Tampons Are a Feminist Issue, Though

by | July 13, 2013
filed under Feminism

linerby Jessica Critcher

I fell for the shocking click-bait and read “Are Tampons Anti-Feminist?” on The Daily Beast the other day. I get it, hyped-up titles means more web-traffic. But from what I read, their answer to the question is “Maybe,” despite the inflammatory question. I was equally underwhelmed by Jezebel’s response, “Not Everything Is a Feminist Issue, For Crissakes.”

Because people who menstruate* are affected by overlapping feminist issues, tampons should be a feminist issue (or at least part of a larger feminist conversation) and not because putting cotton inside ourselves is inherently “anti-feminist.” For the record, I do think tampons are horrible for several reasons, and those reasons stem from my feminist values.

The Environment

Tampon applicators, plastic or cardboard, are made from raw materials that are then processed into the applicators we use and throw away. Even tampons without applicators are made from raw materials that are then flushed or trashed. And this is done by millions of people, every day. You don’t have to be a crunchy granola hippie to be grossed out by the thought of this, or to see how this is not great for the Earth.

Health Concerns

Most tampons are made with a mixture of cotton and rayon, which are bleached with chemicals. Several also come with perfumes and dyes. The FDA says they’re safe, and good on them for checking. But there is something unnerving to me about factory processed materials cozied up in such a sensitive place. Especially because, in case you haven’t heard, you might find mold. If that doesn’t have you shuddering, tampons also have the potential to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can be fatal. I’m not a doctor, but this is messed up.


For one thing, there’s the cost. Purchasing tampons (or pads) every month is something I’ve come to call a “Uterus Tax.” It’s money you have to spend if you happen to shed your uterine lining every month. You just have to suck it up and pay for it with your hard earned money. And if you’re not a white, cisgender, heterosexual man, statistically, you have less money to fling around on that kind of thing.

Not to mention capitalism is fueled by the exploitation of workers, historically and currently. Just for example, let’s take a big brand-name tampon like Tampax. Tampax is owned by Procter and Gamble. P&G was founded in 1837 by two white entrepreneurs. In 1837, the global economy was fueled by slavery. And even though chattel slavery was abolished in the United States, many corporations who profited from it are still around. Today, workers in factories produce our tampons, and the heads of corporations are making billions of dollars because we buy them.

It should also be noted that as much as I dislike tampons, the ability to buy and use them is a marker of First World privilege. Many people in developing countries lack access to basic menstrual hygiene, missing school or work and often suffering health complications as a result.

And I’m sure there are even more issues that escape me at the moment. Jezebel, I like you and no hard feelings, but on this we disagree. Tampons can and should be part of feminist conversations. It’s more complicated than a simple yes or no question, so it’s not fair to shut it down with a definite yes or no answer.

P.S.: My Two Cents– Some Alternatives to Disposable Pads and Tampons

I don’t have a solution to destroy or totally escape capitalism. I care about the environment and I would like to not actively wreck it. I’m sure there are lots of things besides tampons that are also slowly poisoning us. But I happen to know a few ways to get around tampons if anyone is interested.

Menstrual Cups. If we’re on a first name basis, I have probably already confessed my undying love for The Diva Cup, which is a reusable menstrual cup made of silicone, produced in Canada. There are other brands, if you want to shop around. I bought one for about $40 in 2010. And I haven’t had to buy a tampon since. In three years. A friend covertly asked me to borrow a tampon, and I realized I had forgotten they even existed. I am exempt from paying the Uterus Tax to The Man.

If you don’t like touching your body down there, or the idea of dealing with your blood that up-close, [which is another post for another day] there are also washable pads and liners. I have some from Lunapads— they even sell liners in a kit with The Diva Cup. Or, you can support crafty retailers and browse places like Etsy. I recently bought some liners from Mama Kloth with Star Trek characters on the back. (Not the side you bleed on. The other side. Bleeding on Spock would feel weird.)


*Not all women menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a woman. The idea that woman = uterus = menstruation is very limiting.

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  • peg

    I really loved using tampons. Mute point for me now. For me the bigger issue is still: Don’t tell me what to do with my own body. My body my choice. I guess if it were ancient times I would be the gal with the sponge or the cotton ball from the field. We should all be free to use what we like without guilt or shame.

