AuthorJohnson, Margaret E.
PositionSymposium Conference: Are You There Law? It's Me, Menstruation


Menstruation is a situs of discrimination, oppression, harassment, and microaggression. Employers fire workers for bleeding and experiencing period pain. Schools control menstruating students' access to bathrooms, products, and menstrual education. Prisons control their residents' free access to menstrual products. There are both "obvious and non-obvious relationships" (1) between menstrual discrimination and discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, gender identity, and disability. This Essay suggests we ask the "menstruation question" as part of our examination of all forms of intersectional oppressions and to achieve menstrual justice. (2) For example, if we see something racist, we should ask "where is the menstrual oppression in this?" So too, if we see menstrual oppression, we should ask, "where is the racism in this?" Through this process, we discover the multidimensionality of menstrual injustices and how they operate as structural intersectionality. (3) We learn that "dismantling any one form of subordination is impossible without dismantling every other." (4) Therefore, asking the menstruation question is critical to achieve menstrual justice.


Fifty years after its initial publication, Judy Blume's ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET remains a seminal novel exploring themes of personal identity--religious, familial, social, and cultural. The novel considers microaggressions and oppressions that create insiders and outsiders. Margaret's story is about puberty. And yes, it is (also) about menstruation. But while the book dramatizes cultural policing and oppression of other identities that occur simultaneously, the novel's notoriety is primarily the result of its depiction of cultural surveillance and control of menstruation--not religion, family, and social circles. This phenomenon underscores the need to acknowledge and address the interconnection of forms of discrimination. This Essay discusses a process of asking the "menstruation question," discussed below, as a path towards achieving menstrual justice, which seeks to identify, reduce, and remedy oppression of individuals who menstruate (menstruators), as well as other forms of oppression that may intersect with menstrual oppression.

Part I of this Essay discusses the concept of menstrual injustices and the goal of menstrual justice. Part II discusses the process of asking the menstruation question and how it helps to identify menstrual injustices, discover these injustices' connections to and intersections with other forms of injustice, and achieve menstrual justice as part of the overall project of dismantling oppression. Part III examines "asking the menstruation question" in a particular context--schools and the treatment of Black girls.

  1. Menstrual Justice

    The goal of menstrual justice is to identify, reduce, and remedy harm resulting from structural oppression of menstruators (menstrual injustices). It also aims to support menstruators' multidimensionality by working on inclusive, equitable, dignity-enhancing, and agency-enhancing reforms to law, policy, and praxis in collaboration with other social justice movements. (5)

    There are several ways menstrual injustices manifest:

    * Individuals who menstruate are essentialized as "feminine." Indeed, society only views cis girls and women as menstruators, thereby excluding transgender boys, transgender men, and individuals who are genderqueer/nonbinary or intersex. (6)

    * Menstruators are discriminated against. For example, workers who menstruate face firing and disciplinary actions because they menstruate and leak blood unexpectedly in the workplace or suffer extreme period pain causing unforeseen absenteeism. (7) Workers also are harassed about their menstruation. (8)

    * Menstruators suffer insults and indignities. At school, for instance, teachers limit menstruating students' bathroom access or fail to provide them with biologically-accurate menstruation education. (9)

    * Menstruators suffer economic disadvantages. Most notably, individuals who menstruate are required to pay a "tampon tax" (10) and have limited access to affordable menstrual products which are not available for free in public buildings and cannot be purchased with food stamps. (11)

    * Menstruators suffer health hardships that cannot be easily alleviated. Painful and disruptive disorders like endometriosis that negatively affect a menstruator's quality of life are underresearched and have limited treatment options. (12)

    These menstrual injustices are intersectional. Indeed they are interconnected with the overlapping oppression stemming from "patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia, classism, and ableism." (13) As an illustration, we may consider how low-income menstruators are more disadvantaged than other menstruators by the lack of publicly provided menstrual products and lack of food stamp coverage for them. (14)

    The goal of menstrual justice is to support the dignity, liberty, and equitable treatment of menstruators and eliminate structural intersectionality from menstrual injustices by:

    * Eliminating discrimination and harassment.

    * Ensuring that menstruators with limited financial resources have access to affordable and safe menstrual products of their choosing and sanitation facilities.

    * Achieving ample funding for research on menstrual health and related pain and illnesses.

    * Rigorously testing the safety of menstrual products.

    * Normalizing menstruation as opposed to amplifying stigma and taboo; including and non-essentializing persons who are...

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