“Our Revolution Has Style”: Contemporary Menstrual Product Activists “Doing Feminism” in the Third Wave

Abstract

An in-depth content analysis of five web sites and eight paper zines (self-produced and distributed magazines) was conducted to uncover the inspiration, content, and unique strategies associated with text -based contemporary menstrual product activism. Menstrual product activism is loosely defined as various attempts to expose the hazards of commercial “feminine protection” to both women's bodies and the environment and the promotion of healthier, less expensive, and less resource-intensive alternatives. This activism's discourse draws on many traditions to produce its resistance to mainstream menses management. The movement, first and foremost, is the legacy of several decades of related activism, dating to the mid1970s. Contemporary menstrual product activism updates and modifies this tradition with the “do it yourself” ethic and anti-corporate philosophy of Punk culture and Third Wave feminist ideals of anti-essentialism, inclusion, humor, irony, and reappropriation. To date, this activist agenda has received little scholarly attention, yet it promises to yield meaningful insight into so called Third Wave feminist theory and practice and reveal the resilience of a woman-centered modern history of resistance.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Since conducting this analysis, I have identified several more menstrual activist zines in circulation; thus, this analysis should not be construed as exhaustive but, more accurately, representative.

  2. 2.

    Feminist legend has it that “sewing societies” of the 19th century operated as places where women surreptitiously hatched strategies for gaining suffrage and staged other gender-based social change actions. For example, a popular contemporary T-shirt worn by young feminists reads “Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society.” It also appears on the back cover of one of the Bloodsisters’ zines. Whether the women designing and naming these events are conscious of this historical (though undocumented) historical reference is a matter for further inquiry.

  3. 3.

    Simply, cultural feminism, a branch of radical feminist theory, refers to the body of feminist theory and political action that celebrates the differences between women and men and invests energy into the reclamation, creation and nurturance of women's culture (see Gilligan, 1982; Rich, 1977; Ruddick, 1983) for poignant examples. One product of this orientation is the study and practice of goddess-centered spiritual traditions (see Christ, 1997; Christ & Plaskow, 1979; Gimbutas, 1989; Starhawk, 1982, Stone, 1976, for just a sampling of this vast literature that exploded primarily in the 1980s).

  4. 4.

    While Mama Sutra's Menstrual Moon Magick is no longer online, Anderberg's “vulva museum” expresses a celebration of the historical Goddess tradition and its potential for reclaiming women's power as embodied agents. See http://resist.ca/1kirstena/pagevulvamuseum1.html.

  5. 5.

    Further evidence of repair to this rift is represented in the evolution of Kirsten Anderberg herself. She reports a dramatic transformation since the mounting of her e-zine. Forged in the fire of street activism and the experience of police brutality, she grew increasingly frustrated with the status quo and grew more militant in her efforts to effect social change. She now identifies more with third wave feminists, though she subscribes to neither the separation between the waves nor the differentiation between feminists (Anderberg, personal communication, August 30, 2005).

  6. 6.

    For a classic statement of universal womanhood that obscures differences based on class, race, and sexuality, see Redstockings Manifesto (1969).

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Correspondence to Chris Bobel.

Appendices

Appendix A: An Menstrual Activist's Annotated List of Alternative Products (Adapted from RandomGirl's e-zine:. http://www. RandomGirl.com/products.html)

We all need something we can bleed on…

Clearly, I think a lot about menstrual products. I think about them, read about them, and try them. Clearly, ALL women bleed and most of us don't feel inclined to just let it flow wherever it may. It's a pretty basic need, but most women really aren't informed about the options. Is there life beyond Tampax? So, here's a quick little list for you of your menstrual product options, ranked from what I see (based on what I’ve read and experienced) as the best options to the bad ones that you should never ever use.

Washable pads

Random Girl says: You should DEFINITELY use washable pads!

Good aspects

  • They let your blood flow naturally, as it was meant to

  • NO risk of toxic shock syndrome

  • No chlorine bleaching, so no worry about dioxin

  • Reusable, hence better for the environment

  • Affordable

  • Soft and comfy

Not-so-good aspects

  • You have to be willing to wash them

  • Not so convenient when you’re out. You may have to carry the bloody pads home in a plastic bag

  • Can be bulky

  • If you just wash them by hand, they get pretty hard and crunchy, so a washing machine is needed

The Keeper Menstrual Cup

Random Girl says: You might want to try out the Keeper!

Good aspects

  • COLLECTS blood. Does not absorb blood

  • Reusable, hence better for the environment

  • No chlorine bleaching

  • Lasts for 10 years

  • Affordable

  • 3-month money back guarantee

  • You can't really feel them when you’re wearing them, much like a tampon

    Not-So-Good Aspects

  • There is a slight chance of TSS

  • It can be messy to change it, especially in a public bathroom

  • The suction effect is initially disconcerting

  • Only comes in 2 sizes, so it might not fit you perfectly

  • Takes a few tries to learn how to insert it properly

  • If you have a full bladder, it can knock it out of place and make it leak

Sea Sponges

Random Girl says: I have never used them personally, so I can't speak with authority here!!

