I’m an independent education researcher, comedian and designer with an MA in Education from Sheffield Hallam University, a PGCE in Drama and Media from Bretton Hall College and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University. It’s been a real treat to be able to combine all my interests as part of the Gender Respect Project!
The research I undertook for my MA dissertation, Period Positive Schools, looked at ways that media literacy, art and drama could be used to challenge menstrual taboos in the classroom to support young people of all genders. It developed out of my comedy, art and fanzine project, Adventures in Menstruating, and continues as #periodpositive, in association with DECSY’s Gender Respect Project.
#periodpositive believes that menstruation education should be:
- Free, unbranded, objective, inclusive of reusable’s (like menstrual cups and cloth pads), and easy to understand
- Consistently taught by trained staff, factually accurate, up-to-date and well-researched, with learners’ needs in mind, and regularly evaluated with pupils and menstruation education practitioners, with excellent communication to other faculties, parents and community partners about the content of lessons
- Able to scaffold and complement lessons on fertility, puberty and reproductive health, with an awareness of physiological differences and medical conditions related to reproductive health and healthy menstrual cycles as a vital sign
- Supported more comprehensively across he curriculum, particularly in science and PSHE but also in media studies and design and technology
- Aimed at different age groups, starting well before puberty (and ensuring to use the correct names for body parts, even with very young children) and revisited regularly
- Inclusive of all genders, cultures, abilities and sexualities (the way all high quality SRE should be), with adapted resources where appropriate
- Supportive of easy menstruation management in school and equipped to signpost diverse and effective ways of menstruation management in future
I’ve carried on my research with the support of colleagues from the Gender Respect Project, presented #periodpositive at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference this past June, and have recently started working with some local youth homeless shelters. The research is based on a lot of awesome work that’s come before me – particularly the advertising research of Dr. Elizabeth Kissling (US) and the education research of Shirley Prendergast (UK). Some of the menstruation education lesson activities I’ve developed rely on drama techniques developed by Augusto Boal (Brazil) and Dorothy Heathcote (UK).
The most compelling bits of my research findings are the impact of advertising messages on the fears kids have reported about menstruation. Their concerns have been of shame, secrecy and leakage fear. There’s a history of language use and deliberate marketing in schools that demonstrates a clear link, and it all comes down to two things – secrecy-vs.-privacy, and shame. Privacy is fine – that’s a boundary you’re setting and it’s about safety, choice and consent. Secrecy, on the other hand, is not ok. Secrecy is someone else – whether that’s a parent, teacher, advertising message or society more generally – telling you that you need to be quiet about something – or that you need to do whatever it takes to make a part of you invisible. That’s no way to be, as anyone who experiences intersectional oppressions or whose gender identity, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or disability is not immediately apparent.
And that’s where shame comes in. No one has the right to imply that anyone’s identity, body, or bodily function (or dysfunction, for that matter) is shameful, makes people uncomfortable, or should be hidden or kept secret, and yet that is how menstruation education is most often approached (or avoided) in schools. By not taking more interest in the quality and purpose of the current menstruation education currently on offer in all but a handful of schools (and there are some where individual teachers are aiming to change this), there is a tacit complicity in the status quo, which #periodpositive serves to challenge.
The aim of #periodpositive is to serve as a benchmark for open and informed provision and information about menstruation and reproductive health, by anyone, in any country, but as a starting point, I’m focusing on UK settings that support young people.
I’ll be posting updates of my research throughout the Gender Respect Project, and sharing lesson resources. I’m also taking Adventures in Menstruating to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the PBH Free Fringe.
For more information, please visit www.periodpositive.com, and check back here for updates in September.