AuthorGoldblatt, Beth
PositionSymposium Conference: Are You There Law? It's Me, Menstruation


During the past few years, scholars and activists have increasingly engaged with law as a means to challenge stigma, silence, and disadvantages associated with menstruation. Menstrual items (predominantly in the form of disposable menstrual products) (1) are becoming increasingly prominent in this "legal turn." (2) There have been legislative reforms to provide access to free menstrual items, litigation and legislative reforms to remove taxes on menstrual products, legislative reforms on product safety and environmental sustainability of menstrual items, and water and sanitation hygiene ('WASH') policies and guidelines in the context of international development interventions that focus on access to menstrual items. (3)

As regulation of disposable menstrual products assumes greater prominence in legal doctrine, feminist legal scholars are increasingly evaluating the impacts of such laws on menstruators, including in the context of diverse experiences of menstruation and menstrual injustice. (4) But what can disposable menstrual products themselves tell us of law? In this Essay we take an object-informed approach to law in the specific context of disposable menstrual products. What insights about law might these objects provide, and how do these insights deepen our understanding of law's relationship to menstruation, menstruators, and the worlds in which menstruators are situated? What can we appreciate about law's role in defining, as well as recognizing and responding to, the diversity of experiences related to menstruation? How do menstrual items nuance our understanding of agency in relation to menstrual injustice? And what do these objects tell us about the limits and challenges of using law to achieve justice in relation to the embodied experiences of people who menstruate?

Part II introduces some key contributions to feminist legal thinking on materiality and objects, which informs our analysis of disposable menstrual products as law's objects. Part III introduces some of the critical threads in scholarship on disposable menstrual products, including how they relate to diversity and materiality of experiences of menstruation. Then, we turn in Part IV to explore what disposable menstrual products tell us about law's role in menstruation, using the recent laws introduced in Scotland as a case study.

  1. Foregrounding the Object in Feminist Legal Analysis: Theories on Materiality and Law

    Critical legal scholars, and amongst them feminist legal theorists, have engaged in rich explorations of how law is made and how it contributes to making our world. Recent scholarship examines how objects, technologies, and non-human agents inform our understanding of law rather than assuming that law is delinked from the material world and shaped by concepts and discourse alone. (5) By foregrounding the object and the work it does--in this case, menstrual products--we can gain insight into how law deals with demands for social change and, in so doing, addresses some injustices but maintains others.

    The material (re)turn in feminist theory, a critical response to post-modernism, requires a focus on the embodied human within the physical world and the everyday situation of people with material needs. (6) A focus on the material is also about economics and the capacity of law to play a (re)distributive role in response to poverty and need. (7) While 'old' materialism in the historical materialist tradition still has much to offer, "new materialism represents a genuine effort to give matter its due and to theorize the entanglement of mind and body, nature and culture, human and non-human forms of agency." (8) Conaghan urges an attentiveness to the material as well as to the discursive in understanding how law might be engaged by feminists to generate change. (9)

    Davies argues that new materialism and its adoption by some feminists is well aligned with another trend in theory--posthumanism. This approach challenges the human-centeredness of theory and the Western individualized conception of the self. (10) Moving away from the Western tradition requires rethinking the human relationship to the earth, an urgent need within the era of the Anthropocene. (11) While feminist theory has understood law as situated within the 'social,' this idea of society cannot be understood as purely human but must be seen ecologically as involving integration of human and non-human life and matter. (12)

    Writing in the...

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