Menstrual Justice

81 Pages Posted: 17 May 2019 Last revised: 7 Oct 2019

See all articles by Margaret E. Johnson

Margaret E. Johnson

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2019

Abstract

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 a taboo, shameful, and that menstruators are dirty, impure, even dangerous. Menstruation has been shunned generally from public discourse as a result. This narrative 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, 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 oppressive power that affects different persons based upon their location, such as those at the intersection of gender and age, as seen by menstrual injustices toward school girls; those at the intersection of gender and gender identity, as seen by the menstrual injustices toward transgender males and nonbinary persons who menstruate but are often excluded as menstruators; and those at the intersection of gender, race, class, and carceral status, as seen by the menstrual injustice towards menstruators who are incarcerated and are disproportionately of color and low income.

But menstrual injustice has not received nearly enough attention. Lawyers, legislators, and advocates have started addressing some of these injustices. This Article looks at the good work that has been done and suggests ways in which future work can continue to address all menstrual injustices. 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 such things as the lack of menstrual products and the so called “tampon tax” include this focus as one argument in favor of change. In addition, by using this lens, the focus also can be on menstrual injustice as the operation of “overlapping systems of gender, race, and class [as well as other forms of oppression].” This lens brings into focus the essentialization, harassment, discrimination, insults and indignities, and economic and health disadvantage that impacts the wide array of menstruators in different ways. This Article suggests that by using the lens 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.

Keywords: menstruation, justice

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Margaret E., Menstrual Justice (May 1, 2019). UC Davis Law Review, Forthcoming; University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper # 2019-04 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3389773 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3389773

Margaret E. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

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