Some Bloody Good Feminism for Earth Day

4390100546_624995349a_zReusable menstrual pads are making a comeback, and this time they’ve got feminism on their side. Yes, we said reusable. Here’s why we believe that this trend may be the start of a new feminist period (pun intended).

Menstruating is ridiculously expensive. When we actually stopped to consider the costs incurred to manage a normal, natural, recurring biological process, we were infuriated. Not only are women forced to spend on average $250 annually for tampons and pads (for those of you doing the math, that’s a very significant $10,000 or more over a lifetime), inexplicably, feminine-hygiene products are still taxed in most states as if they were a luxury good. But the financial ramifications of menstruating are only part of the problem.

Here in the U.S. in 2016, menstruation is still a taboo discussion topic in mixed (and even all-female) company. Us female-bodied folks are still shamed for talking openly about our periods. Why? Because we live in a misogynistic society, where women’s bodies are only valued as sex objects and any other bodily function—like bleeding—is maligned as a sign of weakness.

And, as with so many other aspects of women’s health, there is inequity in access when it comes to menstruation. As students across the U. S. are creating demands for more inclusive campuses, free access to feminine-hygiene items is making the list.

And why shouldn’t it? Colleges have been making condoms free and accessible for years. Luckily, legislators have already turned their attention to this issue, introducing bills to make feminine-hygiene products free in state-run buildings, including public schools. We applaud this, and count it among the growing list of feminist achievements.

Personal health and the environment are also impacted by products used during menstruation, which may increase women’s exposure to toxins—especially dioxins and pesticides—commonly found in the cotton, plastic, synthetic fibers, wood pulp and bleach used to make feminine-hygiene products. And, it is estimated that each woman produces 250 to 300 pounds of feminine-hygiene product-related waste during her lifetime.

Reusable menstrual pads address all of these factors, and after an initial investment, they’re cheaper than one-time use products. To be sure, disposable items were ostensibly designed to make women’s lives easier. But, an ecofeminist perspective suggests that convenience does not always align with health. Reusable pads have environmental benefits, health benefits and economic benefits for those who menstruate. This is feminism at its best.

There are many ways to join the menstrual activist movement. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Support DIY activities by dedicating funds or time to help others. For example, students at the University of Arizona have been offering free instructional sewing sessions—Stitch n’ Bitch sessions—to increase access to reusable pads. Through mini-grant funding, interns of the Women’s Resource Center provide unbleached flannel for the top and bottom pieces, as well as hemp batting for the filler (plus needles and thread). Interns pre-cut the patterns using templates, and attendees sew together their own pads. You can make your own, too.
  2. Invest in some pre-made reusable pads made by progressive companies including Luna Pads, Glad Rags and New Moon Pads.
  3. Help further the menstruation conversation, instead of hiding your supplies or whispering about your period. Notice when and where there is a lack of access to feminine-hygiene supplies in the spaces that you visit as well as in the greater world we share, and then bring it to others’ attention. Together, through such attention and conversation, we can remove the stigma around menstruation.

Reusable menstrual pads are the ecofeminist answer to the gendered inequity around feminine hygiene products.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Evamaria licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Hingle photoMelanie Hingle is a nutrition scientist, public health researcher and registered dietitian at the University of Arizona Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She is also a Tucson public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

Krista Millay headshot

Krista Millay is an assistant dean of students for advocacy, prevention education and gender justice at the University of Arizona, where she oversees the Women’s Resource Center and sexual assault prevention programming. She is a Tucson public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.


Comments

  1. Martha Cashman says:

    This is a cool idea. Have you gals written anything about the lack of education woman get about their own cycles and amazing bodies!? It would be so cool to see the ecofriensly and feminist communities get together around education of our cycles and how the knowledge can get many woman off the pill and other contraceptives. (talk about expensive!) it would also promote a greater respect in our partners who would be encouraged to also learn and respect OUR bodies! I learned to chart and understand my cycle at 22 and have never used any sort of other contraceptive! It’s amazing, I know when I can get pregnant every month and when I can’t (like a five day window, to be safe!) it’s so empowering!
    Just a thought!

  2. Awesome! And if reusables are not for you, that’s cool too. It’s not your job to save the planet, fight for higher quality feminine products, better access and lower prices for pads and tampons all at the same time. You can put your own personal comfort first.
    https://arainandagale.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/for-the-love-of-disposables/

  3. Gladys Haiti Alley says:

    All of the reasons given for a return to reusables are very good. There’s a “but,” though. But what about a few words on the laundering. It must be said that this retro-living would be high maintenance, as it had been in the past. Oh, pardon the privileged assumption that this practice is a thing of the past. It is not. Many women and girls in places where they cannot afford to purchase disposables are making their own pads for monthly use. It must be discussed; they must be washed. Soap and water needed. In some places those are scarce. How ever they need to find a way; so, they make do: Just cut-up pieces from sheets or old clothing, not necessarily sewn to look like the pic above, just folded well enough for saturation. That bit of hardship and PROJECT–really–for women and girls in some parts of the world aside, these women would “worship” anyone who could provide disposables to them, with few exceptions, older women preferring to keep an old practice?

    So, why would women, feminists at that, want to return to the drudgery of laundering bloody pads, especially when some women and girls bleed profusely and need to change frequently? And the keeping -up with the washing of the saturated pads daily? So, the pads should be tossed in the washer daily and will be washed thoroughly without any manual labor to yield a cleaner result? With the busy lifestyle we lead, do women and girls want to add this mundane task to our plate? Who is saying, Yes?

    Feminism should fight for biodegradable pads; for less expensive with no tax and even with an instant rebate to be reimbursed to the seller by the government. After all, women experience a “special need” monthly and should be accommodated accordingly as many other Americans are for their special needs. Assistance to pay for pads should fall under the umbrella of some form of disability/special needs, the way special shoes are provided, eye glasses, etc. Feminism can win for women and girls; it just requires proper presentation with legal experts weighing in on the rights of women to be accommodated as any other special needs American rightfully is. Excellent topic, MsMagazine….

  4. Noodledoo says:

    Having made the switch to reusable pads from tampons recently I make the following observations:
    Rinsing them through and bunging them in the washer is really no big deal;
    They are so so so much nicer to use than disposables;
    Just because you mainly use reusables, you can always use disposables occasionally – eg exercise classes, or first (heavy) day etc;
    If you don’t want to make your own, sites like etsy, folksy etc are a great place to look and support local women’s small businesses.
    It’s an easy switch to make! Try it! Bin the disposables!

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