Changing Menstrual Habits in Late 20th- and Early 21st-Century Russia
Emerging literature in Critical Menstrual Studies seeks to contextualize and decentralize the modern Western experience of the menstrual cycle, by paying closer attention to its various historical and cultural specificities (especially in the Global South). This paper extends the discussion by focusing on Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. The post-Soviet case is distinctive because, despite the USSR being a ‘developed’ country by international standards, Soviet menstruators relied on do-it-yourself substitutes and improvisational bodily techniques instead of industrially produced disposable tampons and sanitary pads. However, the seismic shifts in Russian politics, the economy, society, and culture that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new capitalist economy also resulted in profound changes in the politics of menstruation.
Drawing on the transcripts of recorded interviews with 80 participants, we enquire into the connections to and discrepancies between socialist ideology, scientific expertise, popular knowledge, and personal experiences of menstruation in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia. In tracing the evolution from cloths and chunks of cotton to sanitary pads and tampons, we remain attentive to the materiality of menstruation, but also approach the topic in terms of the history of the body: going beyond medical discourses of menstruation, we explore menstrual lived experience on a more visceral level.