privacy policy

Bleeding Kin: Menstrual Care Work and Women’s Relationships


· Sherin Sabu IIT Bombay (Kottayam, India)


07/27 | 12:00-12:20 UTC+2/CEST


This paper proposes that Malayali women form a particular kind of ‘kinship’ among themselves, which is derivative of their experiences, knowledge, feelings and, strategies, surrounding menstruation, which I refer to as menstrual kinship. The paper explains in detail how the defining feature of this kinship is a certain type of ‘care work’ that is carried out by women in the intimate sphere that they share among themselves. Also, in a male-dominant ‘sex-gender system’, men generally do not witness, perform or grasp the intricacies of this work. However, while menstrual care work in the past was mediated by gender, caste and culture, modern menstrual kin, although socially constituted and relationship-driven are capable of acting autonomously. This autonomy is informed by contemporary processes of individualization where women are also bound by their self-directed choices regarding which relationships to enter into and whom to care for. Consequently, menstrual care work, which was exclusively shared by consanguineal and affinal female kin till the second half of the 19th century is now extended to and sometimes even shifted to women outside the family, owing to the social, cultural, historical and demographic changes. Along these lines, this paper explicates the ways in which mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, colleagues, lovers and sometimes even strangers, show within the scope of an extended ‘kinship’ that grows beyond the traditional ties of kinship and is integral to the lives of women as menstrual caregivers and takers. To elaborate on these points, this paper looks at the domain of menstrual care work across and within three generations of women in Kerala.