In consideration of Menstrual Hygiene Management (#MHM) Day a friend asked me, as someone who has been working on this issue for over 20 years, how it feels that it is finally “having its day”.
The short answer is wonderful: I feel excited and vindicated, but more importantly inspired that the issue now has global legs, its own political nomenclature – menstrual equity – and new bold cultural milestones coming up on a seemingly-daily basis. I actually wish that it could be re-named Menstrual Freedom day, in order to encompass all of these diverse areas of impact.
When I started out in the MHM field in early 90s (it would not have been considered a field at that point!), I wanted to create a product that would solve the persistent bladder infections I was experiencing following the onset of my periods. Not wanting to use plastic and chemically laden disposable pads, I decided to marry my love of design and textiles and create my own set of cloth washable pads. Lunapads were “born”. This time in my life also coincided with eliminating hormonal birth control from my routine, and, for the first time in my life, I was truly experiencing my menstrual cycle in its most natural form.
Until that time in life I had never confronted a personal social taboo. I had attended marches and sit-ins and protests, however something about the act of taking the evidence of my beautifully-functioning body and – rather than throwing in in the garbage – gently squeezing the menses out of it with my bare hands felt radical and beautiful and like a major f*ck-you moment to every bit of cultural indoctrination that I had ever had around it.
I had walked through the looking glass, and it felt amazing, but also scary: what had taken me so long, and what other bits and pieces of internalized misogyny did I still have to uncover and exorcise? If I had to choose just one word to describe it, it would be liberation. Liberation from the shameful lies of “disposable convenience”, “sanitary protection” and, worst of all on so many fronts, “feminine hygiene”.
Even now, every now and again someone still comes along with and “Ewww: isn’t it gross to actually touch it?”, however rather than being irritated, I am always quick to acknowledge that their reaction is perfectly consistent with their cultural conditioning. This is one of my all-time favourite blog posts on the topic.
There were a few works at the time – the early 90s – that highly influenced me, namely Karen Houppert’s The Curse (a follow up from her ground breaking New York VIllage Voice article, The Truth About Tampons), Penelope Shuttle’s The Wise Wound and Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women’s Sanitary Products. Lugging these along with my handmade stacks of pads and period underwear to craft fairs, I was a one-woman revolution that struggled to find converts, and invariably came away with new recruits.
For all that Suzanne and I are more than aware of the acute issues that MHM Day seeks to address, we are still shocked by how brutal and persistent cultural taboos continue to be. As an example, during a recent visit to New York we heard a first-hand account of the Nepalese practice of chaupadi, a custom where menstruating girls are physically isolated from the safety of their homes and villages and forced to sleep in filthy, highly vulnerable shacks.
Or take health and environmental issues closer to home: thanks to the dedication of Women’s Voices for the Earth, we are starting to amass much-needed research into the long-term impact of the standard ingredients of disposable menstrual products.
There has been a seismic shift in public policy and lawmaking, radical art, groundbreaking marketing campaigns and cultural moments: there’s no going back.
Today is a very good day indeed, and I wish this to be true for every menstruating individual: that whatever continues to block or shame or tax or ridicule or in any way impede your needs or consciousness around your cycle, that it be healed and met. Our bodies truly are sacred temples, filled with mysteries that no amount of medical research will ever truly reveal. Take the amazing opportunity to love ourselves through loving our period and cycles, and/or those of us around us. Even after so many years, I am still unbowed in my passion and commitment, and breathless with anticipation to see where this revolution is taking us.
Image credit: Menstrual Hygiene Day, menstrualhygieneday.org