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Associate Professor Chris Bobel talked to Newsweek for its cover story.
June 8, 2016

UMass Boston’s Bobel is go-to voice as media focuses on menstrual health

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  • Boston
Chris Bobel, an associate professor of women's and gender studies at UMass Boston, speaks with Newsweek about her research on menstruation.

Even more than the typical academic, Chris Bobel is used to working under the radar. She’s spent more than two decades studying a topic that affects everyone, but which few of us want to discuss openly: menstruation.

Periods are having a cultural moment, with a cover story in Newsweek, and high-profile features in the New York TimesWashington PostThe Associated Press, and The Guardian. And Bobel is the expert these publications have called to help them understand the trend.

“This is already my sixteenth minute of fame,” she said with a laugh. “But this is not about me. This is about a topic that I and my colleagues have been working on for a long time.”

Bobel is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and president of The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. Much of her scholarly work focuses on the stigma that surrounds menstruation, both in the United States and around the world, and the barriers that limit access to proper reproductive health care.

“I have been toiling in relative obscurity for a while now, and having to convince others that these issues were important,” Bobel said. “To see them finally sort of catch on and be spotlighting this is a real validation that, you know, we were right. It took a while for journalists to catch up.”

Bobel is not bitter—far from it. She wholeheartedly embraces the emerging freedom to talk about topics that were once considered off-limits.

“Gender politics have gone mainstream in a lot of ways,” she said, citing the growing interest in issues of transgender equality as an example. “We’re at least having conversations, and those kinds of conversations pry open a space to talk about the nitty-gritty of what it means to inhabit a body, and all of the bodily processes therein.”

One topic that Bobel has discussed extensively is the growing number of apps and accessories designed to monitor periods, or treatments that promise to eradicate them altogether. But she says some of these inventions reinforce, rather than tear down, the stigma.

“I don’t want to live in a world where we have better and better ways of pretending we’re not menstruating,” she said. “I want to live in a world where menstruation is just meh.”

The new media focus on menstruation is also resonating the academic world, Bobel said, and it’s allowed her to take up two new publishing projects. One is a book about menstrual health interventions in the global south, based on Bobel’s own fieldwork in India and East Africa. Another is the “first-ever critical handbook of menstruation studies,” which Bobel will co-edit, featuring original work from many leading scholars in the field.

Bobel knows other topics will soon take center stage in the lightning-quick news cycle. But she is thrilled to see everyday readers and viewers taking up such an important issue. 

“It’s a real affirmation of something I felt in my gut for a long time,” Bobel said. “It really brings a richness and a joy to my work.”

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