Critical Menstruation Studies, Week 3: #periodtwitter and a SURVEY!

This is the third in a five-week series of posts recapping a micro-seminar I'm taking on Critical Menstruation Studies through the Boston-area Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies.

The theme of this week's class was "Representing the Menstrual Cycle." The readings covered a pretty wide range of topics:

  • "Construction of Negative Images of Menstruation in Indian TV Commercials," an article from the journal Health Care for Women International (2012);
  • "Menopausal and Misbehaving: When Women 'Flash' in Front of Others," a chapter from Embodied Resistance: Challenging the Norms, Breaking the Rules (2011), a collection co-edited by the seminar instructor, Chris Bobel; 
  • and a piece by Leslie-Jean Thornton on representation of menstruation on social media, "'Time of the Month' on Twitter: Taboo, Stereotype and Bonding in a No-Holds-Barred Public Arena," published in the Sex Roles journal in 2011.

I'm going to focus on the Twitter piece in this post because it was the one I found most thought-provoking for my own life and "project" surrounding these topics. Dialogue and sharing on Twitter is one of the ways I feel most in touch with current conversations on the topics of the class, so the idea of Twitter as a community of menstrual knowledge and sharing as raised in the article is very familiar to me. However, I think the answers to many of the questions Thornton asks (“What themes are expressed through ‘tweets’ about menstruation or menstruating women? In what ways do the Twitter messages relate to stereotypes about menstruating women or menstruation as a taboo subject? At a deeper level, how are individuals constructing the ‘meaning’ of menstruation on Twitter? What do they reveal about their perceived realities?”) would be quite different now than they were in 2011. This may just be because I personally have a particularly pleasant, curated, and feminist experience of Twitter, but I'm also pretty sure that the world of social media has measurably changed in the past six years.

If I had the training and the wherewithal, I would love to tackle an updated version of Thornton's paper that took into account a few different questions (and if you're a person with a social science background who wants to do this, you know where to find me):

  • How do “celebrities” (either traditional famous people or Twitter celebs) participate in these conversations and how do louder/more amplified voices affect the discourse?
  • How do users with locked/private accounts participate in conversations and also how does direct messaging interact with public conversations? (This would rely on self-reporting, obviously.)
  • How does the use of nonlinguistic communications (gifs, images) and internal linguistic organizers (hashtags, memes) function in conversations around menstruation in the current world of Twitter?
  • What language, either euphemistic, slang, or not, is predominately being used to have these conversations? Is “time of the month” still the right search term to use? Are there parallel conversations happening in different areas of Twitter using different language?
  • Is the conversation still as gendered and split on gender lines as the results of the original study implied they were (disparaging from men, commiserating from women)?

HOWEVER, since I don't have the time or background to do that, I'm running a very simplified and truncated survey instead! I designed this to check on some things that I am curious about and also to try to encourage others to think about how Twitter and menstruation interact. I have no idea whether anyone will respond, but it can't hurt to try, right? The survey is embedded here, if you're interested in taking it; menstruators and non-menstruators alike are welcome, although it will probably be more relevant if you are or have been a menstruator, and if you regularly use Twitter. If you have thoughts but don't want to take the survey, you can comment on this post or reach out to me personally! Thanks in advance, friends!