Strategies to combat stigmas
Stigmas bother me.
Women, homosexuals, the obese, or mentally ill encounter messages indicating our culture’s discomfort with them. These messages act to shame those who are stigmatized, robbing them of power and voice. This disempowerment contributes to a lower quality of life for those who are stigmatized.
Communication designers have an opportunity to reframe stigmas in a way that encourages dialog and new ways of thinking and acting.
An example stigma that needs reframing is PMS because women continue to be shamed and dismissed when their actions appear to be influenced by hormones. This is due in part to women’s lack of knowledge of and apathy towards the menstrual cycle. If women were motivated to re-learn the menstrual cycle they could benefit from the ability to predict their PMS and periods and gain a level of hormonal self-awareness which could ease stress and reduce interpersonal friction.
Communication strategies may inspiring people to act differently towards PMS and stigmas in general by:
28 Days of Fluxuations
This prototype makes a concrete visualization of the menstrual cycle and uses color and pattern to show the different phases within one's cycle. Each panty represents a day of the cycle and is made from paper.
Your 5 Hormone Personalities Finger Puppets
The finger puppets take their inspiration from the fact that estrogen fluctuates during your menstrual cycle in a pattern that roughly mimics the outline of your hand. Estrogen is the hormone that's responsible for our changing moods throughout the cycle. I have created five characters which show how the fluxuations manifest in how you feel.
Starting from the left, the characters are:
MESSY When you start your period, estrogen is low.
Be a clever girl: re-learn the menstrual cycle.
This video aims to motivate women to re-learn the menstrual cycle by highlighting that being fooled by PMS over and over again is foolish. I'm pointing to the fact that the current state, being a foolish girl is negative, and that a new identity, the clever girl, is better. I still need to make the video which explains the menstrual cycle that focuses on hormones and not anatomy because as I found, anatomy doesn't motivate women to care.
Ovulation education in the snow video
I created an educational video in an unusual location; out in the snow. I created an oversized uterus out of snow and used real eggs to explain what ovulation is and what signs women can observe that indicate ovulation. By using physical props, viewers can more easily picture what is happening anatomically during their cycle. Being in the snow gives the video a playful feel which may disarm the audience.
This prototype reflects a hypothesis that women need a place to express themselves and connect over their struggles with PMS. They would create a caricature of themselves showing what they're like when they're experiencing PMS. They would then anonymously upload their picture and give a "witness" to other women's picture to which they can relate.
When do women encounter menstrual cycle education?
As a girl
The first encounter with the menstrual cycle generally happens in school or at home when the girl is expecting her first period around age ten or eleven. The health teacher or a parent will explain the basics to her. In this phase, the mechanics of the menstrual cycle are simplified and glossed over. PMS, if included at all, will be vaguely mentioned. I think this is an appropriate approach for young girls who may be already overwhelmed with the number of changes in their bodies.
As a women struggling with infertility
If a woman is having trouble getting pregnant, she will have many fertility guides written for her situation, all designed to teach the detailed mechanics of the menstrual cycle. It is likely that this will be the first time she will learn about ovulation, cervical mucus and predicting her period.
The problem with the current set of encounters
Common strategies for breaking a taboo
I gathered a list of strategies commonly adopted by campaigns working to end taboos or soften stigmas. These include:
The underlying goal for all these strategies is to start talking about the topic in an intelligent and compassionate way.
Generative research over traditional interviews
During the 12 interviews conducted, I had participants engage in a number of generative research activities including:
I thought generative research methods would do a better job at getting women to talk about this subject than a traditional interviews. It is a taboo topic afterall! I found that this strategy worked well and I came away with great insights and a new PMS-centered direction.
Drawings & make tools reveal the gaps in her knowledge
The first exercise was to make or draw a model of the female reproductive anatomy and then to explain how the menstrual cycle works. This helped to reveal what women know, rather than what they think they know.
Most had the basic anatomy correct but no one was able to explain the menstrual cycle well.
What I realized is that understanding the anatomy doesn't really matter because we can use it without understanding it. Plus we can't see it so does it really matter what it looks like? What matters more to women is the physical symptoms and mood changes that women feel during ovulation, PMS and menstruation.
I collected the diagrams used in sex education materials such as health guides, period guides, text books, anatomy drawings, pornography and tampon instructions. I organized them so that the diagrams showing similiar topics or processes were grouped together.
Participants looked at these collections of diagrams and told me which ones they had had encountered in the past, which ones they found more informative, which one they were likely to learn from, which ones they found unappealing and why or why not.
Most of the diagrams were unfamiliar. The ones that had the most familiarity were anatomical cross sections seen in textbooks or in doctors' offices. Their reported exposure to these diagrams was infrequent.
Card and panty sort
I bought a variety of panty styles and made a card sort with word like "horny", "sexy", "bleeding", "everyday", "safe", "getting pregnant is likely". My hope was that there would be some consistent sorting which would allow me to use panty styles as a way to visually represent the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
No such luck.There were no discernable patterns to the sort and many were confused by the premise.
Letter writing: PMS emerges as the