Some snippets from my Blog


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About my blog

Menstrual Moments: When Periods Make the Press

In 1995, I wrote a cover story for The Village Voice, “Pulling the Plug on the Sanitary Protection Industry.”

In 1999, I followed that up with a book called The Curse: Confronting the Last Taboo: Menstruation (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A year later, the paperback edition came out, then a UK edition, then an Australian edition, then the Spanish-language edition, then the Turkish-language edition.


Now—weirder still—whenever someone’s period bleeds from the private realm into the public conversation, reporters call me for “expert” commentary. When tennis player Serena Williams does a Tampax ad, when a new birth control pill suspends women’s menstrual cycles, when sit-com characters toss in period jokes, I tend to get a call from the press.

I’ve written two other books since then and a gazillion articles on race, gender, family, militarization, the criminal justice system, education, abortion, rape, religion, death, birth, birds, rats and a mom who ate her baby. Blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to hear my views about any of that.

But periods, that’s another story. Editor to reporter: “Get Houppert on the horn right away!”

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In the news

‘Show me!’ a Prison Guard says to the Menstruating Visitor

Every once in while the disparate worlds I travel in collide.

This week when I was trawling the aggregating criminal justice sites to keep abreast of the news (My 2013 book, Chasing Gideon, is about the failed promise our our right-to-counsel for the poor), I stumbled on a menstruation story.

A news item in the Nashville Scene describes a woman who was visiting someone at a local prison in Clifton, TN. When prison guards found an unopened menstrual pad in her pocket, she told them she was having her period. They made her step into the bathroom, whip down her pants and show them her bleeding crotch, she alleges in court documents–though admittedly not in those exact words. (And this, after she offered what she considered a less-humiliating alternative: peeing in the toilet so they could see her pinkish urine.)

According to the legal complaint which is filed, confusingly, with a date stamp of January 22, 2016, the guards said she either had to submit to the search or forfeit the right to ever visit the prisoner.

She submitted.

But afterwards, she filed suit in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, against the prison, owned and run by a private company called Corrections Corporation of America.

Referred to only as Jane Doe, “[b]ecause of the extremely humiliating and embarrassing nature of the facts alleged in her Complaint,” she is arguing that her constitutional rights have been violated.

According to the complaint: She was deprived of her “rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, equal protection of the laws, and the right against deprivation of liberty and privacy without due process of law.”

Clearly I have to do a little more digging here. I mean, what is the legal precedence here? Do prison guards across the country routinely check women’s vaginas for contraband? We hear about it happening all the time with the prisoners themselves…but is this also true of folks who are just visiting?

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super weird products

Boobs Sore? Just Pop These Pills, Little Girl

JANUARY 24, 2015


“If your ‘girls’ hurt, you are not alone,” according to Violet’s™ website. Just take these little pills.

I was waiting to get my hair cut yesterday, flipping through the women’s fashion magazines that were scattered about in my Baltimore beauty parlor and stumbled on an ad for an odd new product.

“Sore? Say hello to Violet™ Iodine.”

Ahh, apparently this is the newest menstrual product being marketed to women. But get this, it’s not for “down there,” it’s for up here, your breasts.

Women’s vaguely attributed testimonials explain how their debilitating boob discomfort is alleviated by Violet™ on the company website.

“I developed an irrational fear of speed bumps during my morning commute,” says Lauren, CA.

“I wore a larger bra, winced when my kids hugged me and stuck to very low impact exercise,” says Karen, CT.

“Forget exercise, and the husband, too! I dreaded that time of month!” says Lisa, SC, who kinda made the writing teacher in me wince at abundant use of exclamation points!

But help is on the way, the company promises:

“By taking a simple pill every day, the result is true relief and reassurance that you are proactively taking care of your breasts.*  With Violet iodine, you are just days away from a “new normal” — a life where breast discomfort doesn’t get in the way.

Get it off your chest™”

Okay, if you thought a little boob discomfort was just a normal part of your period and you popped a few ibuprofen and got on with your day, think again. “If your ‘girls’ hurt, you are not alone,” Violet explains on the website. This happens to 50 percent of women in their childbearing years. Still, though it is common, it is not “normal,” apparently.

You have Fibrocystic Breast Condition (FBC), the company explains.

And you know how that goes: If it has a name, then it is a legitimate “disease” or “syndrome” or perhaps merely the downgraded, “condition” but still, it means people can sell you products to treat the illness. In this case, $44.99 a month means Lisa can resume exercising, Karen can hug her kids and Lauren will henceforth sail blissfully over speed bumps on her morning commute.

We have BioPharmX, Inc., a Menlo Park, CA, company to thank for introducing Violet ™ in December of 2014.

But I caution, all this should be taken with a grain of salt. (Iodized, perhaps? Amusingly, the company does warn against women  boosting iodine levels cheaply through, say, upping their intake via a $.99 purchase of Morton’s, insisting their pricey pills function more efficiently.) Here’s what I started to notice in the company literature: It was rife with these little asterisks scattered after sweeping statements.

For example, the below excerpted press release from the website:

“What is unique about Violet iodine is its non-hormonal formula of patented molecular iodine, which aims to target the breast tissue with limited introduction in the thyroid,”* said Dr. Lee P. Shulman, Professor and Head of the Section of Reproductive Genetics in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. “Adding Violet iodine to a woman’s daily regimen can help safely relieve the most common forms of breast pain and discomfort, including aches and swelling, while also maintaining healthy breast tissue.”*

It took a bit of sleuthing to locate the fine print but it was not an exercise in futility. It actually meant something significant:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.