The Discursive Construction of Menstruation within Puberty Education
Menstruation is a significant milestone in a woman’s life, signifying the onset of puberty and the journey into womanhood. Yet research suggests that the construction of menstruation has many women feeling uncertain and negative about menstruation, and what it means for them. Within the research literature I found four dominant discourses that construct our understandings of menstruation; menstruation as a hygiene crisis that needs rigid management, menstruation as a shameful secret that must be concealed, menstruation as biological and medical where the purpose of menstruation is restricted to pregnancy or illness, and menstruation as constitutive of womanhood in terms of motherhood, and femininity. My review of the research literature led me to design a project to examine the ways menstruation is currently constructed within puberty education, with a particular interest in the various discourses presented to young women. I look at how the girls take up and/or resist these discourses as well as look at the subjectivities made available from them. Finally I examine the ways a wider variety of discourses can be made available and in turn a greater range of subjectivities. As a feminist poststructuralist, I am looking specifically at issues of gender and sexuality, and how meaning and knowledge is constructed through language and discourse. With this as my theoretical framework, I observed three lessons, each teacher’s specific lesson on menstruation, and a concluding joint girl-only lesson, within a puberty unit of a New Zealand intermediate school, conducted individual interviews with the two teachers and focus group the interviews provide the data of this research. Using a discourse analysis approach to examine my data I was able to show the four dominant discourses were still present in the teaching of menstruation at the study school. I also found three discourses that, although not new, appear to be under examined within the construction of menstruation. These discourses of dread, consumerism and celebration may contribute to the dominant constructions of menstruation and/or offer ways to challenge and subvert these constructions. By making visible these discourses and the ways they construct menstruation, I am not looking to locate the ‘correct’ way to teach or understand menstruation. However, I argue that by supporting young women and their teachers to critically analyse the various discourses that shape our understandings of menstruation, we may create opportunities to challenge and resist the dominant constructions as well as open up a wider range of subjectivities.
Advisor: Sandretto, Susan
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: puberty; menstruation; gender; poststructuralism
Research Type: Thesis