Cassandra Cardiff is a graduate student at the University of Oxford and a research coordinator for OxPolicy. Her work examines how menstruation is socially constructed and used to influence gender roles, identities, and inequities.
– How the stigmatization of menstruation impacts gender identities
– How the advertising of menstrual hygiene products contributes to a cultural of shame around menstruation
– How the current way menstruation is taught in most schools contributes to a culture of shame around menstruation
– The importance of gender neutral education
– The importance of unbranded education that showcases both disposables and reusables
How did you get into the work that you do?
It all started after I read an article on the practice of chaupadi pratha, which prohibits menstruating women from doing a number of activities (sometimes including sleeping indoors) based upon their perceived impurity in parts of western Nepal. I was outraged by this idea. When I started doing more research on it, however, I realized that this type of menstrual stigmatization happens in many places – including the United Kingdom. Although my dissertation work is focused upon menstrual taboo in a south Asian context, my work at OxPolicy explores these issues at a local level.
What sparked this interest and why did you feel compelled to work in this area?
I have been engaging with feminist theory since starting my undergraduate research, but never once questioned how our attitudes about menstruation contribute to the ways in which we perceive gender roles and gendered bodies. I suppose, like many things to do with gender, these ideas just become naturalized and internalized. It was never brought up before – probably because menstruation, as a tabooed topic, isn’t often discussed!
What has been your biggest achievement to date and what are you most proud of?
In the world of menstruation education, I think my biggest achievement is yet to come. I’m currently in the process of conducting research for both my dissertation and OxPolicy. I hope that, once this work is published, it will inspire others to start talking about menstruation and begin the process of breaking apart the taboo. Stay tuned!
What issues do you feel particularly passionate about and important to address or change?
I’m very passionate about gender discrimination. Although this issue is obviously multidimensional and supported by a number of norms and institutions that need addressing, I hope that opening up space to talk about menstruation will, at the very least, start to make people question why the taboo exists.
In what ways do you feel the public could get involved or behind your cause or to help improve the situation?
I think one of the biggest ways the public can make a difference is simply by refusing to be quiet about menstruation. Talk about it! Shamelessly carry menstrual products. Tell your friends, tell your family, bring it up at parties. The taboo only has strength when people are silent, so use your voice to smash it. 🙂
Why is getting involved in talkPeriod event important to you?
Even the name of the event is promoting more positive, open dialogue about menstruation. I hope that by discussing periods freely at the event, people will feel motivated and able to discuss menstruation freely after it as well.