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Research Profile: Dr. Maria Tomlinson

I am a researcher of health communication and social inequalities.

My research explores how health-focussed organisations and activists use social media and engage with journalism to improve the health and wellbeing of minority groups.

My research interests include menstrual health, menopause, and energy-limiting conditions (such as endometriosis and chronic fatigue syndrome/ME)

Menstruation and the Media: Reducing Stigma and Tackling Social Inequalities

Since 2015, we have seen increasing representation of menstruation in mainstream media and on social media. Advocates and activists have played a significant role in shaping this coverage. Menstrual advocates have many different aims. A central aim has been to change the language used around periods from one which stigmatises menstruation to one which normalises it. Other advocates have sought to raise awareness of period poverty, the environmental impact of menstrual products, the existence of conditions such as endometriosis, and of the menstrual experiences of transgender people. My research looks at the impact of the media, and mediatised menstrual activism in particular, on young people's attitudes towards, and knowledge of, menstruation. I have conducted focus groups in schools with 15-19 year old girls, boys, and non-binary students as well as interviewing menstrual advocates. In addition, I have examined menstrual discourses on social media.

The main publication from this project will be a book (forthcoming with Palgrave) entitled The Menstrual Movement in the Media: Reducing Stigma and Tackling Social Inequalities

My findings have been published in articles and chapters such as:

Tomlinson, M. K. (2021) Moody and monstrous menstruators: the Semiotics of the menstrual meme on social media, Social Semiotics, 31(3), 421-439

Tomlinson, M. K. (2023). “Periods Don’t Stop for Pandemics”: The Implications of COVID-19 for Online and Offline Menstrual Activism in Great Britain. Women's Studies in Communication, 46(3), 289-311.

Tomlinson, M. K. (2023). “Ca_Va_Saigner”(“There Will be Blood”): Digital Menstrual Activism in France. In Women’s Activism Online and the Global Struggle for Social Change (pp. 257-275). Cham: Springer International Publishing.


The Female Body in French Literature

Before I joined the department of journalism at the University of Sheffield, I was awarded a PhD in French literature from the University of Reading (funded by the SWWDTP of the AHRC). My thesis (now published as a monograph by Liverpool University Press) examined the representation of the female fertility cycle in contemporary women's writing in French (post 1990). I compared representations of menstruation, childbirth and the menopause in women's writing from Algeria, France and Mauritius (post 1990). I considered how these novels build on, but also challenge, the work of the second-wave feminists who were some of the first writers to approach topics such as menstruation and menopause. The second-wave feminists were criticised for applying their white western perspective to the experience of all women and for their idealism. I found that contemporary women's writing in French tends to take an intersectional approach to the body. These novels show how female corporeal experiences are influenced by a variety of factors including cultural context, socio-economic status, religion, politics and colonial history. By inscribing the body into traumatic and violent contexts, contemporary women's writing in French also challenges the idealism of their second-wave feminist predecessors.

Although I am no longer based in a French department, I am still working on some projects about the female body in French culture. These include examining menstrual activism in France and the portrayal of FGM in women's writing from Niger.

Always happy to collaborate with other scholars in French Studies.


Collaborative Projects on the Body

I really enjoy collaborating with other researchers and advocates. So do get in touch if you'd like to propose something!

In 2018, I co-organised the conference "Imagining The Body in France and the Francophone World" with Antonia Wimbush and Polly Galis. The conference brought together researchers working on representations of the body from both French and Francophone studies, in a wide range of disciplines, historical periods, and critical approaches.

Two publications have arisen from the conference:
- We guest edited a special issue of L'Esprit Créateur entitled "Challenging Normative Spaces and Gazes: The Body in 20th- and 21st-Century Francophone Culture" (Summer 2020). This volume examines the body in French and Francophone cultures within and beyond the metropole, with a broad temporal, national, ethnic, racial, gendered, and generic scope. Articles explore how the body can be deployed to challenge normative spaces and/or gazes, including fixed notions of identity, as well as heteronormative and patriarchal structures of representation and power. Articles focus on how the body is understood and presented in the twentieth and twenty-first century across multiple medias. The issue offers a far-reaching conceptualization of the body, inclusive of the queer, racialized, transnational, migrant, exiled, and posthuman body.

- We have also published a book with Peter Lang. The book is entitled Queer(y)ing Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture (2021). This edited volume questions how a wide selection of restrictive norms come to bear on the body, through a close analysis of a range of texts, media, genres, and issues originating from several Francophone countries and spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Each author troubles hegemonic, monolithic perceptions and portrayals of racial, class, gender, sexual and/or national identity, rethinking bodily norms specifically from a queer and querying perspective.

#GenderedVoices issue 1. For your viewin

Gendered Voices Magazine

I founded the magazine Gendered Voices in 2017 and acted as General Editor for the first three issues. The magazine is an interdisciplinary publication which features articles by early career researchers on topics pertaining to gender and sexuality. The magazine aims to engage the public in current academic research. 

Issue One was published online in February 2017.
Issue Two ‘Beyond the Binary’, which celebrates diversity and inclusivity, was published in November 2017.
Issue Three ‘Milestones: The Centenary Issue’ was published in May 2018.           

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