‘The menstrual monster is thus simultaneously menstruating and non-menstruating, feminine and un-feminine, bleeding too much and too little, too early and too late, in too much and too little pain, is too proud and too embarrassed, transgendered and cisgendered’. Josephin Persdotter, Introducing Menstrunormativity: Toward a Complex Understanding of ‘Menstrual Monsterings’ 2020


It is a strange and complex task to be someone who menstruates. Perhaps this is why it still fascinates me. And yet sometimes it feels like there is an impossible knot at the centre of menstrual cycle awareness and menstruality. One that I can’t untangle myself from and that, whatever I seem to do, seems to keep me from fully freeing myself from its bonds.


Swedish researcher and academic, Josephin Persdotter, coined a term for this impossible knot. She calls it menstrunormativity.


Persdotter describes this phenomenon as ‘the multitude of entwined social/medical/statistical norms, discourses and imperatives that construct certain ways of understanding and experiencing menstruation as ideal/correct/healthy/normal and morally superior, and others as wrong/ unhealthy/abnormal, or monstrous.’ In her essay she unpacks how, through these tangles of norms, we are continually (re)creating the ideal menstruator, the ‘mentrunormate’ and its opposite the ‘menstrual monster’.


Persdotter reminds us that we are already familiar with the ‘menstrual monster’ as she has appeared time and time again in popular culture as the (pre)menstrual woman, “a frenzied, raging beast . . . prone to rapid mood swings and crying spells, bloated and swollen from water retention, out of control, craving chocolate, and likely at any moment to turn violent”.

But what if it turned out, as Persdotter suggests, that we are all menstrual monsters? It is this possibility that I think we need to pay attention to; exploring both how we are personally affected by the push and pull of this concept, but equally how we may perpetuate this monstering and marginalisation in our own practices.


Let’s just remind ourselves how ‘normativities’ work. Menstrunormativity as an idea, draws from the same conceptual pool as other terms like heteronormativity, cisnormativity and bodynormativity. These terms describe the way dominant social systems position some sexualities, identities and bodies as Other and unnatural (e.g. queer, trans, disabled) whilst positioning others as natural and correct (e.g. heterosexual, cisgendered, currently not disabled). However, whilst these other normatitivies are unambiguous in how they codify who is Other and who is not, menstrunormativity transforms and shifts in different contexts, tangling us all in its grips at some stage in (or all of) our menstrual lives.


Nearly all of us are familiar with the statistical normality that surrounds menstruation: the idea of the 28 – 29 day regular cycle; the average amount of blood we are expected to shed; the acceptable amount of pain; the guidelines around typical PMS symptoms. Persdotter reminds us that whilst these norms can be useful for keeping a track of the potential for menstrual disorders, statistical norms like these are often inadvertently interpreted as socio-cultural norms as well. The statistical norm is accepted as what is ‘usual’ or ‘common’ and this then morphs into the ‘right’ way to menstruate; extending out even further into the most ‘natural’ way to menstruate.


Similarly, we see trans men or non-binary people who menstruates instantly becoming menstrual monsters because they differ from the norm that argues that only women menstruate. But cis women are not totally off the hook here either, because if menstruation is often also normalised as a key signifier of health in women, then the cis women who don’t menstruate are also potential menstrual monsters because they don’t have a cycle! Trans women are equally considered menstrual monsters because they don’t menstruate either. Through the same logic,  anyone who takes the pill and doesn’t have a ‘natural bleed’ is also monstrous according to this norm.


So, the ‘menstrunormate’ will follow the statistical norms, she is cisgendered and she will also follow the cultural etiquettes of menstruation that emerge from the menstrual taboo that still prevails throughout many social systems. She conceals her blood and never leaks, she doesn’t talk about menstruating (because that’s weird), she disposes of her blood in a socially acceptable way. If she doesn’t conform to these rules, she veers into the territory of the menstrual monster again. (It’s important to note here that etiquettes will shift according to different culture, familial socialisation and religious beliefs too and the penalties for veering into monstrous territory may also be felt more acutely for those who suffer from other marginalisations and forms of oppression. Persdotter doesn’t mention this but I think it’s worth being aware of and is another space of exploration that deserves more inquiry.)


