by Rayanne Asuncion //
Menstruation: a natural bodily function that remains a taboo in 2021. From secret tampon exchanges under the table, to hormonal acne, to bringing your entire bag into the bathroom stall just to replace sanitary products, people with periods are socially conditioned to feel ashamed and disgusted at that time of the month. The shame surrounding menstruation rings loudest within the social sphere but has bled into other topics of discourse (yes, pun intended). Period shame has subversively seeped into the environmental sphere; the topic of period waste has become more prevalent in the environmental community than ever before. Like most articles regarding plastic waste, the rhetorical approach of environmental advocacy heavily relies on appealing to the readers’ guilt and shame. Take this passage, fashioned in the typical language of informative articles, as an example:
“Tampons, pads, and pantiliners are staple items for people with periods. Packs of pads and pantiliners are often encased in plastic; then the individual pads and liners themselves are wrapped in another plastic film. Tampons are usually fitted with plastic applicators or cardboard applicators dipped in plastic for easy application. Not to mention, all of the sanitary products are single use items, unable to be recycled. They are made to be used and immediately thrown away.” The average person uses around 11,000 tampons in their lifetime.
Click on any link to an article about period waste, and they will be chock full of statements like the last of this passage: a declarative, shocking statement that is simplistic for dramatic and lasting effect. The language is crafted to violently grab our attention and infiltrate our conscience with feelings of guilt and shame. It is true, the sheer quantity of period waste that a single person creates in their lifetime is alarming, contributing to their overall carbon footprint and plastic waste production, but the rhetorical strategy is problematic and anxiety-inducing. People with periods cannot simply stop having periods for the sake of environmental impact. Instead, this information serves to unintentionally deepen the guilt associated with menstruation and inflame environmental anxiety.
A Love Letter to Menstrual Cups:
Menstrual cups are life changing. They are reusable; they eliminate the production of plastic waste and the cost of monthly tampon or pad purchases. They last for 12 hours without any leaks. They are available in different sizes and shapes, well suited for a variety of people with a period. They are sanitary, boiled before and after each menstrual cycle, and are easy to store. Menstrual cups are by far the most amazing period product I have ever tried.
Articles use alarmist language to call readers to action, then immediately offer an alternative, usually to be purchased. In this article, “A Love Letter to Menstrual Cups” may influence you to buy one, even if menstrual cups are not suitable for your period needs. Information that highlights our guilt and responsibility is supplemented by another option, one that benefits the writer and, more likely, burdens the reader. Even if a reader did switch from plastic tampons and pads to a reusable menstrual cup or period underwear, they would still be subject to the social attitudes that deprecate menstruation. While offering sustainable alternatives to curb our plastic production may be helpful, it does not negate the nuanced language that feeds us the information on the issue in the first place. It betrays efforts to eradicate the existing stigma revolving around periods, beating down a bruised menstrual dignity.
Period waste, while it is a pollutant to the environment, is not a casualty of ill intention or indifference but rather natural bodily function. People with periods need to deal with their periods, instead of feeling ashamed about the waste they are creating.