Women bleeding from their vaginas are an age old taboo. Marketing companies can’t even say the word ‘menstruation’, using euphemisms like ‘time of the month’ or ‘mother nature’s gift’ whilst blue liquid is used to advertise the absorbency of ‘feminine hygiene’ products.
Periods are a normal part of a woman’s reproductive system, which is a vital part of our existence. This begs the questions why is it that there is such a huge profit to be made from shaming a natural biological process essential to human life?
Across the world, women’s menstrual cycles are dominated by the capitalist patriarchal structures that govern our economy. The logic of capitalism places profit above people, creating a never ending demand for new markets. This hunger for profit feeds into the territory of the body and the reproduction of life, where a commodity is created to be bought and thrown away every month alongside a negative view of the menstrual cycle.
Patriarchy demands that the bloody reality of periods has to be hidden and the humiliation around it maintained, in order for disposable menstrual product companies to continue to make a profit.
These companies prey on the fear of not being able to manage or hide your menstrual blood. There is a whole range of new products to ‘help’ with this, such as scented pads or discreet packaging.
So, what are menstrual cups and how do they fit into a revolution against the shaming of girls and women?
Menstrual cups are a re-usable device used to collect menstrual blood during a woman’s period. It’s inserted into the vagina and then emptied and rinsed out every 4 to 8 hours. It is hypoallergenic and contains no toxins or bleaches unlike most leading brands of tampons and pads which are made with harmful bleaches and chemicals. Tampons come with the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as well as increasing the chances of thrush, due to absorbing important natural fluids which are needed to keep the vagina’s flora healthy.
Menstrual cups are revolutionary because they are both safer and healthier for women and the planet. On average, a woman will use over 11, 000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime, waste that the planet has to deal with. The cup lasts for years, meaning women save a considerable amount of money, making a single investment in a sustainable product.
Whilst leading period product companies push to make a profit out of the idea women should hide the fact they have their period, the whole experience of using a menstrual cup makes it impossible to ignore. In order to insert, take out and rinse the cup, women are required to get up close and personal with their vaginas, a part of our bodies which due to shaming, many women have never even touched or looked at before.
In some parts of the world, lack of resources and the anxiety surrounding menstruation can have fatal effects. Many women use unhygienic materials to manage their periods, because they don’t have the resources for proper products or facilities, i.e. clean water to wash with, which can lead to serious health problems.
However, women across the world are finding ways to break the walls of shame built up around our bodies. In Kenya, Femme International distributes menstrual cups, with the necessary education and means of hygiene in order to use them, meaning that girls who otherwise couldn’t afford appropriate sanitary products now have a long term solution. This allows them to go to school and work where they otherwise would have been forced to take time off.
In the UK, Kiran Gandhi ran a marathon free-bleeding, ignoring the disgust of many onlookers, simply because she decided it was the most comfortable way for her to complete the task at hand. Rupi Kaur, based in Toronto, had her photo removed from Instagram because it showed a small leak of period blood on her trousers. She wrote a pertinent response challenging what she calls a ‘misogynist society.’
For decades the modern technology of mass advertising has reinforced and recreated the age old social taboos that surround menstruation. Menstrual cups break us out of disposable consumer capitalism. They defy the ideology of patriarchal capitalism where the biological process of menstruation is used as a site for shaming in order to make a profit.