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The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies

(7 Posts)
despairenting Sun 14-Feb-21 14:02:10

So I'm reading this for work and it's a good, comprehensive overview of menstruation, but I just wish it didn't have to use the term 'menstruators' so frequently. Have a look for yourself - open the book, hit the magnifying glass symbol on the right hand side and type 'menstruator'.

I kind of get it. It's not meant to be politically loaded (I hope), it's just trying to refer to 'those who experience menstruation', but it just strikes me as so dehumanising and takes me back to school when boys would call us 'bleeders', a term I've also heard so-called progressive men say should be used to refer to those who menstruate. It just kind of saddens me a bit that it's now apparently the term used in a critical, academic context. If someone referred to me personally as a menstruator, I would not be happy at all. And, of course, you never see men called 'ejaculators' and such. It's always 'men, buy our product/men, check yourself for prostate cancer' vs. 'menstruators, buy our product/cervix-havers, book a smear test', which just makes it seem so targeted at and dehumanising of women in particular. I wouldn't mind so much if there were consistency.

It's a free, open-access book so it should be fine to post an official link.
Not sure if the link will work, if it doesn't hit 'Free eBook' to open it.

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lazylinguist Sun 14-Feb-21 14:14:17

I guess it is a bit different when it's meaning women who menstruate as opposed to women who don't, rather than using 'menstruaters' to mean either women in general, or women and trans men, or women as opposed to transwomen. Even so, how hard would it really have been to say 'women who menstruate' instead of 'menstruaters'?!

DeaconBoo Sun 14-Feb-21 14:23:53

Caveat - not read much of the linked book.

I got into a bit of an argument when I said this before, but I think in very specific circumstances, such as this where it's actually describing people who are actually menstruating, (I didn't deliberately use 'people' there either to make a point or anything!) it's fine (to me) and descriptive, and used accurately.

I get why it can be seen as dehumanising, and it absolutely would be if it was describing women in general, where the act of menstruating wasn't relevant. I haven't personally heard it used as a pejorative so that might influence my thinking on this. I know others vehemently disagree so I'm open to hearing others' experiences. I tend to read factual writing though as that and admit that sometimes i do miss political nuances.

My frustration with the term 'menstruator' as a general term is really that it's not used with any precision. Am I a menstruator when I'm not menstruating? Am I one when I take medication that stops it? Does it/should it only relate to the time when one is actually menstruating?

That's why it's generally a crap and imprecise term at the very least (and clearly insulting on top of that), but in this context I think it does the job. In my previous argument I was talking about a very small specific set of circumstances where it might be a useful term, like if you were investigating sanitary products etc, and I think this fits into this small set of situations.

I don't have any problem with saying 'women and trans men who are menstruating' and I don't think it's inappropriate to say 'women and trans men' in general when discussing female bodies - I accept that some female-born people identify as trans men and would prefer to be referred to as that, and to me that doesn't change the fact that they were born female. (To be really inclusive we would have to also include NBs etc) so I can see why 'menstruators' - in this context of discussing menstruation - is more manageable.

I wouldn't mind so much if there were consistency.
Me too and this is the main thing that gives me cause to hmm at the use of biological terms like this. I agree that men aren't referred to in the same way, but I would similarly expect a 'medical' book about the act of ejaculating (hmm....!) to use the term 'ejaculators' for the same reason.

JellySlice Sun 14-Feb-21 17:29:45

'Menstruators' to replace 'women' - absolutely no, for the many known and mentioned reasons.

'Menstruators' in the context of being specific about women who are currently menstruating, in a text specifically about women and periods - again no. Because menstruating is not a binary activity, theres no on/off switch, no either/or for the vast majority of menstrually healthy women. Menstruation is just one slightly fuzzy stage in the whole menstrual cycle. The cycle of fluctuating hormones which is a fundamental part of our lives from before we even have our first period until we complete the menopause. And, for many of us, the hormonal effect continues even after we technically cease having a menstrual cycle.

By 'menstruator', do they mean a woman who is currently experiencing the bleeding part of her menstrual cycle? Or a woman between menarche and menopause? Is a woman using HRT and having monthly bleeds a menstruator? Or a woman on the Pill and having bleeds when it is convenient for her? Or not having bleeds at all?

despairenting Sun 14-Feb-21 17:48:11


Sorry for not adding anything to the discussion but just wanted to say that I really like what you've posted. Really fair and thoughtful exploration of it all.

@JellySlice and @lazylinguist Good points. I'm a bit torn. I'm definitely adamantly against it being a stand-in for 'women' but in this context it both does and doesn't seem so bad to me? I just wish it didn't have to be their go-to word and be mentioned so many times throughout the book. I hate the normalisation of referring to women by our bodily functions and body parts.

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JellySlice Sun 14-Feb-21 18:42:52

Our bodily functions are important. Women eat and excrete. Men also eat and excrete - but they are not women. Children eat and excrete - but they are not women. Menstruation, whether or not it functions well, is a set of bodily functions unique to women.

despairenting Sun 14-Feb-21 21:17:06

To be fair, 'menstruator(s)' is mentioned 433 times and 'women' is mentioned 4,038 times (and 'woman' 510), so the book has definitely not been gone over and had all mentions of women changed to menstruator or anything like that, as you often see elsewhere.

I haven't read all of the chapters yet - this book is over 1,000 pages long - so the choice of terminology may largely be down to the discretion of the authors of individual chapters, and I totally get why menstruator might me used in trans-specific chapters, but it just gave me pause a bit to see it so many times in an academic text. Obviously one you see it once, you pick up on it every single time though.

I recommend the book, by the way. There are some really great chapters, especially on women in prison being denied adequate sanitary protection, which is so cruel.

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