Polona Sitar

Reclaiming Menstruation: Menstrual Social Movements, Feminist-Spiritualist Menstrual Activism and The Red Tent
Seminar was held at the University of Rijeka on May 10, 2018.
  “In this paper we will try to understand global menstrual movements as new forms of social engagement, especially in which way they are challenging and changing the existing social order in the global world today. We are living in times when menstrual blood is still regarded as something embarrassing and a taboo and therefore depicted in commercials for menstrual pads in blue colour. At the same time groups of women are coming together all over the world to reclaim and to celebrate the power of their menstrual cycle in the Red Tent gatherings. They teach women that the flow of blood shall no longer be anything to be ashamed of or frowned upon. On the contrary – it is understood to be far from ordinary; as magic and sacred. This is in stark contrast to the cultural taboo around the discussion of menstruation today. The Red Tent gatherings contain features that can be viewed as kind of woman-centred feminism, yet divert from more radical or cultural feminist tenets as they do not promote a complete counter-culture based on an identity politics for women. This kind of menstrual movements promote gender equality, build community, offer a platform for sharing women’s stories, encourage female solidarity and hold a more positive view towards the female body. The power of these beliefs has a significant potential for delegitimizing the dominant system, but at the same time this might not always lead to the envisioned social change and overturning of gender hierarchies and the patriarchy.

The purpose of this paper is to discover the reasons behind more and more growing need for establishing the Red Tents all over the world. Why many women find it life changing to be heard, witnessed and supported in this way and what kind of consequences does this entail? We will try to understand the role of the Red Tent as a menstrual movement, especially in regards to abolishing the menstrual taboo. We also wish to explore if the reclaiming of sisterhood in women’s spirituality that is being propagated and explored within the Red Tent gatherings, contains political potential beyond the level of mere personal empowerment. There exists a growing curiosity from the side of secular feminism for the neglected, yet critical, and even political potential of spirituality. We will also explore the tensions between the feminist-spiritualists and the radical menstruation activists within the menstrual movements. Some feminist-spiritualists activists regard the menstrual cycle as a criterion for womanhood. However, not all women menstruate (post-menopausal women, athletes etc.) and not only women menstruate (transmen, intersexuals etc.). Inspired by the transgender and genderqueer rights movements and theoretical paradigms, such as feminist philosopher Judith Butler’s idea of gender performativity they challenge essentialist constructions of womanhood. By referring to ‘menstruators’ instead of ‘women,’ activists want to expand menstruation beyond the limitations of gender with the potential to undermine gender as a stable category in the patriarchal two-gender system.”


Polona Sitar has obtained a PhD from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana and a bachelor’s degree in Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology from the Faculty of Arts and also in Communication Sciences from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana. She holds a title Assistant with a doctorate which she received while working at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, at the Institute of Culture and Memory Studies. Her main research interest focuses on anthropology of consumption, gender studies, memory studies and anthropology of postsocialism. In 2017 her first book titled “Not just Bread, Roses too!”: Consumption, Technological Development and Female Emancipation in Socialist Slovenia was published by a leading Slovenian scientific publishing house ZRC SAZU.