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.