Our bodies have been medicalized and stigmatized, and for the most part, it seems there’s no escaping it. The menstruating person has been seen as “other” for as long as you can imagine time going on. Even in cultures where menarche is celebrated, the rituals are still steeped in the male gaze. In my opinion, there are a few ways to deconstruct the narrative that menstruation is dirty, nasty, or unclean. My favorite, though, is through the use of reusable menstrual products.
The DivaCup is probably the most well-known reusable menstrual product. It’s a menstrual cup, which is designed to sit inside the vaginal canal and collect the blood. Once it’s full or after twelve hours, you remove the cup by breaking the suction, dump the blood, and rinse it out. Then, you can reinsert it, or you can boil it to sanitize it. But did you know there are dozens of brands of menstrual cups, which fit different people more comfortably? The height of the cervix, the flow of the menstrual blood, and the size of the vaginal canal all affect whether a particular cup will fit a single person or not, which is probably why many people experience the cup getting stuck.
The next most well-known product is probably cloth pads, or pads that you wash and reuse. Popular brands include Lunapads and Glad Rags. They can last up to five years with proper care, which basically involves washing in the correct way – no fabric softener or dryer sheets, both of which can affect the absorbency. Even though there are popular brands you can purchase, did you know you can make them yourself quite easily, even with things around your house? Tons of videos and tutorials are online, but the easiest way to do it is to use a waterproof fleece blanket for the back, an old t-shirt for the top, and an old towel for the center. All clean of course.
Then, there’s period underwear. The most well-known brand, Thinx, has been in the news lately for battling the NYC subway and taxi televisions for the right to advertise. Their product, period underwear, is a means of collecting period blood without needing another product in your underwear or vaginal canal.
Probably the least well-known of reusable menstrual products is the reusable tampon. These can be sea sponges, crocheted, or sewn tampons. Sea sponges can even be trimmed to the right size, wetted and then inserted into the vaginal canal. Crocheted and sewn tampons can be bought from stores or made at home to fit one perfectly, and are also wetted and then inserted into the vaginal canal. When full, it’s removed and washed. Crocheted or sewn tampons can be washed in the machine, while sea sponges are washed by hand with specially formulated wash.
All of these options may sound fantastic to you… or they may sound disgusting. If they sound fantastic, great! Read on for more info on how they can help dismantle patriarchal bonds from our bodies! If they sound disgusting, I have a few points to make that can help you adjust to the idea of reusables.
First, what’s safer? A reusable, or a tampon or pad made of unknown materials that don’t need to be disclosed because they’re classified as medical devices? It was recently divulged by a study out of Argentina that 85 percent of tampons contained the key ingredient, glyphosate, of Monsanto’s pesticide, which is a likely carcinogen according to the World Health Organization. And many women complain of rashes and irritation on the vulva connected to the plastic on top of the disposable pad.
The “ick” factor may be affecting your decision. Think of it this way – cloth pads are doing the same thing as disposable pads, but they don’t sit in your trash can until you remember to take it out, and you can just chuck them in the washer (with or without a load of clothing) and then hang or tumble dry. If you pay attention and don’t do it on auto-pilot, there’s no touching of blood before or after the wash. As for reusable tampons and cups – these don’t have to be your first foray into reusable menstrual products (or RUMPs) if they gross you out. But remember, you’re encountering a natural bodily process, and you can only get more comfortable with your body the more you encounter it.
Next, what’s better for the environment? If you’re environmentally-minded, you may know this already, but it’s projected that women dispose of over 16,000 menstrual products in their lifetime. Compared to a set of cloth pads over five years or a menstrual cup every three to five years, and you can see the environmental benefits stacking up already.
So what about cost effectiveness? Although the upfront cost may seem steep, these products save you money in the long-run. It may be difficult to make the upfront purchase, but you can take my lead, and save up until you can afford a starter pack of cloth pads or sew your own with upcycled materials.
Finally, you may be wondering if RUMPs are trans inclusive. Although I can’t speak to all makers and all RUMP fanatics, I can tell you that the major names in cloth pads and menstrual cups are heavily involved in making sure that their products and their wording, mission, and community are trans inclusive. Lunapads made their dedication to trans inclusive language apparent in 2011, and Thinx recently debuted a video featuring a trans man who uses their products.
So you may have decided to make the switch or not. Either way, I want to tell you how you can use RUMPs to dismantle the patriarchal bonds on our bodies. Although I think making your own products is more effective at breaking down these bonds, I think that buying them from feminist shops shows solidarity and refusal to participate in a consumerist culture that is harmful to women. Buying from Etsy shops is a fantastic way to support work-at-home women and moms. Owning a business and selling these products is a great way of saying, “Fuck you!” to the patriarchy.
Second, refusal to participate in the notion that our bodies are dirty has a huge impact. In a global climate where girls are prevented from going to school because of their periods, we have a serious problem. Refusal to participate in this notion helps destigmatize periods, and makes it so that we can honestly say that our bodies are to be taken seriously and normally.
I’ve written, in the past, about menstrual taboo in religion; well, menstruation is taboo in culture, too. Until we can normalize it and say, “My body is not diseased, it is a natural function,” we will be living under a patriarchal bond that refuses to break.
From the DivaCup to sea sponges, there are a ton of alternatives to the old tampon and pad combo. They’re all safer, more environmentally conscious, and cost effective than disposables. Although some menstruators may be grossed out by blood – and, if you’re grossed out by a papercut’s blood or other blood, it makes sense – reusables are a perfectly normal and ethical choice to make.