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.
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.
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.