Reusable menstrual cups as a feminist issue and beyond
Picture this: a small bell-shaped cup, filled to the brim of your own period blood. You can see everything- the colour, the quantity, the viscosity…awesome. Honestly, I still feel a little squeamish writing that out but for that reason alone makes it super important to address. As women, we are often socialized into believing this cultural narrative that our periods are gross, unclean and an inconvenience for both ourselves and the external people in our lives. Even in recent years with a more open dialogue surrounding menstruation, we are often still living in spaces of shame, embarrassment or at the very least, awkwardness. Advertising for common menstruation products (or ‘feminine hygiene products’ because our blood is just so dirty) tends to manipulate the narrative for their own gain. For instance, how many times have you rolled your eyes at a Tampax commercial from watching a pretty, young woman rollerblading in a skin tight white outfit or jump off a boat in a white bikini. Essentially, drilling into our minds that their brand of tampon is the cure to what would otherwise be a time of the month where you are just useless, succumbed to this pathological injustice. Ah, the drama of periods, right? Acknowledging this however, situates the commercial goals of Tampons into a larger issue of menstruation perception. An increase of dialogue can reduce a certain stigma for women; the assumption that menstruation is a defect in the human experience. This is important to address because living in a world with this mentality has major consequences on our own perceptions and experiences with our health, sexuality and overall well-being.
By nature, tampons work to actively disengage us from our own vaginas and period process. We insert through a plastic applicator and remove with a long string, making absolutely sure that you do not come into contact. Above all else, tampons are manufactured to keep a “gross” experience clean and hassle free. This idea of disengagement from our vaginas can be situated into a larger feminist issue. As young women, we are rarely actively encouraged to explore ourselves, whether it be for sexual purposes or honestly, just to know WTF is going on down there. Think about who was the first person to feel the inside of your vagina. Was it perhaps an awkward and fumbling experience of teenagehood, or an exploration of your own accord. No matter the answer, shame is not needed to be felt. Sitting with this question has personally allowed me to reflect on my own relationship with myself, and thus realizing how normalized it has become to fear your own vagina.
Bringing it back in, the tampon narrative has also socialized women, and individuals (not all women get their periods and not all people with periods identify as women) to keep this part of our lives as discrete and ‘hassle free’ as possible. Think back to how many convoluted plans have we made in our lives to hide the tampon that we are bringing to the bathroom or handing over to a friend in need in the cafeteria? The period experience has been stigmatized and while yes, periods can come with its fair share of pain, discomfort, bloating etc., it should never be a source of shame.
Of late, there has been a mighty movement of women and individuals reclaiming their menstruation experience as a natural, and while often a pain in the vag, beautiful experience. With the popularization of reusable menstrual products, such as the DivaCup, people are facing their periods head on and knuckles deep. Yes, I am arguing that a small medical-grade silicon cup is a revolutionary tool.
The cup is inserted by your fingers and then sits low in the vaginal canal. In contrast to tampons and pads, it’s function is not to absorb but rather collect your flow. At the very basis of its application process, the DivaCup is encouraging us to have direct engagement with our bodies and have a visual understanding of our personal period processes. Of course, there is a learning curve. I remember sitting in my friend’s bathroom thinking to myself “how am I supposed to get this mini goblet of fire high enough into my chamber of secrets??” However, my friend MC gave me a solid point. Any new routine you start, especially when you have probably had the same one since junior high, can be intimidating. “How long did you walk around awkwardly at age 12 because you still hadn’t figured out how to put a tampon in” she said, and now, it’s probably second nature. If you decide to make the switch, be patient with yourself and know that many other people have also struggled and come out of it.
“It is scary and frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s the cleanest, most comfortable and carefree option that I have found” (Sam, 20).
The DivaCup also moves beyond the feminist frame. It is simply a more environmentally friendly alternative to tampons and pads. Per their website, the average person who menstruates uses approximately 20 pads/tampons a month which makes that 240 a year and accumulating to around 9600 in a life time (under the assumption of 40 years with a period). When you multiple that by 3.5 billion women on the planet, there is a lot of waste involved. The product lifecycle is also harmful; from the raw material extraction to the chemicals that leach into the environment via groundwater when they sit in landfills. In terms of money, DivaCups go for about $40.00 at major drug stores (including Convenience 4 U in the SUB), while this may be a larger chunk of money to drop in one go, it pays itself off quickly. Instead of spending upwards to $200 a year on packs of tampons and pads, the DivaCup lasts for five years and with the proper care there is no real strict expiry date.
“The payoff is huge!! From environmental to just better for your body… I get less cramps, I get like no UTI’s anymore. Super worth it!” (Samantha, 21)
Finally, the DivaCup is restoring dignity in an experience that takes it away from many women of the world. Women in the Global South face period stigma heavily and it is often the #1 reason why girls miss school. Women’s empowerment initiatives are a great idea until women do not have the provisions to even show up. DivaCups have been used to break the extra burden women face in poverty cycles. This also extends into our own communities as well. This alternative is extremely valuable for women in precarious socio-economic settings. Currently, there is a “Friendly Diva’s” campaign in the Halifax Regional Municipality that is working to raise $15,000 to purchase 500 cups for low-income women. Owning a DivaCup would make a significant difference to these individuals as the reusable nature of the product would eliminate monthly allocations of money to tampons/pads. As they mention, menstruation is not a luxury so hygiene should not be a privilege.
And hey, if for any reason you don’t like the idea of the cup or have tried it and hate it- you are not a failure and you can still make alternative choices that engage in these benefits. Other products, such as period absorbent panties, are making their way to the mainstream and offer an alternative to plastic and cardboard tampons. At the end of the day the most powerful way you can engage in your period is to make the choice yourself. Whatever works for you and gives you power in your own experience is valid and while the reusable cup or panties is a strong alternative, you are not a ‘bad’ person for sticking with tampons/pads.