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Reviewed by:
  • The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation ed. by Chris Bobel et al.
  • Elvira Domínguez Redondo (bio)
The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation (Palgrave Macmillan, Chris Bobel, Inga T. Winkler, Breanne Fahs, Katie Ann Hasson, Elizabeth Arveda Kissling & Tomi-Ann Roberts, eds., 2020), ISBN 9789811506130, ISBN 9789811596149 (eBook, Open Access) 1037 pages.

With menstruation as core topic, this open access book is a remarkable rarity among academic publications. Its originality and exceptional scope underline every one of the seventy-two chapters (ten of them reprinted) written by 134 contributors from twenty-three countries. A wide range of disciplines and perspectives (academic, personal, political, statistical, technological, artistic, pedagogic, bioethical, medical, and commercial) are represented. This is obvious from the opening words, written by Jen Lewis, the menstrual designer who authors the photograph used for the cover and whose work aims at providing a graphic lens into menstruation as "deeply embedded in our global politics" and "a major contributor to the vast gender inequity between men and women today."1

The momentum gained with increased attention on menstruation worldwide ("menstruation as an opportunity") provides [End Page 410] the backdrop to a book that uses menstruation as a lens through which it seeks to stir new lines of enquiry that may materialize in focusing on menstrual health and politics. The introduction coins the terminology "critical menstruation studies" as an independent category of analysis, "a coherent and multidimensional transdisciplinary subject of inquiry and advocacy," through which power structures can be scrutinized and explained, revealing "inequalities across biological, social, cultural, religious, political and historical dimensions."2

The book is divided into six parts analyzing menstruation as "Fundamental" (edited by Inga Winkler), "Embodied" (Tomi-Ann Roberts), "Rationale" (Breanne Fahs), "Structural" (Winkler), "Material" (Katie Ann Hasson), and "Narrative" (Elizabeth Arveda Kissling). The size and scope of the book warrants multiple standpoints in engaging its significance. This review focuses on the human rights dimension, teased out—and often challenged—across sections, encapsulating multiple approaches.

While the book addresses the human rights dimensions inherent to the reality of menstruation at its outset, this is not a human rights book.3 The chapters on women and girls with disabilities (Chapter 8) and on water and sanitation (Chapter 37) directly address the topic while Chapter 39 proposes "menstrual justice" as a framework of analysis "to comprehend the discrimination and human rights violations that are borne by women and that result from marking women primarily and exhaustively as 'menstrual bodies.'"4 Less visibly, the human rights framework is implicit in every narration of menstrual stigma and marginalization; in how it explores the impact of a biological process in further objectifying, stereotyping and subjugating women in private and public life; in the personal intimate accounts on menstruation as determinant factor in the relationship between men and women, as well as the position of women in their community and the society at large. Without ignoring positive and liberating accounts of menstruating experiences,5 including their celebration through art, the book demonstrates how menstruation serves to perpetuate patriarchal structures and male domination over women and their bodies from multiple angles. Radha Paudel raised in a poor rural family in the central part of Nepal concludes that menstrual restrictions are at the heart of conflict and human rights violations. Her testimony illustrates some of the human rights implications that can be ascribed to menstruation:

Because of more than 40 types of restrictions related to touch, food and participation/mobility, women have suffered from nutritional deficiencies, reproductive, and mental health issues, been deprived or absent from educational and economic opportunities, lost their dignity, lost their peace, and lived with chronic humiliation, inferiority complexes and even suicidal thoughts. In west Nepal, some girls and women die due to snake bites, animal bites, accidental fires, suffocation from carbon monoxide, or extreme cold in secluded menstrual sheds. They may encounter rape, sexual abuse, or even murder.6

The book implicitly exposes shortcomings of the human rights framework that [End Page 411] transcend its core topic. The diversity and complexity of the lived experiences, theoretical frameworks, commercial and political agendas, geographic, historic, cultural, philosophical, religious, and socio-economic viewpoints the chapters unveil and explore highlight the difficulties faced by...

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