Maria Car­men Punzi descri­bes herself as a big fan of the mens­trual cycle. So much that she is doing her PhD in mens­trual health rese­arch at only 25 years old. She is a big inspi­ra­tion to me and I am exci­ted to be intro­du­cing her to all of you on this plat­form! In our inter­view she shares her per­so­nal jour­ney of doing mens­trual rese­arch, how she got star­ted in the first place and what her dreams for the future of the period world are. Thank you so much, dear Maria Car­men, for the important work you are doing by try­ing to fill the rese­arch gap when it comes to peri­ods. Can­not wait to read your PhD and to keep fol­lowing along on your journey!

Hello Maria Carmen, please introduce yourself:

My name is Maria Car­men Punzi, I am a 25 years old Mens­trual Health rese­ar­cher and I’m ori­gi­nally Ita­lian. I’ve been living in the Nether­lands for the past four years, I’m a big sis­ter of 4 bro­thers and… I am a big fan of the mens­trual cycle 😉

What first sparked your interest in menstrual health research?

I’ve always been inte­res­ted in women’s rights. I still remem­ber wri­ting a school essay when I was 15 years old about the role of women in dif­fe­rent socie­ties. What really spar­ked my curio­sity and pas­sion for mens­trual health rese­arch, howe­ver, was an arti­cle I came across in late 2015. It revol­ved around the prac­ti­ces and restric­tions that some women in Wes­tern Nepal need to fol­low during mens­trua­tion. I star­ted rea­ding about mens­trua­tion… and I never stopped.

What has your journey been like?

In the year 2016/2017, I was stu­dy­ing Glo­bal Busi­ness and Sus­taina­bi­lity at the Rot­ter­dam School of Manage­ment. As I learnt about the con­cept of social enter­pri­ses, I rea­li­sed I was obser­ving some of them doing very cool work in the mens­trual space. From mens­trual cups com­pa­nies in Spain, to period under­wear brands in the U.S., it see­med like a fasci­na­ting and under­stu­died seg­ment. I the­re­fore deci­ded to write my mas­ter the­sis on how these social enter­pri­ses chal­lenge the mens­trual taboo through their pro­ducts and adver­ti­sing. At the time I inter­viewed 15 enter­pri­ses and fell in love with cri­ti­cal thin­king and wri­ting around menstruation.

How did you start working in the field of menstrual health research?

After gra­dua­ting, I kept lear­ning and wri­ting about peri­ods. I joi­ned the Mens­trual Health Hub as Inno­va­tion Advi­sor and made more con­nec­tions. The more time pas­sed, the more pas­sio­nate I felt! I met ama­zing people on the way, smart, chal­len­ging and fire-y! I am so gra­te­ful for their gui­d­ance and friendship, which exist to this day. In Spring 2018 I lan­ded a job at PSI-Europe, a glo­bal health NGO pro­vi­ding sexual and repro­duc­tive health ser­vices around the world. It was one of the best expe­ri­en­ces I ever had. I got to tra­vel to their local offices and really gain exper­tise on the inter­sec­tions bet­ween mens­trual health and sexual and repro­duc­tive health (here to read more about it!).

Tell us more about your PhD: How did you start and what is your topic?

As I said, I took my first steps in mens­trua­ted health rese­arch in late 2016. Howe­ver, it was two years and a half later that I got the oppor­tu­nity to apply for a 5-year PhD posi­tion. Essen­ti­ally, I had the chance to pitch the Rot­ter­dam busi­ness school to fund a 5 years rese­arch on social enter­pri­ses and the mens­trual move­ment. I had never really stop­ped the mens­trual health rese­arch since my master’s, but I knew it was time for the big jump. The topic is under­stu­died and und­er­fun­ded, so I took the leap! I am very glad it worked. In brief, I rese­arch the role of social entre­pre­neurs in the mens­trual move­ment. I par­ti­cu­larly study how they influ­ence the way society sees mens­trua­tion, how they change the work of incum­bent firms and how they col­la­bo­rate with acti­vists, policy makers and non-pro­fit organisations.

How has your experience of doing a PhD been so far?

So far, it’s been a great expe­ri­ence. I have com­bi­ned wri­ting (e.g. I have a chap­ter in the upco­m­ing Hand­book of Cri­ti­cal Mens­trua­tion Stu­dies) with events (around peri­ods in the Nether­lands as well as social enter­pri­ses in the space). Being in the mens­trual move­ment for the last three years made me rea­lize that the pro­ducts we use for mens­trua­tion deeply con­di­tion the way we feel about it. I am incredi­bly com­mit­ted to share what I am lear­ning along the way. That is why I crea­ted my Insta­gram pro­file @periodswithmariacarmen.

Why is menstrual health research so important, but sadly still lacking?

Sim­ply put, I believe that mens­trual cycle awa­reness, rese­arch and edu­ca­tion can change the way we work on gen­der equa­lity. Too often work posi­ti­ons, ser­vices and pro­ducts are made only in men-shape. Brin­ging in the ebbs and flows of the mens­trual cycle is a power­ful move to over­come self-doubt, sup­port women in asser­ting what they want and need and design a new, truly inclu­sive world. Why is it still lacking? Both men and women are taught from child­hood that peri­ods are some­thing shame­ful, mar­gi­nal, that only hap­pens during the bleed. We are mis­sing on the power­ful stuff!

Do you have any tips on how to get involved in the period world

Ack­now­led­ging who came first and paved the way (Society for Mens­trual Cycle Rese­arch, Mens­trual Health Hub, Jen­ni­fer Weiss-Wolf among others), learn learn learn! There are so many resour­ces avail­able and it’s important to learn from the “giants” in our field. But the most important tip is to find your niche in the space. Like Jen­ni­fer Weiss-Wolf says, a mens­trual lens can be app­lied to prac­ti­cally any aspect of the social world. What are you pas­sio­nate about and how does that inter­sect with menstruation?

