chapter 4 – a morning at harvard with chris bobel and ecofemme’s ilana at brandeis university

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My meeting with Chris auspiciously aligned with the publishing of a very special edition of Newsweek. The April 29th edition with a red cover and a tampon on it; a joyous moment of celebration for menstrual activists around the globe! At last Periods had hit the big media! The Newsweek issue, called ‘There Will Be Blood’ reported in a very excellent article that in no uncertain terms….. ‘the crimson tide is turning.’!! Yessss!!

Having taken the train to Harvard (on the very aptly named ‘Red Line’ hahaha!) surrounded by hundreds of exceptionally brainy students, and forced to listen in to technical conversations about web-building, engineering and other such baffling-ness, Kyle and I made our way to meet Chris who had kindly made us time out of her massively busy schedule around graduation. Graduation sends everyone within the vicinity of a University into a frenzy of busy-ness and I remember it well. So a HUUUUGE thank you, Chris – I had a blast meeting you!!

We found her upstairs in an extremely crowded but very gorgeous coffee shop and we both had the pleasure of a wonderfully warm and rapturous hug-welcome from this fantastically bubbly and bright energetic woman. Chris is a VIP in the Menstrual activist world; president for the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research and a professor at the University of Massachusetts, author of incredible books such as New Blood – Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, and as if that weren’t enough, a mother…! How do you fit it all in, Chris?

We chatted a little about our work (Kyle with her Thesis on EcoFemme’s study about Menstrual Hygiene knowledge behaviour and practices among school girls in rural Tamil Nadu, India and me about my Happy Tour bumbling around this huge country with a back pack) and it was not too long before Chris pulled out a copy of the famous Newsweek and flicked excitedly through it’s pages. It felt VERY EXCITING to see a woman who has done so much as a menstrual activist waving around a copy of Newsweek in which she had been interviewed and which she ended up gifting me – utter glee! A breakthrough of sorts! Periods hit the headlines!

So happy to see her smile – this is what it looked like from the other side of the table!

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Kyle and Chris, both extremely knowledgeable and academic got into some deep discussions about issues around menstruation, eco-products, solving problems, breaking the taboo, politics, organizations like EcoFemme out there doing their bit for the environment, and sustainability around menstruation. I loved listening in, learning about the different articles they discussed, different points of view, and the different work they had both done. Kyle had read Chris’ book (link above) and a very interesting conversation soon sprang up around feminism, gender and the queering of menstruation. Since my session in Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC when we were invited to introduce ourselves as a name then personal pronoun (for example “I’m Jane and I identify with she/her”), my learning curve about using words like ‘menstruators’ rather than ‘women’ and not assuming that everyone coming to my events is female has been steep rewarding and interesting.

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Thanks to the Bluestockings event and some excellent conversations with Sarah and Ruby (Sustainable Cycles) Diandra (UnTabooed) and Rox (embodyperiod) I have started to use non-gender specific wording in my workshop literature, as I believe it is most important not to exclude anyone who menstruates. I want to be inclusive and try to deepen my understanding of people and how they relate to the menstrual cycle from many different personal circumstances backgrounds and societal conditioning. Like in every circumstance in life – to try to be open to listening – and not assuming that people’s backgrounds or the way the experience the world is in any way similar to my own! I have made a bit of a pact with myself to try to do this by using better language in my workshops but not to beat myself up about it if I get something wrong! Language is wonderful and needed for us to communicate anything and labels are needed to describe ourselves and how we see the world, but language is not infallible and can easily be misinterpreted.

So far I am happy to tell you that the response to this has been terrific! I have had feedback from people who see my facebook events and comment how glad they are written in a  gender-neutral way. In several workshops people who identify as she/her have often expressed their appreciation at my approach with gender issues. For me these are very encouraging remarks and are helping me to develop how I deliver my work in a more inclusive way.

