Canberra writer and YWCA Great Ydeas grant recipient Rosanna Stevens was in the Philippines last week, but not for the tropical holiday you might expect.
Instead, she was trying (and failing) to buy tampons from pharmacies, asking strangers questions about their bodies and trying to understand how menstruation is perceived and treated by locals.
It was all in the name of research, of course. Rosanna is in the process of writing a non-fiction book that tackles a topic still considered taboo by many: menstruation.
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“There are so many stories that are untold. There are so many perspectives that have never been considered, and that’s where I’d really love my writing to come in and make people laugh a bit, and smile a bit about something that we all experience,” she explains.
The idea for the book grew out of a non-fiction essay she wrote for Melbourne-based literary magazine The Lifted Brow last year.
“Two years ago I was sitting on a bus from Wollongong to Canberra and I got my period. I should have been prepared, but I wasn’t. And basically what unravelled was a series of events that made me question that made me question the way we talk and think about menstruation.”
She was approached by The Lifted Brow to write a 13,000 word essay on the social abnormalisation and normalisation of menstruation. It was published in 2014 and received – to her surprise – unanimously positive feedback.
“I wasn’t prepared for such a positive response because people have so many different views on menstruation, and they’re shaped by the way we’re taught to think about gender, taboo, shame and celebration,” she says.
“It became quite clear that there was so much more I wanted to do, and wanted to include, so I applied for [Arts ACT] funding to start to research the idea of a non-fiction book,” she says.
“There were several different avenues that I wanted to research, and they were avenues that unless you make that money yourself and travel to South America, America and the Philippines, you just can’t afford it.”
The Arts ACT funding covers most of Rosanna’s research, but the YWCA Great Ydeas grant, which Rosanna was awarded earlier this month, specifically covers a course in Peruvian and shamanic women’s knowledge about menstruation in Cusco, Peru. Rosanna will travel to Peru for the five-day intensive course next month and hopes the experience will provide an adventurous and multicultural tone to her writing.
“The course covers all sorts of traditional and shamanic knowledge of women’s bodies, including intuition and menstruation, and all of these concepts that sound like weird words until you’ve experienced them. It’s this completely different form of knowledge that isn’t in the mainstream,” she says.
Though two publishers have expressed interest in her work, Rosanna says she’d prefer to further develop the book, which is likely to be a series of interlinked essays, before signing a publishing contract.
YWCA Canberra’s Great Ydeas Small Grants Program provides funds to local women and girls to pursue a professional development opportunity, pilot a project, business idea, or address a need in the community.