Strawberry Days Like These

The drugstore department – Where women bleed financially

Walking along the shelves of the drugstore, the same sensation of shame around this certain stigma is attached to me like a blood-red shadow as it was during my very first purchase. My gaze brushing the sequence of tampons, pads and more tampons. The price embellishing the products like a flashing neon sign. “What do champagne, yachts and tampons have in common?” – They are imposed the luxury tax in most countries around the world. The highest in Hungary, with a tampon tax of 27%, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Croatia with merely 2% less on the “pink-tax”. Regardless of where in the world, most menstruators have the opinion that the need for these blood-stopping products makes a big hole in one’s finances. Subsequently, it is the perfect instrument of discrimination against every menstruating person. 

Against common misconception and ignorance not only women bleed during “those days of the month”, but everyone with a cervix, which includes transgender men and non-binary people. From the menarche (the first period) to the menopause a menstruating human being needs between approximately 10 000 and 17 000 pads and tampons. Consequently, the usage leads to a considerable financial sum, which does not yet include the pain killers most need or the excessive consumption of chocolate the majority calm themselves with. Furthermore, this sum is especially hard to pay if one is still in training or homeless and needs to watch every penny. 

On the bleeding edge?

With a sigh, I reach for my usual brand of pads – up to 100% dryness and comfort. An exhalation that not only refers to the high price but also the fact that, in a time of climate change and environmental conscience, we all should consider the waste production through pads and tampons. Eco-friendly alternatives are an option, but cotton plants are thirsty, thus the production generally is not especially ecological. Besides, the majority of sanitary products use non-organic cotton to which chemical pesticides and fertilizers are applied. 

Moreover, the plastic pollution that comes with the purchase of these toiletries is not insignificant. Firstly, the strings of tampons often are strengthened with plastic, and some people use applicators. Additionally, the adhesive on sanitary pads is of polyethylene or polypropylene because of its thin, flexible and leak-proof properties. Not making these cleanliness items any more environmentally friendly, they usually use plastic packaging for hygienic reasons and plastic bags can be found in most bathrooms to dispose of these articles. To top it off, the majority of our vagina-plugs contain chlorine and dioxins for bleaching as well as odour neutralizers and dyes, which are all chemicals the earth soaks up when they sit in landfills.

According to Global Citizen, about 800 million people have their menstruation daily. Even if only a quarter of these people have the resources to use panty liners or tampons during their period, the amount of waste resulting remains substantial. Admittedly, I personally have not yet been able to bring myself to buy an alternative like a menstrual cup, because my scepticism still has the upper hand. Anyways, the debate around these cups is only relevant for the privileged, since this sustainable invention is based on the concept of regular washing. For this reason, its use poses a big risk of infection for those who do not have access to clean water. But such circumstances generally stay unmentioned. 

Mother nature’s gift

Even in countries that are considered developed societies the monthly bleeding is seen as a no-go topic. Women everywhere feel the need to communicate in their own secret language instead of talking about this natural process openly. Either they are riding the red moose or currently have a visit from Aunt Flo. Some have a Ferrari in their subterranean garage, are checking into the Red Roof Inn or are part of the Red Wedding. Various names for the four to seven days a month involve Red Moon Time, Shark Week or Lady Time. Period, cycle and “that time of the month” have turned to broadly accepted synonyms for menstruation and regarded as more exceptional are terms like Bloody Mary, Satan’s Waterfall or Crimson Tide. 

To save the male population from being confronted with this bloody matter, we have created a jargon around the female cycle. However, it is mostly euphemistic and contrasts the common abdominal pain of the monthly ovulation. Along with this, the advertisements around this topic always assure absolute discretion. This means, from a young age on girls are made to believe that menstruation is a topic one only talks about behind closed doors.

Blood sisterhood

The 28th of May is the celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day. With half the population menstruating for a considerable amount of their lives should there not be more focus than one day of the year? Even in today’s society, the healthcare we broadly associate with “having the Fetus Hotel re-wallpapered” is not self-evident in every country. The utilisation of hygiene products for the period is not as widespread as often assumed in America and Europe. 

In developing countries like Africa or India, most women fight with the tabu around the M-word. This topic still has a negative connotation, and for many, it is a sign of the uncleanliness of women. The v-corks, which are commonplace in America and the majority of Europe often do not represent a possibility in developing nations, because in many regions the fear of girls losing their virginity this way and thus not finding a man, is widespread. 

The alternatives created to replace tampons often pose a high infection risk. Some people use leaves or shreds of fabric to stop the bleeding, which could lead to health problems and additionally do not offer a lot of absorbency. Most menstruators in countries like Africa miss several days of school every month due to the fact that the pain of the menstruation and the impossibility to change their DIY-pads at school force them to stay home. This means social intercourse with hygienic monthly bleeding does not only demand certain products it also requires appropriate education in society.

Old times and bad blood 

The bashful feeling that nests in my lower abdomen every time I walk to the checkout with the menstrual items in my hand was not long in waiting this time. Every time I am in this situation, the thought crosses my mind that merely decades ago, I would not have been able to purchase these products as easily. For centuries this process in the womb that follows the ovulation was regarded to be a sign of inferiority and a consequence of sinful behaviour. Until the 20th-century people believed these fluids from the female body were toxic and dangerous. Free flow was considered a necessity to cleanse women. 

In chapter 13 “Remarkable circumstances connected with the menstrual discharge” of Pliny the Elder’s work “Natural History”, the Roman author talks about menstruation. He writes: “On the approach of a woman in this state, must will become sour, seeds which are touched by her become sterile, grafts wither away, garden plants are parched up, and the fruit will fall from the tree beneath which she sits. Her very look, even, will dim the brightness of mirrors, blunt the edge of steel, and take away the polish from ivory. A swarm of bees, if looked upon by her, will die immediately; brass and iron will instantly become rusty, and emit an offensive odour; while dogs which may have tasted of the matter so discharges are seized with madness, and their bite is venomous and incurable.” 

The creativity in matters of creating methods for blood-absorption seemed limitless in the past. Soft papyrus, gauze strips wrapped around wood pieces and wax-covered fabric rolls. Menstruating people in ancient times also used tampon-like cotton pieces along with moss, animal skin and grasses to stop their bleeding. Since the usage of underwear was very unusual until the 19th century and in the Middle Ages sometimes even forbidden, many women just let the blood flow down their legs while working at home or in the field. Only since the Industrial Revolution countries like France and America started to produce sanitary pads and from then on the production boomed. 

Magic menstruation 

Instead of living in discretion and shame towards this topic, we should be able to talk about it openly. Half of the population experiences menstruation at a stage of their life. Secrecy in regards to monthly bleeding not only oppresses those effected but also poses a risk for proper sanitation. Furthermore, to say it in the words of Ani DiFranco in her song “Blood in the Boardroom”:

It ain’t no hassle, no, it ain’t no mess

right now it’s the only power

that I possess

these businessmen got the money

they got the instruments of death

but I can make life

I can make breath

Menstruation is not a sign of uncleanliness or inferiority – it is a representation of the wondrous abilities of the uterus.

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