The many stigmas around menstruation weigh heavy on female identity and are one of the core issues to discuss in regards to perpetual gender inequality. My thesis used a provocative design approach to a possible future in which menstruation is perceived as female privilege, a source of pride and positivity.
'Re-defining Menstruation' is a series of audio narrative media that investigate the potentiality of understanding female menstruation as an expression of empowerment. The alternative futures of the system surrounding menstruation stigma portrayed in the podcast format are thought-provoking and encourage self-reflection. They make menstruation taboo and its complexities tangible. Through these enacted scenarios, I offer an opportunity to reflect on the need for a changing attitude about the 'cycle of shame,' to ultimately impact on multiple scales.
While searching for the meaning of the word taboo, I learned that the name comes from the Polynesian word 'tapua,' meaning both 'sacred' and 'menstruation,' which pinpoints to the deeply rooted link of the female body and the negative stigma menstruation has in society. Stigmas around menstruation can be seen as part of a more substantial component of stereotypes of the female identity (such as irrationality, hysteria and unpredictable), and because of that women are considered as inferior to men in many parts of society, such as in the work field and economics.
Why does society treat periods as a disease instead of a biological and a natural process, and how does it contribute to the gaps between genders? Can women own their periods as a positive thing, and how can that look or influence gender equality?
'Re-defining menstruation' is an exploration of alternative futures of the system surrounding menstruation stigma. By designing new experiences of fictional scenarios presented in a series of audio artifacts. In this project, I am applying speculative design strategies, which allows me to raise questions that break stigmatized and delicate areas of menstruation, without giving any particular answers.
Women's rights over their bodies have been part of the political dialogue within the U.S. and across the world, a discussion that is exploited and used as a political tool, which reinforces sexist ideologies and gaps between genders. The last political season in the U.S has been particularly patriarchal and chauvinist. When speculation about whether a female candidate was or wasn't on her period in the GOP debate, or a discussion about Hillary Clinton's age and her stage in her cycle of life, have become a public discussion over the Internet. Now more than ever, with the uprising of the menstrual movement within the US, there is an opportunity to evolve the conversation around menstruation. To use design to create a new discussion, establish new mindsets and perceptions around women's bodies, to give form to the issues of the period stigma, stereotypes and women's rights - an issue that deserves debate and public transformation. We need to open up the dialogue and break down the 'circle of shame' of menstruation with both males and females.
Re-defining Menstruation Logo
SUPPORTING RESEARCHThe wheel of reasoning model from Freedom Lab, Future Studies.Learn Do Share
MAPPING OUT THE ECOSYSTEM The stigmas notion and dialect mapping.
Fictional ScenariosScenes showcasing ideas I wanted to explore from the script and conversations with the backcasting participants. I was mindful to pick out moments I was able to visualize and imagine as a narrative of the preferable future, to transform them into a storyboard.
VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF MENSTRUATIONA poster for the workshop + participants writing their scenarios.
VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF MENSTRUATIONDetails from the design workshops
Visualizing the four stages of the menstruation cycle. An inspiration to the Flow calendar concept. The text In the image is credited to THINX.
The Flow Podcast
The Flow Podcast
The Flow Podcast
The Flow - Podcast Thesis exhibition visitors insetting to The Flow podcast.
The Flow - PodcastThesis exhibition visitors insetting to The Flow podcast.
How might we design an experience that reengineers the menstruation experience and shows how it could be different?
Imagine a future where - Menstruation won't be a matter of shame for women and girls, but instead a source of pride and therefore won't be a "hush hush" thing for a public discussion for all genders. Men will know how periods work and will consider it a natural thing, not a disease, and women will be appreciated by both man and woman for having periods and would see the menstruation effect as a source of power, which brings to a shift in the power dynamics between the genders.
The paragraph above is an 'image' of a change I envisioned that I extracted from the first stage of my research (the wheel of reasoning tool). Starting the investigation into the topic of menstruation stigma, I wanted to understand and define the deep negative notions and assumptions society holds about periods. Through the first research phase, I began to understand the menstruation taboo as a 'cycle of shame.' A wicked problem - that has existed for far too long for both girls and boys. I discovered that this taboo has multiple factors, and together they create and maintain a whole system of shame.
What if we could reposition the cultural values that come out of the menstruation stigmas, to help women experience it as an empowering element of their identity?
There are many harmful elements to menstruation stigma and stereotypes that affect women all over the world. I aim to make people flesh out and more deeply understand the harmful barriers that prevent acceptance of realistic views on menstruation by fictional design scenarios.
PART 1. SUPPORTING RESEARCH
ZOOMING OUT:WHEEL OF REASONING
The wheel of reasoning is a research tool, and its goal is to offer users an opportunity to analyze the experience of their research space systematically through eight categories, and offer a visual representation, 'of the full cycle.' "From the cause of the primary problem to the resulting change from the solution." In each step, I leaned on insights from the many conversations I had with experts around this topic, from secondary research in the literature, or by personal experience.