Where things become really tangled though, is when we realise that we all exist within multiple menstrual discourses at once. Persdotter reminds us,  ‘Menstruators are told to simultaneously: Don’t tell anyone you’re menstruating! But be proud of your functional body! It’s perfectly natural to bleed! That’s gross, conceal!’


She argues that on the one hand, we may all traverse spaces where menstruating is deemed still taboo or at worse, even abnormal or disgusting (don’t leak, don’t talk about menstruation). In this case the menstrunormate must become someone who doesn’t bleed. But on the other side, we encounter spaces where menstruation is deemed ‘good’ and ‘natural’ (‘it’s healthy to have a cycle’) and in this case the menstrunormate is someone who does bleed. So we have a paradox at play where the menstrunormate is both someone who bleeds and someone who doesn’t!


Critically, this paradox reveals how there are no model menstruators  – no menstrunormates, only monsters – because the ‘rules’ and norms contradict and conflict with one another. 


If this feels confusing it’s because it is! Menstrunormativity morphs and shifts according to which spaces we occupy. I wonder if most of us are so used to this, that we don’t even notice or question it anymore. Persdotter describes how we are all continually creating these norms, ‘everyone and everything’ is working to tie both menstruators and women who don’t menstruate into big old knots. She also describes how when we attempt to push back on one set of normativities, we then just create a new set, ‘…in the process of dismantling these normative powers we also created new menstrunormativities where for example talking about menstruation was positioned as better than not talking about it; loving one’s period was more feminist than hating one’s period; cups were cooler than pads; and not using hormonal birth control was healthier than “pill-popping.’ In this instance we begin to see what an impossible knot it really is.


I think these conflicts become especially interesting when we enquire into some of the norms that emerge within the menstrual cycle awareness movement and how this space may perpetuate its own layer of menstrunormativity. Using this conceptual tool, we can start to unpick some of the ways that we might ensnare one another if we’re not careful.

For example, we find ideas emerging about the positive side of having a cycle and the cycle as a route to wisdom and power  (‘love your cycle! Your blood is sacred!’). I have personally felt quite othered by these narratives during times in my life when I have felt incredibly limited by my menstrual cycle and I know there are many others who feel the same.  Even the idea of resting at menstruation, which is widely accepted as good practice amongst MCAers could be othering those that cannot access rest at their bleeds.


We have also perpetuated the idea of the four seasons of the cycle, each with their own unique qualities, strengths and shadows. In this, we could argue that the MCA menstrunormate follows the flow of these seasons. The reality for many though, is that these seasons unfold in a way that is  hugely different to the model we’ve been prescribing all these years. If we are not careful to present this information with a degree of nuance and criticality, do we risk monstering those that don’t ascribe to this pattern?


I personally feel relieved to have found a term for the conflicting ways in which I am pushed and pulled to conform to different normativities in different spaces. In the multiple discourses I am part of in this field, sometimes I am too queer for the menstrual cycle; in others to embrace having a cycle is to betray my queerness. In some places I am too open; in others I am too closed. Amongst some I am not looking after myself well enough ‘you still have PMS?’, in others I am paying too much attention to my cycle and making too much of a fuss. In some my pain is considered ‘normal’, in others my pain is considered something I should be ‘looking into’ and potentially seeking treatment for.


I imagine that this concept might feel overwhelming, so I invite you to approach it with curiosity and kindness.


If you are an educator, how does it show up in the way you approach menstruation within your practice? Who are the menstrual monsters within your work?

How have you been personally tangled in menstrunormativity and what did it feel like to be the monster yourself?



This concept finds a way to tie us all up in it. Cis women are bound in it, whether they bleed or not; trans women are bound by it because they don’t bleed. Trans and non-binary menstruators are also tangled in it. Through the lens of menstrunormativity we see that we are all monsters in some way, shape or form, regardless of gender. In my hopeful moments, I imagine how we might take this idea and use it to reach across the divide that finds some of us still at odds with each other. Because, if we are all tangled up in this impossible knot, surely we can let it become a bind of solidarity instead of a trap that limits our compassion and connection to one another?