Menstrual concealment—“You can’t just play the woman card”


  • Elyse Gagnon University of Canterbury, Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand


Menstrual suppression, military, menstrual concealment, menstrual stigma


INTRODUCTION: This article explores women’s experiences of menstrual suppression within the New Zealand Army while seeking to understand the influence of military systems, culture and processes on those experiences. More specifically, it examines women’s desire for menstrual concealment and control over their chosen method of managing their menstruation.

METHODS: Data were collected using narrative interviews with 18 women currently serving in the New Zealand Army and nine key informants. Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

FINDINGS: Study participants described the convenience of not having their period in a military environment as their main reasoning for menstrual suppression. Whether supressing their period or not, women’s stories revealed their desire to fit in within the current military culture while also having control over their own body and decision-making. The decision on how they managed their menstruation was influenced by their peers, their rank, their environment, their past experiences and the information provided to them through briefings and visits with their medical provider.

CONCLUSION: The preliminary findings from this study suggests that within the military, women are not only expected to keep their feminine identity but also maintain body equivalence with men to ensure they are seen as equally operationally effective. Although women describe an expectation of menstrual concealment, women choose how they reach that expectation. A reproductive justice lens is used to argue that without addressing menstrual stigma and the military structures, women will continue to “choose” to conceal or supress their period as it is presented as the only appropriate choice.


Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). (2019). Code of Ethics. https://www.anzasw. nz/public/150/files/Publications/Code-of-Ethics-Adopted- 30-Aug-2019.pdf

Acker, J. (2012). Gendered organizations and intersectionality: problems and possibilities. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(3), 214–224.

Beddoe, L. (2022). Reproductive justice, abortion rights and social work. Critical and Radical Social Work, 10(1), 7–22.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2019). To saturate or not to saturate? Questioning data saturation as a useful concept for thematic analysis and sample-size rationales. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 13(2), 201-216.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2021). Thematic analysis: A practical guide. SAGE.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2021). One size fits all? What counts as quality practice in (reflexive) thematic analysis? Qualitative Research in Psychology, 18(3), 328–352.

Brown, M. T. (2012). “A woman in the army is still a woman”: Representations of women in US military recruiting advertisements for the All-Volunteer Force. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 33(2), 151-175.

Chua, J. L. (2020). Bloody war: Menstruation, soldiering, and the “gender-integrated” United States military. Critical Military Studies, 1–20. .2020.1750260

Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Sage Publications.

DeMaria, A. L., Sundstrom, B., Meier, S., & Wiseley, A. (2019). The myth of menstruation: How menstrual regulation and suppression impact contraceptive choice. BMC Women’s Health, 19(1). https://doi. org/10.1186/s12905-019-0827-x

Duggan, K. (2021, February 25). What is military readiness? Institute for Defense & Business. what-is-military-readiness/

Fleming, K. L., Sokoloff, A., & Raine, T. R. (2010). Attitudes and beliefs about the intrauterine device among teenagers and young women. Contraception, 82(2), 178–182.

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage.

Freeman, E. (2019). Feminist theory and its use in qualitative research in education. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. acrefore/9780190264093.013.1193

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Simon & Schuster.

Gomez, A. M., Mann, E. S., & Torres, V. O. (2018). “It would have control over me instead of me having control”: Intrauterine devices and the meaning of reproductive freedom. Critical Public Health, 28(2), 190–200.

Hasson, K. A. (2016). Not a “real” period? Social and material constructions of menstruation. Gender and Society, 30(6), 958–983.

Jackson, T., & Falmagne, R. J. (2013). Women wearing white: Discourses of menstruation and the experience of menarche. Feminism & Psychology, 23(3), 379–398.

Joffe, C. E., & Reich, J. A. (2015). Reproduction and society: Interdisciplinary readings. Routledge.

Johnston-Robledo, I., & Chrisler, J. C. (2020). The menstrual mark: Menstruation as social stigma. In C. Bobel et al. (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of critical menstruation studies (pp. 181–199). Palgrave Macmillan.

Kensinger, E. A., & Ford, J. H. (2019). Retrieval of emotional events from memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 71(1), 251–272.

King, S. (2020). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the myth of the irrational female. In C. Bobel et al. (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of critical menstruation studies (pp. 287–302). Palgrave Macmillan.

Kissling, E. A. (2013). Pills, periods, and postfeminism. Feminist Media Studies, 13(3), 490–504. 0.1080/14680777.2012.712373

Kissling, E. A. (2016). No justice, no pill/know (reproductive) justice, know the pill. Women’s Reproductive Health, 3(2), 109–112.

