The social construction and resistance of menstruation as a public spectacle

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The main objective of this study is to develop a feminist theoretical understanding of menstruation. I use the perspectives of three leading male theorists-Erving Goffman, Karl Marx, and Michel Foucault- to understand this phenomenon, while keeping a feminist focus on how their works illuminate this profoundly female predicament. I first use Goffman's concept of stigma in order to establish the micro-level, social psychological aspects of negative portrayals of menstruation and their internalization by women. I next use Foucault's theory on discourses to understand how stigmas are social constructions that change over historical time, and I compare premodern and modern discourses on menstruation. Here I contend that menstrual discourses shift from premodern superstitious and religious understandings, to the medicalization of menstruation and a focus on hygiene, with the rise of modern sciences in the late nineteenth century. Third, I use Marx's understanding of capitalism to discuss how the emergence of the personal care industry utilized new medical discourses for their own commercial interests by tracing the industrialization and commoditization of feminine hygiene products. Finally, I explore how feminists today are mobilizing to resist all three of these sociohistorical developments-the stigmatization of menstruation, the medicalization of menstrual discourses surrounding this stigma, and the commercialization of menstruation.




Patterson, A. (2014). The social construction and resistance of menstruation as a public spectacle. In Illuminating How Identities, Stereotypes and Inequalities Matter through Gender Studies (pp. 91–108). Springer Netherlands.

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