Menstrual Justice

Margaret E. Johnson - University of Baltimore School of Law
Vol. 53
November 2019
Page 1

Menstrual injustice is the oppression of menstruators, women, girls, transgender men and boys, and nonbinary persons, simply because they menstruate. Acts of menstrual injustice occur every day in the United States. The narrative of menstruation is that it is taboo and shameful, and that menstruators are dirty, impure, and even dangerous. People internalize this narrative and are reluctant to publicly discuss menstruation. This narrative and silence negatively impacts menstruators.

Menstruators are essentialized as women, often of means, excluding transgender men and nonbinary persons, and menstruators who experience poverty or are young. Menstruating workers, especially low-wage workers, are harassed, penalized, or fired for heavy bleeding and suffering from pain. Menstruators are subjected to indignities and control. Society expects menstruators to be solely and invisibly responsible for their menstruation without recognizing it as part of the necessary reproductive life cycle. Menstruators suffer economic disadvantage. They also suffer health disadvantages due to inadequate health research.

By analyzing the pervasiveness and variety of acts of menstrual injustice, this Article argues that menstrual injustice is another example of structural intersectionality. Menstrual injustice is not merely the operation of patriarchy or the structural oppression of women, but rather structural intersectionality, the overlapping forms of domination such as patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia, classism, and ableism. Menstrual injustice is structural intersectionality because it is the manifestation of “public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms” that result in oppressive power that privileges and disadvantages persons based upon their location at the intersection of gender, race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ability. For instance, young girls — who are at the intersection of gender and age — are disadvantaged by menstrual injustices that subject school girls to the indignity of limited bathroom access. Transgender men and nonbinary persons — who are at the intersection of gender and gender identity — are disadvantaged by menstrual injustices that exclude them from society’s policies and practices. Menstruators who are incarcerated, and disproportionately of color and low income, are disadvantaged by menstrual injustices of harassment and coercion when accessing menstrual products.

But menstrual injustice has not received nearly enough attention. Lawyers, legislators, and advocates have started addressing some of these injustices. This Article reviews the good work already done and suggests ways to better address menstrual injustices in the future.

This Article argues that menstrual injustice and actions to counter it should be examined through the lens of structural intersectionality. By using this lens, the focus can include the unequal treatment of women and men. Arguments against, for example, the lack of menstrual products and the so called “tampon tax” include an equality of the sexes argument in favor of change. In addition, by using a structural intersectionality lens, the focus also can be on menstrual injustice as the operation of “overlapping systems of subordination [such as patriarchy and racism].” This perspective brings into focus the essentialization, harassment, discrimination, indignities, and economic and health disadvantages that impacts the wide array of menstruators in different ways. This Article suggests that by using the framework of structural intersectionality and building from the strengths of the intersectionality of menstruators, society can identify more menstrual injustices and build towards menstrual justice more effectively.
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