Koeberle, A. (2019). Militarized Patriarchal Institutionalization and Centering Women Military Members Experiences. [unpublished dissertation] California State University

Lane , R., Tarzi , E., Post , K., & Gauldin , E. (2018). Marine Corps organizational culture research project report to Personnel Studies and Oversight Office: Marines’ perspectives on various aspects of Marine Corps organizational culture. Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning,

Lawrence-Wood, E., Kumar, S., Crompvoets, S., Fosh, B. G., Rahmanian, H., Jones, L., & Neuhaus, S. (2016). A systematic review of the impacts of active military service on sexual and reproductive health outcomes among servicewomen and female veterans of armed forces. Journal of Military and Veterans Health, 24(3), 34–55.

Lewis, P., Gaffney, R. J., & Wilson, N. J. (2017). A narrative review of acute care nurses’ experiences nursing patients with intellectual disability: Underprepared, communication barriers and ambiguity about the role of caregivers. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 26(11-12), 1473–1484.

Liddell, J. L. (2018). Reproductive justice and the social work profession: Common grounds and current trends. Affilia, 34(1), 99–115. https://doi. org/10.1177/0886109918803646

MacDonald, S. M. (2007). Leakey performances: The transformative potential of the menstrual leak. Women’s Studies in Communication, 30(3), 340–357. https://doi.or g/10.1080/07491409.2007.10162518

McKenzie-Mohr, S., & Lafrance, M. N. (2011). Telling stories without the words: “Tightrope talk” in women’s accounts of coming to live well after rape or depression. Feminism & Psychology, 21(1), 49–73.

Monteith, L. L., Bahraini, N. H., & Menefee, D. S. (2017). Perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and fearlessness about death: Associations with suicidal ideation among female veterans exposed to military sexual trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(12), 1655–1669. https://doi. org/10.1002/jclp.22462

Moore, A., Frohwirth, L. F., & Miller, E. (2010). Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States. Social Science & Medicine, 70(11), 1737–1744.

Morison, T. (2021). Reproductive justice: A radical framework for researching sexual and reproductive issues in psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 15(6).

Murray-Orr, A., & Olson, M. (2007). Transforming narrative encounters. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(3), 819-838.

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). (2019). Combat ready. Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa Defence Force. https://www.

Nicholson, A., Cameron, N., Cunnah, L., Milward, T., & Yeung, P. (2022). The approach to military social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. In Military social work around the globe (pp. 117–134). Springer.

Olson, M. M., Alhelou, N., Kavattur, P. S., Rountree, L., & Winkler, I. T. (2022). The persistent power of stigma: A critical review of policy initiatives to break the menstrual silence and advance menstrual literacy. PLOS Global Public Health, 2(7).

Oxley, T. (1998). Menstrual management: An exploratory study. Feminism & Psychology, 8(2), 185-191.

Phillips, A. K., & Lynn, A. B. (2021). Scoping review on menstrual suppression among U.S. military service members. Military Medicine. milmed/usab200

Przybylo, E., & Fahs, B. (2020). Empowered bleeders and cranky menstruators: Menstrual positivity and the “liberated” era of new menstrual product advertisements. In C. Bobel et al. (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of critical menstruation studies (pp. 375–394). Palgrave Macmillan.

Ricker, E. A., Goforth, C. W., Barrett, A. S., Deuster, P. A., & de la Motte, S. J. (2021). Female military officers report a desire for menstrual suppression during military training. Military Medicine, 186(Supplement_1), 775–783.

Ross, L., & Solinger, R. (2017). Reproductive justice: An introduction. University of California Press.

Ross, L. J. (2017). Reproductive justice as intersectional feminist activism. Souls, 19(3), 286–314. 0.1080/10999949.2017.1389634

Schwandt, T. A. (2001). Dictionary of qualitative inquiry. Sage.

Smith, B. J. (2017). Reproductive justice: A policy window for social work advocacy. Social Work, 62(3), 221–226.

Spies, E. L., Askelson, N. M., Gelman, E., & Losch, M. (2010). Young women’s knowledge, attitudes,

and behaviors related to long-acting reversible contraceptives. Women’s health issues, 20(6), 394-399.

Trego, L. L. (2007). Military women’s menstrual experiences and interest in menstrual suppression during deployment. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 36(4), 342–347. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2007.00166.x

Watkins E. S. (2012). How the pill became a lifestyle drug: The pharmaceutical industry and birth control in the United States since 1960. American Journal of Public Health, 102(8), 1462–1472. AJPH.2012.300706

Weigard, A., Loviska, A. M., & Beltz, A. M. (2021). Little evidence for sex or ovarian hormone influences on affective variability. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 20925.

Wood, J. (2020). (In)visible bleeding: The menstrual concealment imperative. Springer EBooks, 319–336.

Young, I. M. (2005). On female body experience: Throwing like a girl and other essays. Oxford.




How to Cite

Gagnon, E. (2023). Menstrual concealment—“You can’t just play the woman card”. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 35(4), 87–101. Retrieved from