An eco-feminist take on “the rag”

As I’ve promised in the past, this blog is not just about me and my voice. I have been quietly cultivating a crew of feminist writers (hopefully regular contributors!) to speak about topics close to their hearts. After all, I don’t represent every woman nor every feminist. (And before I forget, many, many thanks to the fabulous people who are taking up the challenge and being so generous with their time as to write for my humble little blog!)

Today’s post comes Natalie Everett, a native Las Vegan and UNLV grad now living in Canada. I’ve never met Natalie in person. In fact, we have met because of this blog and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy because building community is my number one goal. And her article here is definitely not a subject I would tackle, but I am so excited that she did!
A Greener Period

by Natalie Everett

The news about the Western world’s role in global warming is infinitely more embarrassing than the spotting in your jeans. While there’s a lot of advice out there on how to green every nook and cranny of our lives, there’s one nook that is definitely ripe for some greening: our vaginas.

Periods account for 250 to 300 pounds of waste materials produced in the average American woman’s lifetime, in the form of tampons, their applicators, pads and packaging material. Not to mention the emissions involved in trucking pluggers and huggers across the country for distribution.

There are several products available to women who desire a more eco-friendly lifestyle and who want to be comfortable in their own body and with its functions. Since these products are reusable, alternative menses products require a bit more intimacy in their use. Most of us will admit that handling our menstrual flow isn’t something we would volunteer for. But maybe it should be, according to representatives from LunaPads and DivaCup as well as online testimonials of women using their products.

Periods, they say, are nothing to be ashamed of or squeamish about. In fact, maybe tampons and pads are the things we should be worried about, with their chemically-bleached cotton and rayon and their propensity to cause dryness, infection, or worse, Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Disposable feminine hygiene products are a bit metaphorical in that they further society’s notion that periods are something taboo, something to wrap in toilet paper and shove to the bottom of a wastebasket, to the point where women are grossed out by their own well-functioning body.

Menstrual flow is a powerful fluid – anyone who’s had to soak their panties can attest to that. The flow symbolizes woman’s supreme power to create life. And here we are flushing this power down the toilet just as fast as it came.

Proponents of the products don’t say we should capture and save our flow – the idea is still to get rid of it with swiftness and sanitation. But just taking the five seconds to note the consistency, coloration and volume of our flow while emptying a silicone cup or rinsing a cotton pad is five more seconds spent contemplating our status and power as women than before.

Longer-lasting, non-disposal cups, sponges, and cloths were in use by our un-squeamish ancestral sisters long before there was disposable anything (the expression ‘on the rag’ didn’t come out of thin air, after all). The Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Web site painstakingly documents all the rudimentary and space-agey hygiene products of yore, complete with pictures of stained relics.
So in the name of your great-grandma’s ingenuity, embrace your femininity by choosing one of the alternatives below for your next cycle (and hopefully many subsequent cycles). All are remixes of tried-and-true methods and go one step further than reducing waste (as o.b. tampons do) and doing less harm (as organic, recycled material tampons do).

Low Impact: Sea sponges. These are just what they sound like and do just what you’re thinking: they soak up your goods for up to six hours, and then you wring, rinse and repeat. Coastal women are suspected to have used sponges for thousands of years. Sellers recommend you carry more than one sponge and an empty plastic baggie with you when you’re out and about, in case you have a problem with rinsing your fluids in a public restroom sink. Sponge sellers claim them to be sustainably harvested and completely natural. These are not a vegetarian option, since by definition the sponges were once sea creatures. They generally come in packages of two or three and last up to one year each.

To clean: After use, rinse and wring the sponges and then soak in a solution of either ½ cup hydrogen peroxide and ½ cup water, one tablespoon of baking soda and one cup of water or 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and one cup of water. The sponges can be just rinsed and used again, but a soaking between uses is recommended.

Find at: jadeandpearl.com

Lower Impact: Cloth pads. Made from super-absorbent cottons such as flannel, these pantyliners are worn and then thrown in a wash load. The 18th century favorite, today’s cloth pads come in fun, crazy patterns, have snaps and velcros on the wings to hold them in place, and can be used for years.

To clean: Pads should be soaked in cold water before thrown in the wash. If they are, they can certainly be thrown into a wash with other clothing or towels. They are just as sanitary as the underwear you probably already wear. They will shrink a bit in the dryer, so beware.

Find at: lunapads.com, gladrags.com or make your own: type “homemade cloth pads” into a search engine and follow the instructions.

Super Low Impact: The menstrual cup. In the 1930s, the cup was introduced. Unfortunately, this was the same decade that the disposable tampon came out and it failed. It was reintroduced to eco-savvy and money-conscious grrls in the 1990s. Inserted like a tampon, the device fits inside your vagina at the base, catching menstrual flow while leaving intact your vaginal pH. Made of natural rubber or medical-grade silicone, it can hold up to one ounce of fluid (the typical period involves up to four ounces total) and can be worn for 12 hours at a time. A single cup can last for years.

To clean: During flow time, wash the cup in hot soapy water at least twice a day. Between cycles, you can boil the cup for your sanitary piece of mind, though this is not necessary. The rubber cup may cause an allergic reaction.

Find at: thekeeper.com for natural rubber, and divacup.com for silicone.

No Impact: Freebleeding. This option, though not for everyone, is likely something most women do at some point during their periods, either through a surprise visit from Aunt Flow, a forgotten pad or unabashed laziness. This was likely the only option for poor European women in the 19th century, as they couldn’t afford the fancy-pants pads of the society ladies, according to the menstral museum. But these women also wore many more layers than we do today. You can read a fun article on freebleeding here.

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8 thoughts on “An eco-feminist take on “the rag”

  1. Good article!

    I use something called “Instead”, which is disposable if used as recommended; like “The Keeper”, it is a rubber cup. But I do wash them with hot water and soap and reuse them. I’ll look into the Keeper…I’ve always felt weird about throwing all that absorbent material down the drain.

    BTW, the cups work fine. I think there is some fear out there of leakage, but I like them better than tampons.

  2. Holy cow – Natalie, I didn’t realize that you moved to Canadia. I hope you love it up there.

    -Jessica Brown

  3. Nice blog, I think you have written this article very well, you bring up some solid information. Thank you for sharing this information with me I really do appreciate it. Keep up the good work. Look forward to seeing what else this blog has to offer. =) TY for taking so much time working on such a great blog.

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  5. I absolutely loved the way this was written, I think a lot of women can relate to this if this was made more widely available.
    I am in LOVE with cloth pads.
    I find glad rags to be expensive. I opted for Vaj Rags and Mimi’s Dreams from Saucytots.com
    In any case, I am glad articles are out there to remind women that periods are not something to be ashamed of.
    I remember the few years before my period, I would read just about anything that had to do with periods and I would hope and pray each night my period would come. There have been days I have hated the pain that comes with my period but I would gladly go through this until the day I die. lol.

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