The power of the menstrual cycle: When did you first learn about your menstrual cycle?

My mum taught me about it when I was about 10 years old, before I got my first period (luck­ily!). She told me a story about how your ute­rus is like a room for a baby. Every month your body does a clea­ning spree and then throws away the dust, to keep the room always wel­co­m­ing. And that’s how your period comes about! I am gra­te­ful I lear­ned it this way and I never felt really asha­med about it.

How do you feel about your own menstrual cycle? What fascinates you about it?

Unsur­pri­sin­gly, I love my mens­trual cycle! It grounds me, it hum­bles me, and it tea­ches me so much! As I have lear­ned about the pha­ses, the super­powers and the self-care essen­ti­als nee­ded for each phase, I feel more con­fi­dent in my body and mys­elf. I love how lear­ning about mens­trual cycles has brought me clo­ser to the women in my family, my friends and my friends or my part­ner.
I think the most fasci­na­ting part about it is that the mens­trual cycle is a reflec­tion of the cycli­ca­lity of the world. From sea­sons to age sta­ges, the mens­trual cycle can be a wise tea­cher in rea­li­sing that we can­not always go full speed without bur­ning out. But we need to allow for both death and birth (check out the incredi­ble Anna Buz­zoni from Medulla to learn much more in depth about this).

Why is it so important to learn about the menstrual cycle?

I believe that in a capi­ta­list society which values pro­duc­ti­vity above all, mens­trual cycles can teach us that vul­nera­bi­lity, rest and self-awa­reness are the most power­ful tools for a healthy life and healthy society. I think it can mend many bro­ken rela­ti­ons­hips with our­sel­ves, our part­ners and our friends. How to learn more? Start tracking!

What have you learned by tracking your cycle?

If you do expe­ri­ence a mens­trual cycle, start noti­cing how you feel phy­si­cally, emo­tio­nally, ener­ge­ti­cally every day of your mens­trual cycle. You know how women are jud­ged for being incon­sis­tent? When I star­ted tracking, I couldn’t believe how con­sis­tent I actually am. Knowing how your body and emo­ti­ons change during the four pha­ses will reveal your strengths and vul­nera­bi­li­ties during the cycle. This will ulti­mately improve your life. Because you will be able to orga­nise your mee­tings, work and self-care accord­in­gly. For those who do not have a mens­trual cycle but have people in their life with one, I think curio­sity and open-min­ded­ness is the first thing.

menstrual health research, PhD, Maria Carmen Punzi, Doktorarbeit, Menstruationsforschung, Zyklusforschungs, Forschungslücke, Doktor schreiben, Menstruationswissenschaft, critical menstruation studies, Aufklärung, Menstruation, periode, Vulvani

How can we all work together to smash the period taboo?

Have open con­ver­sa­ti­ons and be respect­ful. I lear­ned that being mind­ful of other people’s expe­ri­en­ces and fee­lings is essen­tial to drive this change for­ward. I think edu­ca­ting our­sel­ves and others on the posi­tive aspects of the mens­trual cycles is also incredi­bly power­ful. It really has the power to shift how we feel about them. In terms of my mens­trual health rese­arch, I hope to high­light how ever­yone, from brands to policy-makers, can make a dif­fe­rence on how society feels about mens­trua­tion. Also, as a cri­ti­cal thin­ker and wri­ter, I want to con­tri­bute to the con­ver­sa­tion being inclu­sive, inte­res­ting and earth-shaking!

How can we make the period space more diverse and inclusive for all menstruation people?

I love how Brené Brown (my per­so­nal hero) says: “I am not here to be right, I am here to get it right”. It reso­na­tes so deeply with me. Be wil­ling to be cal­led out, to get it wrong but always try. Include people of all eth­ni­ci­ties in the design part of your pro­grams and ser­vices. Give people with disa­bi­li­ties room and space to express how they feel, ins­tead of assuming and spea­king for them. From disa­bi­lity to race, we in the mens­trual move­ment have a lot to learn. Finally, and most import­antly, accept that not ever­yone will want to talk about peri­ods, and that’s okay!

What are your dreams for the future of periods?

Ah, I love thin­king about this. I dream of a world in which women and people with peri­ods can thrive, thanks to the power of their mens­trual cycles. I dream of a world in which con­tracep­tion does not mean sup­pres­sing mens­trua­tion. I dream of a world in which girls can choose from many effec­tive, colour­ful and cool mens­trual pro­ducts. I dream of a world in which work is fle­xi­ble, rese­arch of mens­trual-rela­ted mat­ters is fore-front and no one needs to bleed in shame, pain or iso­la­tion. We have got a long way to go, but I couldn’t be more sure that it’s worth it.

Is there anything else you would want to share about yourself or periods?

I invite anyone rea­ding to join me at @periodswithmariacarmen. If you’re curious about working in this space, don’t be afraid to con­nect with me on Lin­kedIn! Finally, do yourself a favour. Lis­ten to Lucy Peach’s latest EP, Blood Magic. She wrote and sang five songs all about the mens­trual cycle. It’s frea­king powerful!

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Foun­der Vulvani | | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-foun­der of Vul­vani. She loves rese­ar­ching, wri­ting and designing new arti­cles or inno­va­tive edu­ca­tio­nal con­cepts about mens­trua­tion all day long. When she is not tra­vel­ling the world, she enjoys spen­ding time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.