Reusable 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:
- 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.
- Invest in some pre-made reusable pads made by progressive companies including Luna Pads, Glad Rags and New Moon Pads.
- 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.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Evamaria licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
Melanie 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 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.