Menstruation across cultures online
Participants: Astrid Bigoni, Loes Bogers, Zuzana Karascakova, Emily Stacey and Sarah McMonagle
This project aims to unravel and understand how menstruation is described and discussed across different languages, platforms and cultures online.
In many respects, menstruation is still a taboo in Western societies. Women are encouraged to hide their menstruation and not talk about it in public (Ussher, Jane, 2005, Managing the monstrous feminine). In the public sphere there seem to be two dominant approaches and discourses surrounding menstruation. One is a pathological perspective, which frames menstruation as something that needs medication; either in order for women to cope with their menstruation, or for women to get rid of their menstruation all together. The other sees menstruation as a hygiene problem that needs to be fixed. We aim to reveal the extent to which these constructed discourses are replicated and/or challenged across different cultures, languages and platforms online. We used different DMI tools: Text Ripper, Raw Text to Tag Cloud, Google Auto Complete and Wikipedia Cross-Lingual Image Analysis.
In some aspects we came to the old conclusion, that we to some extent replicate old patterns of conversation on the internet. This is especially true when we look at what kinds of discourses take place in different spheres.
We divided our research into three overlapping spheres:
- A private sphere. This is the health forums where women talk freely among other women. This is a space of problem solving, where women ask and answer questions related to problem-related issues.
- A colloquial sphere. In some cases the language is vulgar and crude (Urban Dictionary & Twitter), but it can also personal, pragmatic and empathic (Google Autocomplete, Women’s health).
- A clinical sphere represented by Wikipedia and NHS.
The most medicalised language was found on the Wikipedia article on Menstrual Cycle. It was difficult to conclude anything on the hygienic issue, but it was most present on Women’s Health.
We carried out two image analysis on Wikipedia. We looked at image use on the menstruation article across languages in two ways: an analysis on the Wikipedia specific images (logos, symbols, etc) across languages and the topic-related images across languages. Due to time contraints we weren’t able to have a nice presentation on the topic-related images.
The visualisation of Wikipedia-related images shows that menstruation articles across languages are both frequently incomplete and marked as one of the 1000 pages every Wikipedia should have. The see main article points to relatedness to other articles related to the topic. The medical disclaimer might point to a rather pathological discourse around menstruation: if you need a warning, you take it very seriously, medically. Wikipedia also features images for categories, and these could also say something about the discourse on menstruation. For example is menstruation in Welsh categorised as a disease and the image is an injection needle. The image for medical is the most used, whereas sexology/anatomy is used only once.
Findings: Crosslingual comparison based on Wikipedia and Google autocomplete
- A visualisation of the Wikipedia related images on menstruation articles across different language editions:
- Google autocomplete across languages - the most queried word combinations with "I'm having my period":
Findings: Cross-platform comparison
A comparison of tag cloud visualization, showing the most frequent words across three different online platforms:
| on English Wikipedia's
|| on Urban Dictionary's
|| on Twitter
| "Menstruation" article
|| "Menstruation" article