Despite telling myself that I'd find a way stay involved in the world of critical thinking and writing, I've pretty much avoided anything academic since leaving grad school almost four years ago. There was (lolz: IS) so much complex emotional and psychological angst tied up in that world for me and I couldn't figure out how to get around it. Even the smallest foray back towards grad student-adjacent activities triggered intense impostor syndrome, regret, and anxiety. So, I avoided it. Like you do.
This week, however, I'm making a small step (okay, probably an inadvisably dramatic and dangerous leap) back towards that lost world. When I was in graduate school, I took several classes through the Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies, which is a really fantastic Boston-area resource (if you're a Boston-area grad student with even the slightest interest in gender and sexuality studies, you really need to know about it). The GCWS sponsors a few classes every semester, and the classes are always team-taught, interdisciplinary, and informed by a variety of feminist pedagogical approaches. The classes that I took covered American Women's Biography, Body Narratives in Popular Film, and Motherhood/Mothering. This year, the GCWS started running a set of new "micro-seminars": short, ungraded, graduate-level discussion-based classes. On a whim, I wrote to ask if I was eligible to participate as a GCWS alumna, and that's how I ended up signed up for five weeks of Critical Menstruation Studies.
While I did a lot of work in feminist modes and on topics of gender and sexuality studies while I was a student, I was not a WGS major, and I have little experience with menstruation studies as a discipline (yeah, okay, I didn't even know it was really a thing until I signed up for this course). I have certainly spent time with a number of poets who made menstruation a central topic in their writing (Diane di Prima, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds), and of course I've been aware of recent conversations about menstrual issues in social and political contexts (shoutout to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast for their regular coverage of period news), but menstruation as "a category of analysis," as the course syllabus states, is a whole different thing.
So, there's a lot going on to make me anxious and self-doubting about the whole situation. I'm out of practice! They'll think I'm a fraud! It's not my field! I don't even have a field anymore! I've forgotten how to read anything that's not mainstream fiction! I won't have anything smart to say! They're all going to laugh at me! Wheeeeeee!
But I'm going to try it. Not only to get back into some form of academic engagement, but also because of the topic. Right now there's an administration in power that's doing all it can to erase the rights of women, LGBTQIA people, people of color, and poor people. One of the issues that is key to all of those groups and that has been aggressively, hatefully targeted by those in power is reproductive health, of which menstrual issues are a complex aspect. From the tampon tax to birth control technologies to abortion rights to sexual education; the multivalent meanings and repercussions of menstruation seem particularly resonant right now. I was at the Stand with Planned Parenthood Rally a few weekends ago on a bitterly cold Saturday here in Boston (see my sign in the picture above) and although I valued every frozen minute of it, I was wishing for a more complex and nuanced discussion of the diverse people and issues affected. I'm hoping to find some of that in the seminar.
On a very basic level, I feel dumb to be nervous about the class at all. Who cares, right? This is such an insular, weak, privileged way to interact with these issues. But having the language and fluency to talk to more people about those things and the confidence to do so matters to me. It matters that we recognize the falsity of the idea that cutting funding for Planned Parenthood will only affect women, or that menstrual issues only affect women, or that only women menstruate, or that all women menstruate, or that menstruation and femaleness are somehow co-constitutive. I'm a failed graduate student and a pretty unlikely activist, but reading, writing, and talking; these are things I can do. So I'm going to try to do weekly updates for the next five weeks about the seminar and I hope we can talk some about what comes out of that. If you're interested in the syllabus and readings for the course, please let me know and I'll share them. And please wish me luck with this weird adventure.
Also: The title of this post comes from Adrienne Rich, another writer I spent a lot of time with in grad school. Her beautiful and important (and, yes, problematic) book Of Woman Born certainly speaks of blood, menstrual and otherwise, and while the quoted line from the poem "Power" isn't directly about that topic, it is about the ways women relate to their own power, internal and absorbed, and their complex relationships to their own bodies. The menstrual "wound" doesn't seem such a strange parallel to draw, to me. It also echoes for me in my desire to take something that wounds/has wounded me from my own past experience and to turn it into a new kind of power; possibly radioactive, but hopefully also revolutionary. Anyway. I'm also just a sucker for Rich, and we could all use a little more poetry these days.