Breaking the Cycle: Critical Phenomenology of Menstruation


  • Zoe Viola Bergmann University of Vienna
  • Maruša Sirk University of Ljubljana
  • Toma Strle University of Ljubljana


Menstruation holds diverse meanings, yet scant attention has been paid to how these meanings evolve for individuals over time. Existing studies predominantly highlight menstrual experiences as socio-culturally stigmatized, concealed phenomena across the globe and across age, next to negative social portrayals of menstruation [1]. Limited research has delved into the subjective experiences of menstruation, leaving the phenomenological insights into the lived body underexplored. In a prestudy, we observed significant shifts in experiencing menstruation and the meanings attributed to it over time. This research aims to uncover the changing meanings of embodied experiences of menstruators, using a critical feminist phenomenological lens.

Drawing upon the tradition of phenomenology in feminist discourse, particularly the works of de Beauvoir and Young, this research integrates phenomenology and critical theory. Critical phenomenology advances phenomenological inquiry by reflecting on how subjective experiences are entwined with contingent historical and social structures, which Guenther [2] terms the quasi-transcendental way. In addition to this reflexive manner, critical phenomenology embraces the emancipative interest of critical theory. This approach is particularly relevant to the study of a stigmatized bodily phenomena.

Using a narrative interview technique, this study will conduct in-depth interviews with five menstruators to elucidate how their experiences of menstruating have unfolded from menarche to the present. Engaging with narratives serves as a pivotal tool, providing insight into the meaning-making processes of individuals within their socio-cultural milieus [3]. All interviewees identify as cis-gender women, are German speakers in their mid-twenties living in Austria and have no medical diagnoses related to their menstruation. Through a critical narrative analysis, expanding on Ricœur’s hermeneutic tradition in phenomenology, we aim to examine participants’ narratives, assuming that perspectives are always situated, implying that we invariably perceive things from a specific vantage point [3]. This allows us to discuss not only the situatedness of our interviewees but also our own as researchers. The method offers a unique perspective by challenging notions of how menstruators navigate their bodily experiences within their specific environment. The integration of the critical tradition allows us to add a critical and emancipative momentum to our analysis.

Central to this study is a holistic exploration of menstrual lives, aiming to contribute to a refined grasp of the multifaceted nature of meaning-making in menstruation and how this subjective process is situated within menstruators’ specific socio-cultural environment. By adopting a critical phenomenological approach, this research bears the potential to (re)imagine new and liberatory possibilities for meaningful experiences [2].


[1] J. Hennegan, A. K. Shannon, J. Rubli, K. J. Schwab, and G. J. Melendez-Torres, “Women’s and Girls’ Experiences of Menstruation in low- and middle-income countries: a Systematic Review and Qualitative Metasynthesis,” PLoS Medicine, vol. 16, no. 5, May 2019, doi:

[2] L. Guenther, “Critical phenomenology,” 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology, pp. 11–16, Nov. 2019. doi:10.2307/j.ctvmx3j22.6.

[3] D. Langdridge, “Narrating the lifeworld: critical narrative analysis”, in Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method, D. Langdridge, Eds. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2007, pp.129-152.

Author Biographies

  • Zoe Viola Bergmann, University of Vienna

    Master Student of the Middle European Master in Cognitive Science at the University of Vienna

  • Maruša Sirk, University of Ljubljana

    Assistant at the Center for Cognitive Science at the University of Ljubljana

  • Toma Strle, University of Ljubljana

    Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Ljubljana