Many environmentally friendly campaigns that use slogans such as “Protect Mother Nature” and “Heal our Mother, Earth”, fail to consider the implications of directly connecting the female gender to nature, especially when one exists in a predominantly patriarchal society. To quote the writer Sarah Milner-Barry, “the idea that women and nature are inherently linked is a tacit of their mutual exploitation… when women are seen as “closer” to nature, it also makes them easier to subordinate, just as nature itself is everywhere devalued and subordinated” (Milner-Barry 2015). In efforts to empower and revalue the importance of women and the environment, this article highlights significant phenomena that aids harm to both women and the environment simultaneously. Just as we have, for so long, exerted control over the environment and it’s resources, we have also exerted control over women’s bodies and their menstrual health. The stigma and taboo of menstruation have also contributed to the production of disposable, single-use sanitary products. In the United States alone, an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are disposed annually. In addition, traditional “sanitary” pads can contain up to four plastic bags; plastic tampon applicators are used once and then thrown away, many of which end up in oceans and eaten by fish that mistake the small plastics for food (Charley Ross, 2018). The use of plastics in pads and tampons is detrimental to the environment, and the health of women as well.
Many of the chemicals and bleaches used in feminine products have been proven to have adverse side effects, including cancer, infection and more. However, there has never been a research study to specifically address the effects of these chemicals found in feminine products, and the implications for women and women’s health. For example, plastic chemicals like BPA and BPS are known to disrupt embryonic development, and trigger diseases like cancer and heart disease (Mercola 2013). In addition, chlorine bleach is added to give sanitary products their pure white, “clean” look. Chlorine bleach often disintegrates into the chemical dioxin; Dioxin is a greatly dangerous chemical, which the EPA regards as having no “safe” exposure level. Actually, dioxin is the toxic chemical of Agent Orange, and accumulates in fat cells over time. Research studies report that even trace levels of dioxin exposure may lead to abnormal tissue growth, immune system suppression, hormonal disruption, and other phenomena. To make matters worse, pads and tampons are also laced with odor neutralizers, artificial fragrances, colors, adhesives, polyesters, polyethylene (PET), and a soup of other chemicals (Mercola 2013). One may wonder if it even matters, since we do not eat our pads and tampons, but wear them. Unfortunately, eating our feminine products could actually be healthier than wearing them; our saliva and digestive enzymes at least know how to metabolize and flush out toxins. The skin around and inside the vagina is a thin, permeable membrane separating the outside from the inside of the body. The skin membrane is a direct source of entry for chemicals, those of which will not be metabolized, but absorbed directly into the blood stream.
Both women and the environment have been forcibly controlled, and physically harmed, repeatedly throughout history. Safer and more sustainable solutions exist for women’s hygiene, many of which are incredibly simple to adopt. Plastic tampon applicators are a wasteful, unnecessary luxury. In fact, only in America are tampon applicators so popular; in Europe and other parts of the world, mainly “digital” tampons are sold (applicator-less tampons to be inserted with your finger) (Spinks, 2018). Reusable products are also available, and have become more popular with the production of the Diva Cup, and others. If you want to learn more about these issues, consider reading the articles listed in the works cited of this post. Unless more people demand for such alternative products, both women and the environment will continue to be exploited; we must continue to educate ourselves to modes of empowerment for both women and the environment.