What may loosely be termed as a ‘menstrual revival movement’, beginning in the 1970s and taking hold in the 1980s continues today as many women seek to honour menstruation and even utilise it as a method of empowerment for women. Fedele says: “By the end of the 1980’s, a movement to affirm the power and importance of menstruation had developed” (Fedele 2013.p. 151). Chris Knight credits a significant contribution to Shuttle and Redgrove and claims that
“It was above all The Wise Wound that presented a new generation of emancipated women in the 1980’s with what seemed to be at first a daring and paradoxical message: Menstruation can be an empowering and indeed magical experience” (Knight, 1991, p.378).
While much negativity, past and present, has undoubtedly played a part in our current menstrual rejection, it is clear that the empowering message from The Wise Wound and other seminal texts such as Vicki Noble’s Shakti Woman, and Sjoo and Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother finds strong resonance today. In the feminine spirituality movement, goddess and pagan groups and in ‘pro-women’ circles all over the Western world, women are reclaiming their “wise blood”. Alexander Pope, a leader in the menstrual movement promotes her Red School by declaring “We’ve got a radical new approach to women’s leadership, creativity and spiritual life based on a uniquely feminine way – the menstrual cycle”(redschool.com, 2017).
Similarly Red Tent is a grass roots movement where circles of woman gather regularly to share and endorse the experiences of womanhood through different stages. The first circles appeared in the late 1990s but it was after the release of Anita Diamant’s book of the same name in 1997 that the movement really gained in popularity. Red Tent the book is a feminist retelling of the biblical story The Rape of Dinah (Genesis); in a review of the book, Emily Dwass says that the book’s success lies in, “giving a voice to Dinah, one of the silent female characters in Genesis” (Dwass, 2000). “The novel”, says Dwass has “struck a chord with women who may have felt left out of biblical history…. it celebrates mothers and daughters and the mysteries of the life cycle” (Dwass, 2000).
Writing for the Huffington Post last year, Vanessa Olorenshaw, says:
“Red Tent and women’s circles are about something that can happen when women showing an open mind gather…. it’s not magic…. saying that, I occasionally get the feeling that, once, we women of the Red Tent would have been burned at the stake” (Olorenshaw, 2017)
Drawing a parallel between ‘menstrual revival movements’ and ‘witch burning’ could have deeper and more profound implications that the author of the article may have realised: for Shuttle and Redgrove “the persecution continues, and is current” (Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p.204). Among the many people who believe that the number of women tortured and sentenced to death during the ‘witch trials’ is a staggering nine million, Shuttle and Redgrove chillingly link this figure with the modern figures of 90% of women who suffer from ‘dysmenorrhoea’.
Linking past stories to our present experience as Shuttle and Redgrove have done can be illuminating in exploring the mythical and archetypal essence at the core of things. In a documentary released in September 2017 entitled Sacrificial Virgins, film maker Joan Shenton traces a thread from the HPV vaccinations currently administered to young girls, back to the 1960s “Thalidomide tragedy” when a drug prescribed to pregnant women resulting in thousands of babies being born with deformities. Shenton travels back further on the cultural timeline to draw parallels with sacrificed virgins from ancient cultures where pre-sexual girls were “chosen” to give their life and autonomy to the king or other important men. Shenton says she chose the title Sacrificial Virgins “because the vaccine is often given to girls before they are sexually active”. (SanVax,Inc.,2017).
While this point may appear to go off at tangents to the issues raised in this essay, I feel it is important on two accounts: firstly, while we are caught up in the minutiae of our lives we rarely drop beneath the surface of things to connect with the archetypal, symbolic and mythic aspects of our cultural shared past. Secondly, one of Shenton’s main concern is that the efficacy of the HPV vaccination in preventing cancer is still unproven and yet:
“Adverse reactions are blighting and even ending the lives of girls and young women across the world. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and many health authorities are refusing to acknowledge there is a problem and the medical community is continuing to offer the vaccine“ (SanVax, Inc., 2017).
This is concerning in the same way menstrual suppression is – it is clear that modern medicine does not fully understand women’s bodies and reproduction, or feminine consciousness, as Hillman says:
“We must bear in mind that the evidence in anatomy, as in all fields of science, is gathered mainly by men and is part of their philosophy. We know next to nothing about how feminine consciousness or a consciousness that has an integrated feminine regards the same data” (Hillman, 1972, p.249).
Ultimately however it is the work of women to reclaim their menstruation, bodies and biological processes – menstruation may be “woman’s curse”, or “an unexplored resource”, “magic” or “madness” (Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p. 213). Perhaps it is for each woman herself to decide how she makes sense and integrates menstruation in her life… or not. While so little is known about menstruation on a physical, emotional and spiritual level, there needs to be more awareness and conversation about the implications of erasing it from our feminine experience.