Posts By Carissa Ropponen

Part 5: Radical Feminist Hygiene: Resist the Patriarchy, Save Mother Earth!

Our menstrual culture is rooted in shaming of women as dirty and unclean. This is what the feminine hygiene industry plays off of to sell us products, presenting menstruation to us as a problem that needs to be dealt with discreetly. Since the topic of menstruation is so taboo, most information that is available to young women about menstruation is offered by the feminine hygiene industry, whose main objective is to market their products. In order to keep a market for their products they must perpetuate myths that menstruation is embarrassing and should be kept a dirty little secret. So they come up with marketing messages like, “Discreet. Small. Extends and protects. Only you’ll know its a tampon,” or “Small enough to keep out of sight.” These phrases bank on shame and the fear of people knowing we are having our period and reinforce the culture belief that menstruation is a shameful condition. God forbid someone knows you’re on your rag! But its treated like its the unpardonable sin, that you may contaminate those around you if they know you’re bleeding. Even the words “feminine hygiene” invoke the feeling that there is something unclean about the way our bodies function and that we require a product to make us hygienic again.

 

Other advertisements insist that a tampon will give you the freedom to go on living life as normal. We’ve all seen commercials with the sad girl sitting in her room unable to take part in day to day activities, like a pariah. But then she finds out about tampons and soon enough she is riding horses, playing sports and twirling barefoot on the beach! The message in these commercials reinforce social stigma about menstruation and are dangerous because they tell young women that our periods are an irregularity and in order to continue living “normally” a product needs to be used to hide our bleeding. This could not be further from the truth! Menstruation is normal and natural and the tampons those commercials are peddling can have adverse effects on women’s bodies.

 

The problems with the fem “hygiene” industry don’t stop at the perpetuation of harmful attitudes about the period. The products they are peddling are also bad for women’s bodies and bad for Mother Earth. Menstrual products such as the tampon are a health risk for women masquerading as cleanliness. Tampons can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome or TSS. TSS is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, in fact in 1980, 38 women died from TSS caused by tampon use! The symptoms of TSS are a sudden high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, sunburn-like rash, dizziness, muscle aches and fainting or near fainting when standing up. TSS is caused by the staphyloccus bacteria which can grow on synthetic fibres. ALL mainstream tampon manufacturers have at least one type of synthetic fibre in their products! Manufacturers of tampons continue to use highly absorbent fibres such as viscose and rayon even though they know they are linked to TSS!

 

Tampons often contain dioxins because of the bleaching process they undergo. Tampons are bleached white in order to appear sterile, but the dioxins that remain make them anything but clean. Dioxins are toxic chemicals that have been linked to decreased sperm count in men (yes this affects the men too!) and decreased fertility in women, as well as endometriosis. Dioxin is carcinogenic! But the Fem “hygiene” industry insists that the amount of dioxins in tampons are so miniscule that they do not pose any threat to women’s health. But what about compounded exposure to dioxins month after month? Also, dermal contact in the vagina might differ from regular dermal contact as vaginal tissue is highly absorbent. Tampons have also been known to alter the natural bacteria and micro-organisms in the vagina. And vaginal dryness and ulcerations may occur when a tampon is too absorbent for your flow. All of your lovely, perfectly natural and needed secretions are being sopped up by TSS inducing tampons. This does not sounds like a great “hygiene” option to me.

 

If the dangers of tampon use are not enough, mainstream menstrual products are also bad for the earth. Tampons and pads create excessive waste and the plastics in pads and tampon applicators sit in landfills.  It is absolutely true that we need to attend to our periods and that includes having menstrual products, but we need products that are healthy for our bodies and the earth. So we want to discuss some alternative options, reusable ones without toxic chemicals, that are great for you and Mother Earth.

 

Reusable tampon: The Reusable Tampon is used like a regular disposable tampon, but washed and reused. As the rayon in commercial disposable tampons is one of the factors in TSS, cotton tampons (disposable or reusable) are a safer option.

 

 

 

 

Interlabia pad: An Interlabial Pad is basically a tampon worn externally in the labia, rather than internally. These cannot be worn while swimming, but can offer a step between an internal product or a pad for those who don’t want to use an internal product.

 

 

 

 

Sea Sponge: This is a naturally occurring sea sponge that is used in the vagina to absorb the flow, much like a tampon. They are moistened for use, allowing them to be comfortably inserted. They are washed and reused, and can be boiled in a pot of water or submerged in sterilising solution if desired. Not a great option though, if you are vegan.