  • Anastasia

    Brocade, Velvet and Faux Fur, these are what my monthlies are made for, lol! Soft pretty and SO ME! and yes companies like LunaPads that help OTHER PEOPLE get ahead on what we take for granted is another reason as well!

  • Just saw your post thanks so much for linking my store! For the pads I just wanted to make sure that the fleece is always the side facing down as it is water resistant and wont absorb so the print side faces up. Sorry if this wasn’t clear on my listing. All the pads that I sell with water resistant fleece are worn with the print side up :) You will have much better results . Feel free to email me if you have any questions Im happy to help!

    • Thanks for the tip– haven’t gotten a chance to use them yet. Most of the ones I see are usually print side down, so I just assumed. It was mostly a joke, but now guess it’s going to be like that with Spock. Of course I would go out of my way to be explicitly wrong about it. Haha.

  • The Flow

    Feminist issue? Sure you have a choice, and you don’t have to justify it . . . I wager that the profit that accrues from the branding of youth to make life long customers does not do anything to change the warped values around gender issues. Just the opposite.

    Wait a minute! Did I write the original post?
    Nope, I didn’t like the cup much. I’ve been wearing my all cotton Luna Pads for more than ten years. No more Sad Vagina Syndrome!

    I don’t feminise the Earth much but it is undeniable that the planet is in trouble.

    If eighteenth century ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers are taken into consideration as still having a mobilizing effect on the control of the female: 1) First I think of an eighteenth century woodcut of an upper class man standing on a pedastal holding the reins of a bridle resting on a womans’ head, she is seated in a lower position with the bit in her mouth. Female was considered to be of the earth, base and not worth a thinkers time or consideration.

    2)Now it is just a strong feeling I have, I haven’t done any study- but painting the ills of the planet as a continuation of subjugating the earth in the pursuit of profit and power . . . Governments and Corporations seem like great apes to me, bouncing around and beating their chests for Dominance against their competitors.

    2)Liberating myself as much as I’m able, from market profit and consumerism and being aware of how the (genderless) pyschologists, artists,
    statisticians etc. create and control our emotions and reactions with advertising (this I do know).

    I am a creature of the earth, as are we all, and if the collective buying power of the average North American woman (which is many billions of dollars more than mens’) were brought to bear on developing alternative: communities, feeding ourselves with compassion, educating women, ______ (that’s a blank for your cause.)our world and our values, including gender issues, would be far different.

    About those who think it is ok to throw away tampon applicators. I have to disagree as we must all be responsible for our consumption choices. We must choose between what is easy and what is right. I may not have children but I am blessed to know what is right for me.

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  • a

    This tampon argument is stupid. When I was kid parents were against tampons because you might touch yourself and decide you like it or it might signal you were sexually active. I hate pads because they cause chaffing and rashes. And those cup things don’t fit all viginas. I know because mine kept slipping and the instructions said there are a small amount of women that might be “too small” and they only make one size because it’s a small percentage. (REALLY?????) So I use tampons and you can get organic tampons.

    I don’t think tampons are sexual and any living creature is bad in general for the environment. We all exploit the earth just by living on it. We’re never going to stop using it’s resources. Does that mean we should turn the world into a trash can? Obviously we shouldn’t.

  • Lily

    Yes, I do think that tampons are bad for the environment-but then, so are lots of things! Like those plastic hoops, like what they show in Happy Feet, where the penguin gets it stuck round it’s neck. That doesn’t make it a feminist issue. And may I also point out that tampons are rarely harmful to the human body-you have to take it out every 8 or so hours-but otherwise it basically just sits there, and you may say “Yes, but what about this time! And no, this has happened before!” because nothing is going to be exactly the same every time-that’s like saying one person spontaneously combusted 50 years ago, and so we are all going to die and become engulfed in flames in the next 24 hours. Also, we have to buy all of our products-toilet paper, soap, clothes, FOOD, WATER. Surely the ‘goal’ of tampons isn’t to make loads of money-there are plenty of people who actually want to wear tampons. And if you’re the one saying I have to buy my tampons every month, then you are agreeing that they are something you need and want to wear, instead of something society demands of you. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to go out and buy your tampons, are they? It’s your choice.