Anyway back to Chris and the story – well, after that chat I have never left a coffee shop so enthused buzzing and excited! I immediately phoned Lee to tell him I had met Chris Bobel Supreme Menstrual Activist and that she had officially welcomed me to the “Menstruati” (a phrase coined by her’ friend and menstrual activist Chella Quint)

Oooh I must have babbled away for at least 10 minutes about it…!! Lee, (the most wonderful and supportive partner I could ever wish for in my wildest dreams) celebrated with me from Spanish shores and raised his glass from afar… Thank you Lee XXXxxxx

20160502_165724Pretty Boston blossom…

So the workshop that followed this wonderful meeting (which ended too soon, but hey Chris is a busy woman and to have met her was indeed a bucket-list honour!) was at another Boston University called Brandeis….. Brandeis HERE I COME!!!!!

Hello Ilana!!

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Ilana is a fellow EcoFemme ambassador!! She had a room pre-booked at the University, which upon arrival appeared a little sterile compared with the wealth of homes and apartments I had given my work in before. However quickly, and with Ilana and my skills of serious creativity (proving ourselves to be interior designers extraordinaire); we got on the case and it soon became clear that this little room was going to be a very cool place to have the workshop indeed…. The group before us had left a lot of coffee and some snacks behind which we happily munched and sipped as we set up (how could one waste a GALLON of coffee?)

My cloth circle looked beautiful on the table; and when Ilana had finished laying out her EF pad range on the window sill we had a very cool looking room ready for the women to walk into complete with tons of snacks for everyone to munch on courtesy of Ilana! Thank you millions and millions for those tasty bits and pieces, it was very thoughtful kind and perfect. All in all I felt very honoured that there was a cosy warm room for us in the University anthropology dept surrounded by Native American artifacts like a hopi bowl… it felt very special indeed! And by the way, Boston was FREEZNG! I have never been so cold after deciding (in all my wisdom) to leave my warm clothing with Ruby in NYC..!

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And what a wonderful group stepped in through the door; average ages were little older than the workshop before. I think (from memory) these women were more or less experiencing natural body cycles as a result or either leaving birth control or having not been on it in the first place.

When I asked the general question ‘which part of the cycle do you feel least at home in’ there were very decisive answers! I felt these women knew their bodies reasonably well but they were still super-open to hear what I had to share. It was an honour to meet and work with these people; a super group.

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We whipped through the cycle work once more and then we did the visualization which seemed to have a great deal of impact on the women. They were all willing to share their images; many of which were the same/similar to other members of the group! I found this psychic link extremely interesting as it had occurred at another group too, seemingly with no suggestion or prompting and with very random images that everyone saw….The power of the collective mind?!

This time the Summer / Ovulation image depicted a huge vast space with a tiny person inside; like a glass dome kind of thing; people were feeling lost in their ovulatory phases. Interesting stuff, Ovulation to me is a bit of a dark horse; a time (archetypically) to be so ‘big and out there’. But what if our personality doesn’t like being big and out there? Just realising this kind of subtle info about yourself can help navigate the stages of the menstrual cycle so much…. and this is why I do this work – it REALLY helps people!

Again, the women were happy that they had given themselves some ‘me-time’ in hearing and experiencing this work at a very busy exam time, and I felt it had really been useful especially after all the excited supportive feedback. Ilana, the ever professional EcoFemme product demonstration expert did a talk afterwards about eco-alternatives to plastic disposables and one woman (who fell in love with EF’s cloth pads as I had done when I first saw them) was heard to exclaim “I cant wait for my next period cos I get to use these lovely cloth pads”!! Just hearing this comment made me happier and more committed to telling everyone about these wonderful products than I have ever been before. And that’s saying something!!

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Afterwards we drove into the city and Ilana treated me to a vegan meal at The Red Lentil, Boston. We sat in the restaurant eating fresh and beautifully cooked food with a chocolate dessert to die for – oh my goodness it was GOOD. We were almost the last ones in the restaurant and didn’t want to leave. There seemed so much to find out about each other, and life on the road is often like this – a series of wishing I could have more time with each and every person!

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My time with Ilana was short but sweet and she kindly drove me back to Fairmount and my bed on the sofa at Kyle’s. I was sadly about to leave Boston (after a few more free meals at Tufts University and getting ill with a fluey cold…) and in truth I didn’t want to leave – it a wonderful rich and fun time with new and very cool friends.

Soon I would be in for the overnight bus ride from hell and living, for a while, in a commune in Washington DC… all in the next chapter :)!!

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