Writing/Righting Menstruation: a Feminist Analysis of New Zealand Women's Knowledge of the Menstrual Cycle
This thesis investigates New Zealand women's menstrual knowledge within a cultural, social and historical context. An analysis or dominant menstrual discourses and their impact on women's menstrual knowledge was undertaken from a feminist poststructural perspective. At the outset, my initial objectives were to examine and record the social construction of menstruation and to determine the extent to which it impacted on New Zealand women's menstrual knowledge. Following a reading of feminist poststructuralism, the initial objective of measuring and quantifying women's menstrual knowledge changed to an approach focusing on discourse. Similarly, I moved to a new methodological focus on feminist epistemologies. As a result, the thesis examines the effects of New Zealand cultural practices and social meanings on women's 'knowing' about menstruation. It seeks to establish the boundaries and markers that both construct and constrain women's menstrual knowledge. Thirty-seven New Zealand women ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-six years contributed their narratives during open-ended interviews. The women's stories located various discursive practices that impacted on their menstrual knowledge and on their adherence to a common or popular menstrual etiquette. Discourses that construct and confine what, and how, women know about their menstrual cycle are identified and discussed. These scientific, medical, and consumerist discourses intersect and overlap to constitute a dominant menstrual discourse. Menstrual product advertising is identified as a prevailing context that surrounds young women as they become menstruants. Discursive practices such as euphemisms, notions of cleanliness and hygiene, authority through technology, and the commodification of feminist imagery contribute to representations that devalue and stigmatise menstruation. This dominant menstrual discourse can be maintained or disrupted through the way mothers impart menstrual knowledge to their daughters. Mothers are faced with the contradiction of preparing their daughters for an experience that is presented as normal yet constructed within strategies of concealment that menstruating women are expected to follow. When young women do become menstraunts, they are faced with the menstrual 'script' that includes the emotional themes of embarrassment, anxiety and ambivalence. The formal acquisition of menstrual knowledge takes place in our schools and again is positioned within a contradictory framework. Menstruation is conveyed as 'ordinary' yet the teaching of the menstrual cycle is often 'extraordinary' 'Menstruation' is routinely taught in sex-segregated classes, in the evening, in the company of parents and often located within scientific and medical discourses. This thesis offers new insight into the different ways New Zealand women construct knowledge about our bleeding bodies. Its uniqueness rests with die theoretical framework used to analyse research data. A feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis enabled the positioning of the women's accounts within a social, historical and cultural context, and the identification of a new way of analysing the impact of discursive practices upon meaning and experience of menstruation.