“As a leader in feminine hygiene products,” the brand Summer’s Eve boasts on their website, “it’s our job to understand what women think and how they feel about their bodies. We’ve been asking questions (even the uncomfortable ones) for years so that we can continue to evolve and help women to feel more confident, fresh and love their vagina.” They also proudly declare that their products are completely healthy and harmless, gynecologist approved and safe for everyday use.
But over 15,000 women are now protesting the company—claiming the products promote manipulative marketing, include toxic products and have poor ingredient disclosure.
Summer’s Eve’s entire marketing strategy revolves around making women feel as though their natural body is not good enough—and that, therefore, by using their products, they will become more desirable—which has always been worth an uproar of its own. But a grassroots movement demanding more accountability from the company by consumers and concerned women nationwide has gotten its footing in the wake of a study conducted by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), which found that many of the products made by Summer’s Eve, including their best-selling body washes and wipes, include cancer-causing ingredients and fragrances that could be detrimental to women’s health. None of these harmful side-effects are disclosed on the packaging or otherwise to consumers.
“Summer’s Eve is marketed to make women feel their vaginas are dirty and in need of cleansing,” Sarada Tangirala, Director of Corporate Accountability at WVE, said in an email to members. “But their idea of ‘clean’ involves a splash of toxic chemicals like 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, a preservative chemical that releases formaldehyde, a carcinogen; octoxynol-9, a potent spermicide used without any warning label; fragrance, can be made up of potentially hundreds of different ingredients, many of which are linked to health problems; Neutresse, a trademarked odor-control technology whose ingredients are also kept secret.”
Medical sexism is not a new phenomena, but a renewed and growing movement to confront it and call it out has been forming. The manipulative marketing towards women and failure to disclose the dangers of female-specific devices and products in the last decades come to the forefront in a new documentary, The Bleeding Edge. In the Summer 2018 issue of Ms., we spotlighted two books by feminist authors detailing their own prolonged suffering due to institutional failures to believe in their pain or take their illnesses seriously; in our Winter 2017 issue, we shined on a light on the decades-long, life-or-death fight for women with so-called “chronic fatigue syndrome” to secure funding for research and resources—and a consensus in the medical community that their suffering was real.
It is clear from the narratives of women rising up—and the growing number of women demanding justice—that the horrific mixture of manipulative marketing, lack of transparency and failure to take women’s health risks seriously have caused serious harm. Now, putting an end to that harm has become a major priority for women around the country.
“It is egregious that these products marketed and sold under the guise of vaginal and sexual health are in fact exposing women to chemicals that can negatively impact their reproductive well-being,” Tangirala said. “Taking care of your body—however you choose—should never put your health at risk.”