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Marcy Karin is a 2022-23 Distinguished Scholar researching at The University of Edinburgh. Communications Assistant Marina Martinez reflects on Marcy’s work and time in Scotland.
This month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Marcy Karin in which we discussed her work and experiences as a current Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at The University of Edinburgh. Both having spent extensive time in Arizona, an animated discussion on where to find the best tacos in Edinburgh was our first order of business. We then delved into the impact of exchange on her research, the community she's become a part of, and the connections she's made while crossing the pond between Washington D.C. and Edinburgh.
A scholar on menstrual dignity, a key focus of Marcy’s research at The University of Edinburgh is exploring existing policies related to menstrual justice—from menarche to menopause. Currently, Marcy is conducting research on the implementation and enforcement of Scotland's ground-breaking law requiring public bodies to provide menstrual products. Additionally, she is spending time throughout her Fulbright examining the effectiveness of the Equality Act—which protects people from discrimination or unfair treatment based on certain personal characteristics—and determining whether it goes far enough in addressing menstrual discrimination and harassment.
Marcy’s interest in this area stems from her work at the University of the District of Columbia, where she directs a legislation and civil rights clinic that represents non-profits working towards systemic reform projects. To inform her work at the local, state-wide, and national levels, she poses a critical question: "how can we enhance menstrual accommodations and diminish menstrual discrimination?"
Her efforts have yielded tangible results, including hosting the first-ever congressional briefing on menstrual equity, during which menstruators shared their experiences and highlighted the challenges they face in obtaining menstrual products and managing menstruation while in detention. Through practice in this realm, relevant laws were passed on the local level, such as the removal of the tampon tax in the District of Columbia, requiring menstrual products in all bathrooms in primary schools and universities, and mandating menstrual education for all genders starting in 4th grade.
Her policy influence didn’t stop on the east coast. During her time in Scotland, Marcy has had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with academics from the UK and across the globe. While in Scotland, the D.C. State Department of Education issued their draft proposal for requirements related to menstrual education. Marcy explained that she was able to share their draft with experts in the UK whose work she incorporated into her comment that she submitted. When reflecting on this legislative change, Marcy said “me being here has already led to positive policy changed in DC. I didn’t realise that there’d already be a real-world application of the relationships I’ve developed as a Fulbrighter, but also an impact on actual policy in my home community. That’s pretty cool.”
Marcy was clear that these achievements were the result of collective efforts and community. She noted her attendance of The UK Menstruation Research Network, work with Margaret Johnson, a Fulbrighter in Australia, and support from her host, a law professor in queer studies and IASH, and the networks she’s built with PhD students and post-docs at the university and across the UK.
While recounting an ever-growing photo album she’s been developing of menstrual products in toilets, Marcy noted that collaboration has been key: “I now have 40 pictures of the way menstrual products are distributed (or not distributed) in different bathrooms around town. I also have another Fulbrighter who’s in Edinburgh texting me pictures whenever he sees menstrual products. He’s like, I see menstruation everywhere, and I was like, that’s great! Keep it coming!” Reflecting on her community as a Fulbright Scholar, Marcy shared: “This award has allowed me to really develop those relationships so that it’s more than a one-off cup of coffee at a conference.”
Another exciting aspect of Marcy’s work is the way in which it brings together different fields of study, areas of expertise, and walks of life. She detailed her visit to Pittenweem on the east coast of Scotland to meet with a St. Andrews professor who showed her an outdoor tidal pool, and her surprise to find the words ‘Menopausal Mermaids’ written on the wall. This unexpected connection between her research and the local environment underscored broader connections—as Marcy put it, “you don’t expect to see something so related to your research—to your Fulbright. You can see that there are all of these bigger connections both in terms of theory and the normative experience of people's day-to-day lives of how the topic I'm looking into fits in.”
From across the Atlantic, Marcy spoke about the importance of the vibrant community and location she’s become a part of. She noted that “it's a really wonderful opportunity to get a chance to see this, and it's also a community where people seem to be engaged with each other…it's just really cool to be welcomed into the community and know that I have a place and people that I can always come back and visit.”
As a parting note, Marcy emphasized the importance of collaborative thinking and a holistic perspective in promoting menstrual justice—calling policy, queer studies, and legal experts to think creatively about different cultures, religions, and lived experiences.
This collaborative thinking is of an ongoing nature: discussing an event for International Women’s Day that she spoke at, Marcy was clear that menstruation is not just a women’s issue, and that everyone should be involved in the conversation: "there have to be events on other days. This isn’t just another way in which this is a women’s issue that’s talked about by women on Women’s Day. Other people need to understand and explain and talk about menstruation, or you can't get to those root causes of discrimination and harassment. It will always be silent unless other people are talking about it."