map the nuances and complexities of menstruation and menstrual suppression using data from policy documents and focus group interviews. The parameters of the menstrual suppression debate are laid out as presented by the Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and their counterparts, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. In framing what they see as the key issues of concern, these experts reveal disparate underlying assumptions about the menstrual cycle itself, the technology of the birth control pill, women’s decision making, and what constitutes risk. The women’s views about menstrual suppression are far from straight forward, with risks associated with pregnancy detection, future fertility, and the pill’s interference with ‘nature’ on their list of concerns. They speak back to the experts, reconfiguring the parameters of the issue and revealing considerable skill in maneuvering the complexities of the choice-making terrain. In the everyday of young women’s lives, menstruation involves considerable work, not only during one’s period but also in terms of getting ready for it. In their talk about selecting a menstrual management product, participants draw upon interpretive frameworks to do with economics, the environment, health, hygiene, and growing up. In terms of managing menstrual bleeding they describe engaging in numerous routine practices in order to hide the evidence of their periods from both males and sometimes females in their lives. This work is compulsory, complicated and context-dependent, with some spheres of activity particularly revealing of high stakes consequences of failure. More broadly, they both reinforce and challenge notions of menstruating bodies as abject in male normative space, and balance attending to menstruation against erasing the fact of its existence as they describe their embodied menstrual routines.
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