Last semester, Princeton Students for Gender Equality (PSGE) and Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice (PSRJ) hosted the first Menstruation Celebration, a festive event in Frist Campus Center meant to both infuse joy into a discussion of a stigmatized topic and raise awareness about problems of access to menstrual products for those who need them. Additionally, sponsors of the event emphasized the acceptance of all uterus-owners and the disconnect between biological function and gender expression.
While the response to the event was generally positive, some remained skeptical about the necessity of the discussion. Others derided the event as frivolous, dismissing the fun and tongue-in-cheek nature of the event as “silly.” The Princeton Tory, a conservative magazine on campus, described prizes that were raffled off at the event as “interesting,” a comment which PSGE characterized in a written response as derisive.
Having just held the second Menstruation Celebration, the importance of incorporating joy into political activism and its political legitimacy as a feminist tactic again attains relevance. Reclaiming happiness within activist work is a worthy aim, and does not detract, but rather contributes, to the overall goal of equality and destigmatization that PSGE and PSRJ strives towards with this event.
The H-Spot, a recent book published by Jill Filipovic about the future of the feminist movement, points out that “when it comes to pleasure, our political forces run the gamut from indifference to outright hostility, either ignoring any interest in feeling good or writing off pleasure as immoral, hedonistic, or lazy.” She makes a persuasive argument about the importance of happiness on a broader level, gained through fulfillment that has been denied from women in this country via sexist policies and institutional obstacles. Part of that conception includes deriving joy through everyday experiences, including the event that every uterus-owner experiences once a month (or so): a period.
Katherine Fleming ‘19, a co-president of PSGE, described the Menstruation Celebration as a “fun way to break with people’s expectations that periods are the worst, something to be ridiculed.” She cited TV sitcom bits that show “that time of the month” as a something to be suffered through, as well as the prevalent concept in the political sphere that female leaders would be incapacitated once a month (and thus unable to effectively govern). One example: when asked what the downsides of having a female president would be, Marc Rudov, a political blogger, responded “You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings, right?” Fleming, along with the other coordinators of the event, aims to demonstrate that periods should not only be destigmatized, but also celebrated. Unashamedly reclaiming menstruation is a legitimate political act that contributes towards the goal of battling masculine-dominance and the belittlement of the feminine.
Furthermore, the actual celebration incorporates joy into activism in a way that increases the efficacy of the event and sponsors self-care, which is also a radical act. Fleming acknowledged that holding the event in Frist, a public space on campus, is “confrontational,” but the location choice and exciting nature of the event draws people in, encouraging them to learn within a party atmosphere. Princeton students are inundated with emails about events and issues to care about, so finding a new way to appeal to an increasingly apathetic audience is integral, even if it means breaking “necessary” taboos, as some have accused the Menstruation Celebration of doing.
The event aims to be fun and address serious issues about period stigma and lack of access to menstrual products. The absence of menstrual products in prisons has only recently been addressed, menstrual products are still taxed as a luxury item in some states, and food stamps don’t include them in the list of covered items. Closer to home, Princeton still does not provide menstrual products in all of its bathrooms, and PSRJ and PSGE are working to remedy this absence.
The aim of the Menstruation Celebration is admirable, and the incorporation of happiness into both the experience of menstruating and the activism itself represents a novel interpretation of feminism that includes women’s emotional well-being.
Madeleine Marr is a first-year from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at email@example.com.