ZOOMING IN: MAPPING OUT THE ECOSYSTEM
In this part of my research, I mapped out a higher level of this 'cycle of shame.' I wanted to gain a better understanding of the moments of the stigma in our society in everyday life. What are those stigmas? The different notions and dialect of the stigmatizing relationships from a different perspective? And to understand society's norms, from creative ideation sessions through mapping exercises.
* The stigmas around menstruation are seen as broader female identity stereotypes, in society and workplace and because of this women are considered as inferior to men, this ties into a more extensive systemic perception of women. Because of this deeply rooted stigma menses is seen as a disease and not a natural process.
* Women are embarrassed by and feel shame about menstruation.
* Women are re-embracing/ not challenging male assumptions around menstruation.
SCOPE AND HYPOTHESIS
I hypothesize that menstruation has a negative stigma; because of the social norms and hierarchies of gender which contribute to it. This negative stigma impacts how women experience their periods and prevent them from challenging it; the menstruation experience is gendered and hurts the perception of women in society. Women will gain personal and collective empowerment by challenging mindsets and behaviors that encourage stigma and shame surrounding menstruation, which can scale up to create change in the behaviors of both genders. Design can empower women by providing an alternative experience in which the menses is not considered shameful. When design helps empower women, it helps not only to free them from the shame but can bring women one step closer to eliminate the stigmas they may have about their bodies or the bodies of women in general and to provide a collective experience that can build new positive stories.
PART 2. VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF MENSTRUATION
I was inspired by the backcasting design strategy tool - which I used in a series of facilitated workshops. Backcasting is usually used in the sustainable design, and it's purpose, is to imagine the necessary steps to reach a preferable future and connect the future into the present. I utilized the element of storytelling to tell a narrative of the desired change and to generate the personal audience background, experience and cultural values in creating future scenarios. Through the script, (inspired by the 'image' of the change I created in my wheel of reasoning research), I positioned them in a moment when menstruation is no longer a matter of shame. It is a subject people feel very comfortable to talk about, when calendars are in sync with the women phase of the menstruation cycle, considering their mental and physical stages and conditions. In that vision, there has been a shift in the power dynamics between the genders and menstruation became a public part of our everyday lives. Women are being appreciated by men and females for having their menstruation to the point that getting your period for the first time is a celebration itself. By writing their continuation to these speculative scenarios, together, we imagined the implications of my preferable future considering what could be the harmful elements of this reality along with the positive things this change might bring. And talked about what are the necessary steps to reach that future, and connect it into the present.
My final step in this part of the project was to transform all the participant's stories into scenarios so I can then enact them into my audio narrative media. To create the situations, I pulled out elements from the script and the workshops participant's stories. From those elements, I then created a series of audio narrative media in a fictional podcast named The Flow. Regardless of the narrative, the overall tone of the podcasts positions menstruation as a public and open matter in the American culture. I found an opportunity to open up the dialogue for alternative futures in which the menstruation is not considered shameful. Within these scenarios, between the imaginative to the fictional, the users can then imagine themselves in that environment and can think of their version of that alternative - that breaks the ice for delicate conversations and present an alternative perspective for alternative futures.
Audio Narrative Media
Using audio as a medium allows me to strip away the baggage of the context and let the audience focus on listening to stories rather than being bogged down by visual detail. By using audio as a tool, I can rationalize the case and reach a broader audience, to offer people a different perspective. The enacted audio media narratives, are a new form of provocative storytelling, positioning the listeners in this further alternative, in a concrete situation, place and time.
PART 3. APPLICATION
Through these enacted scenarios, I want to offer people an opportunity to reflect or evolve their attitude to the menstruation 'cycle of shame,' which eventually might link back to affecting the system at multiple scales. While merely by listening to it, the individual listener could have a value in a reflection of different experience and empowerment, I believe there is a more substantial opportunity. Design allows me to utilize the backcasting strategy imaginative strength and communicates it to the user in a way that will help them not only reflect upon this new possibility of treating menstruation as not shameful but also to encourage the user to bring in their imagination in offering their continuation of the narrative. I first used this tool as a means of a research an later my strategy manifested in changing the backcasting into a tool of a generative instrument for the use of non-designers, individuals and groups like educators, parents and different types of communities. Adjusting the narrative to a particular target group, will require research of cultural values, backgrounds, age, and needs of the audiences and modify various types of audio artifacts.
PART 4. EXTENSION/GROWTH OF THE PROJECT
In outreach - By plotting my period positive audio narrative into different exciting podcasts, I will be able to extend awareness of different demographics audiences to the menstruation matter. By listening to the media narrative outside of context; the audience might raise questions about the validity of those artifacts. Those inquiries might bring to a reflective moment of a 'what if question,' e.g., what if people would have information about a woman's cycle, or what if I was able to talk about my period in public, etc.
In content - Creating an online platform for the various audio narrative media, including a manual with a set of instruction; inviting people and groups to use my podcasts as a tool to facilitate their backcasting experiences and create their generative space. The project can also be extended to youth education as a design and media class, teaching young girls various methods and tools for storytelling to tell their stories to benefit their self-esteem.