Good aspects

  • Reusable, hence better for the environment

  • Haven't been linked to TSS

  • No chlorine bleaching

  • Affordable

  • You can't really feel them when you’re wearing them, much like a tampon

  • You cut them to the size that is right for you

    Not-so-good aspects

  • It can be messy to change it, especially in a public bathroom

  • You have to be sure to clean them really well

  • They can fly out if you sneeze or laugh when they are heavily saturated

  • Technically, they are an animal product, so they’re a no-no for vegans

  • The fact that they are being harvested from the ocean seems sketchy to me. this could be causing a problem with the ecology of the ocean

  • Since they dwell on the bottom of the ocean, they are probably chock full o’ pollutants and toxins

  • They aren't generally sold as menstrual products, so you just buy the sponges at any health food store

Non-Chlorine Bleached, all cotton tampons

Random Girl says: If you absolutely NEED to use a tampon, these are the way to go!

Good aspects

  • No chlorine bleaching

  • Convenient to wear and change

  • Organic ones are available and are not laden with pesticides

  • They generally are applicator-free, so cause less waste than traditional tampons

    Not-so-good aspects

  • There is a chance of TSS

  • More expensive than mainstream tampons

  • Absorb vaginal lubricants that shouldn't be absorbed; alter the environment of the vagina

  • Disposable and wasteful

  • Clog up septic system

Disposable pads

Random Girl says: These are not so good. if you are using pads, you should go for the washable kind!

Good aspects

  • No risk of TSS

  • Let you flow like you’re supposed to

  • Never a challenge to find where to buy them

    Not-so-good aspects

  • Use chlorine bleaching.. bad for you and bad for the environment

  • Disposable and extremely wasteful

  • bulky, scratchy and uncomfortable

  • Most are made by companies that are just evil (e.g., Proctor & Gamble (sic))

  • Since you have to keep buying them, the cost adds up

Mainstream Tampons

Random Girl says: Never, never, never, EVER use any of these things.. Tampax, o.b. and all of the rest are just awful!

Good aspects

  • Convenient

    Not-so-good aspects

  • Use chlorine bleaching. bad for you and bad for the environment

  • STRONG link between them and TSS

  • Disposable and extremely wasteful, especially the ones with plastic applicators

  • Most are made by companies that are just evil (e.g Proctor & Gamble)

  • Absorb vaginal lubricants that shouldn't be absorbed; alter the environment of the vagina

  • Clog up septic systems

  • You have to keep buying them, so they are expensive

  • They are NOT sterile! In fact, they are filthy

  • Many add deodorants that should NEVER be in a product that will be inside of your body

  • Contains artificial ingredients, such as rayon, and many other things.. companies are NOT required to label all of the ingredients in tampons

Appendix B: Paper and E-zines/Websites

Paper Zines

(Note: Specific paper zines can be difficult to acquire. Runs are typically small and when a zine runs out, there are simply no more available. Web sites were active at the time of my analysis. The contact addresses and some websites may be out dated by the time of publication. Dates of publication are given when known).

Femmenstruation rite rag: Stories of wimmin's blood and rites of passage. Created by Chantal & Brackin., July 2001. Contact: shantrel@hotmail.com

It's your fucking body. Created by Marie A., n.d.. Contact: craftyas@craftyass.com

It's your fucking body #2: Reclaim Your Cunt. Created by Marie A. n.d.. Contact:craftyas@craftyass.com

Pull the plug on the feminine hygiene industry. Created by erin w. July 2000. Contact: dialed_into_you@yahoo.com

Red alert #2. Created by The Bloodsisters Project. Contact: www.bloodsisters.org/bloodsisters

Red alert #3. Created by The Bloodsisters Project, n.d. Contact: www.bloodsisters.org/bloodsisters

Red scare #3. Created by Fawn P. Summer/Fall 2001, Contact: redscare@eudoramail.com

E-zines/Websites

Menarchy. http://www.us.geocities.com/menarchy/

RandomGirl rambles about the Keeper

www.RandomGirl.com/oldkeeper.html

www.RandomGirl.com/keeper.html

www.RandomGirl.com/products.html

the S.P.O.T.: The tampon health website. www.spotsite. org

Whirling Cervix ezine http://www.digressonline.com/lgbtplus/whirling%20cervix.html

Student Environmental Action Coaltion Tampaction Campaign www.seac.org/tampons

Bloodsisters. www.bloodsisters.org/bloodsisters

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Bobel, C. “Our Revolution Has Style”: Contemporary Menstrual Product Activists “Doing Feminism” in the Third Wave. Sex Roles 54, 331–345 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9001-7

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Keywords

  • Menstruation
  • Women's health activism
  • Third wave feminism