It almost seems fitting that, after talking about cool environmentally-friendly inventions I love, I’m going to talk about one that I have absolutely no interest in. While I do try to be conscientious of the environment when I make life choices, there are some things that I am not willing to sacrifice.
I became aware of these inventions because having a vagina while in possession of a social media account means that certain things are assumed about you and the products you might be interest in buying, despite your browser history not reflecting any such inclination. In the past few months, my Facebook feed has been pushing Thinx panties and moon cups on me relentlessly, with multiple videos about them in one feed.
Since ignoring them was obviously not making them slowly disappear, I finally accepted my fate and decided to read the comments under one of the videos. They were both predictable, and brought a pet peeve of mine to a boil that I finally wanted to share here.
Boys (and particularly squeamish girls) beware. What follows is going to be an unabashed, balls to the wall gorey discussion about periods. If you don’t think you can handle it, read no further.
I’m not going to link Thinx panties and moon cups, because I don’t need my feed to get more pushy in the advertising than it already is. You can always google them. Basically, both products are reusable menstruation-related products. Moon cups are a sort of silicone cup that you push into your vagina to collect the blood, which you then dump out when it gets full, rinse off and put back in again. Thinx panties are panties that you wear when on your period, which are super absorbant, so you don’t use tampons or pads at all, you just bleed straight into the fabric, wash and reuse.
Nope. nope nope nope.
Obviously, these products are sold as being both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Women do indeed spend tremendous amounts of money on these things, and the single-use nature of them means that tons of used feminine hygiene products end up in landfills.
Now, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to use these alternatives, obviously. If it works for you hey, more power to you. What bugged me was the comments, and this false dichotomy that I find so many women trying to perpetuate.
The women who were inclined to promote these products were going for the narrative of “if you don’t feel comfortable wearing Thinx panties, it means that you’ve bought into the misogyny surrounding period shaming, you’re a self hating woman, you should be proud of your period, menstruation is beautiful” and all that crap. A common theme was also the claim that the belief that period blood is unhygenic is also a misogynistic construct, and that you only think it’s smelly because of the dastardly chemicals that are in your tampons, rather than the blood having any smell.
Nope. nope nope nope.
OK, it’s time for a reality check here.
Period blood contains blood, dead uterine tissue, vaginal secretions and bacteria. It is a human waste product that is potentially infectious. When you’re dealing with dead tissue, the more you leave it lying about, the more likely it’s going to smell a bit. It is biologically hardwired into our brains to not want to have potentially infectious material lying around. It is why certain smells are distasteful to us, and that is perfectly normal.
Of course social conditioning has also led to a disproportionate feeling of shame and embarassment when we’re talking about periods. Yes, it’s a waste product, but that doesn’t mean that we should be embarassed that we produce it, or that we should make such a big fucking deal about hiding the tampon up our sleeve as we go to the bathroom lest someone spots it before we get there, or that having a spot of blood on our pants should qualify as most-mortifying-moment-of-my-life/an image-removed-from-instagram-level offence. We don’t have these hang ups about people knowing we’re going to the bathroom to pee, because that particular waste product has been deemed acceptable by society to produce. Having said that, it also doesn’t mean that we should be shamed for not wanting to carry period blood-soaked panties around in our purses, or wash our clothes in the same basin of lukewarm water as a full day’s worth of period blood, or wanting to swirl a little into our tea for that matter. There is a perfectly legitimate reason to avoid prolonged contact with dead tissue and old blood, and it has nothing to do with “the man”.
For me personally, Thinx panties and moon cups are not going to be a good fit. I work, and I work long hours, and even when I’m not, I enjoy being out and about for the whole day. When my panties are fully soaked and I’m at work, what exactly am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to peel them off, stick them in a baggie, pop them in my purse and pull on a clean pair? Am I supposed to waddle out of the bathroom stall with my pants around my ankles, empty and rinse my moon cup full of chunky period globs down the sink that my colleagues use to wash their hands and brush their teeth, waddle back into the stall leaving a nice little trail of spots behind me on the floor, then stick it back in? Yeah fuck that. Fuck all that. That’s not going to work for me, and not because I’m ashamed of my period. It’s because it’s not fucking hygenic, and I don’t appreciate anyone shaming me and calling me a self hater because I don’t want to smear period blood across my cheeks like war paint.
The second part of these products used to shame women who don’t want to use them is the environmental factor. Of course, single use anything is going to have an impact on the environment, and these would not. To which I reply, why do these have to be my only two options? If tampons are so terrible for the environment, why can we not invent biodegradable ones? We managed to invent biodegradable plastic bags, this can’t be too hard. Why does it have to be either huge environmental impact or going back to the days of washing out blood soaked rags?
As a matter of fact, how long do tampons take to biodegrade?
A quick internet search made it clear to me that there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the answer to this question, given the agenda of those who push certain products. Some say it is about 6 months, other that it is 500 years. I’m guessing that they’re counting the years it takes for the plastic applicator to biodegrade. I use tampons without applicators, so score one for me on the environmental front, I guess.
Still, I think that there is still a lot that can be done on this front and that there is room for both innovation and policy. I don’t want people to get complacent and that, just because these products exist, act like this is the end of the line. Tampons and pads should still be considered necessary items, and low income women should be helped in mitigating the cost of them, unlike the US policy of claiming that disposable diapers are not a necessity and cannot be purchased with food stamps because you can always wash out a shit covered cloth. Even more environmentally friendly single-use menstrual products can still be invented, despite the existence of these panties and cups. And, of course, please stop excluding women for whom these products are not practical from the ever necessary discussion and movement to end the shame surrounding menstruation. You don’t need pseudoscience to back up your claims, you will be respected less for using it.
And finally, and the end of this long ramble, I would just like to say that I know that there are women out there who use these products and don’t shame other women for not doing so, or who believe in pseudoscientific garbage, and I thank you for that. As I said earlier, if the panties or cups fit in nicely with your daily lives, more power to you. You are reducing your environmental impact and saving money, after all. This rant was only directed towards those who pit women against each other in this debate, and reduce everything down to either you’re brainwashed by the patriarchy, or you believe that menstrual blood is a beautiful product of Mother Gaia which should be revered. Let’s just try to find the sanity again.