 

 

Menstrual cup: There are now several brands of Menstrual Cup available around the world. A Menstrual Cup is a soft bell shaped item which is used inside the vagina to collect the flow. They are removed to be emptied, rinsed out and replaced. They can be boiled in a pot of water to be sterilised before and after each period. The one cup can last many years, can be used while swimming or sleeping and does not have the same TSS risks as tampons do. They also have a much greater capacity than tampons and can safely be kept in place for 12 hours.

 

 

 

Cloth pads: These are essentially a washable fabric version of a disposable menstrual pad. Mostly made by small businesses, these come in a huge variety of types. Using fabrics such as bamboo or cotton, they can be very absorbent and some even include a waterproof layer to give the same security as a disposable pad. Colourful fabrics can add to the positive aspect of using these, as can soft fabrics such as velour. Cloth Pads can be reused for many years. After they have been worn, they can be rinsed clean or left to soak and washed in a washing machine with the rest of the laundry. Some women like to use the water on their gardens to make use of the nutrients the blood gives. You can also make your own.


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Part 1: Cultural attitudes towards menstruation and PMS

Kitty has a nosebleed, on the rag, aunt dot, aunt flow is coming for a visit, falling to the communists, closed for maintenance, my little friend, surfing the crimson wave, bleedies, at high tide, my moon cycle, moon time, that time of month, friend from the red sea,the curse…  There are many names for menstruation that are reflective of our culture’s attitude towards the period. “The curse” is perhaps the most telling as it defines the period as a horrible affliction rather than a natural part of a woman’s monthly cycle. Instead of celebrating women’s cycles we are taught to resent menstruation and even feel ashamed of it.  This blog is an effort to de-stigmatize the period and celebrate the female body.

 

Our culture tells us that menstruation is something shameful that needs to be hidden. In fact, our periods are a taboo! Not only that but menstruation and everything around it (read PMS – premenstrual syndrome) are medicalized and pathologized- a problem that needs a “fix.” But having a period is a part of many women’s experience so why are our periods and moods surrounding them viewed in such a negative light? Why all this talk about periods being unnatural, dirty, diseased? This certainly harkens back to patriarchy and its obsession with degrading women and our bodies. If we no longer believe in ourselves, see ourselves and our bodies as having value then it is that much easier to control us.

 

Patriarchal religious beliefs have been used to shame women and our bodies. It is pretty much a universal belief today, in the world’s largest religions, that during menstruation a woman is “unclean” and needs to be purified. For example, the Bible says in Leviticus that menstruating women are unclean for 7 days. Anything they touch will be made unclean and that men should not have sex with a woman on her period lest he become unclean as well.

 

Feminist Jewish Talmudic scholar, Judith Hauptmann, has studied these rules for women and it’s fascinated to see that she points out the need to understand these rules within the context of the first chapter in Leviticus. This first portion addresses the issue of male impurity and cleanliness. Imagine that!  Apparently, after a man has an emission of semen, “…he shall count off seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in freshwater; then he shall be clean.”  So why did these cleanliness rules survive, and even develop, over time for women and not for men?

 

In the Victorian era Menstruation was medicalized and pathologized. Victorian doctors labeled menstruation a debilitating illness under which women were said to be “unwell or out of order.” Not only did Victorian doctors believe that menstruation was a condition, but they believed that during menstruation women were mentally incapable of being rational and working. The British Medical Journal, of January 1875 said, “At such times, women are unfit for any great mental or physical labour. They suffer under a languor and depression which disqualify them for thought or action.”

 

These days we hear a lot about PMS and all the problematic ways women behave when we are bleeding. Our moods have been pathologized to the point that they get called a syndrome – a cluster-fuck of “symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition.” It’s incredibly offensive that our moods are being likened to a psychological disorder! But ignore us, we’re probably just irritated because we’re on the rag…

 

But menstruation was not always seen negatively. In ancient spirituality (and in many indigenous belief systems today), menstruation was viewed in a positive light and women were believed to be connected to the moon because of our 28 day cycle. The moon was sacred and worshipped as a feminine deity and was chief to all other goddesses and gods. As Asphodel P.Long, Feminist Theologian, writes “The Triple Goddess is available to us in all sorts of symbols, records and illustrations. She was the source of growth, fertility, and change; and in her waning and dark side, she represented the mystical power of death and rebirth. Her twenty-eight days cycle was observed as the same cycle as that of women’s menses; menstruation was thought to be linked to the moon, and in many languages the words for both are the same. Thus women were thought to be connected with the great and mysterious power of the moon.” So menstruation has not always been viewed as unclean but rather as powerful and sacred.  How great would it be if our culture started to shift in the direction of celebrating women’s cycles in this way?

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