I do not think tampons are anti-feminist. Nor does Ingrid Johnston-Robledo or Sharra L. Vostral or Lauren Rosewarne, the three academics I spoke to for a recent article I wrote for the Daily Beast about menstrual stigma. The question "Are Tampons Anti-Feminist?" which acted as the headline for my article, is posed not once in my piece.
I initially used that title as a placeholder when pitching the article. It was a reference to how our cultural narrative uses menstrual hygiene products, particularly tampons, to promote invisibility. Academics have construed this act of hiding menstruation as anti-feminist. I did however change it (to "Plug it Up! How Our Menstruation-Fearing Culture Uses Tampons To Keep Periods Invisible"—not a vast improvement, but that's what copywriters are for) when I submitted my final copy because I realized the original title could be taken the wrong way, didn't entirely fit the article and could overshadow the whole thing. As it has done.
The article is not about tampons being anti-feminist or about pads being feminist or about the inherent feminism of any menstrual hygiene product, period. The article is about the continuing stigma around menstruation that leads our culture—through various media like advertising and pop culture—to put a premium on keeping our periods out of sight and how menstrual hygiene products factor into this culture.
In Jezebel yesterday, Erin Gloria Ryan posted a response article to mine entitled, "Not Everything Is a Feminist Issue, for Chrissakes." "So while I understand that the history of menstruation is fraught with shaming and red tents postmenstrual cleansing rituals and Carrie shower scenes, how women choose to deal with their own periods is so not an expression of their feminism or an indictment of their lack thereof," wrote Ryan.
But women don't make choices in a vacuum and to believe that they are unaffected by the barrage of mixed messages around menstruation is ridiculous. In December, in Jezebel of all places, Dodai Stewart wrote a piece entitled "F**k You, Menstruation" noting that, "As we learned when we posted readers' horrifying period stories, periods often start with shame and embarrassment, even though they're happening to little girls who have zero control of the situation. Why? Where's that shame from? Where does it come from?"
That's what I tried to answer. Not only by noting that the male body is considered the norm (thus the female body and associated menstruation is not), but that women were historically expected not to be active because they had their periods—they wanted it to be invisible precisely because of that. Tampons were created within that narrative and continue to exist within it. That is a feminist issue. As Stewart noted, "Women spend a s**tload of time and energy trying to plug a hole in a dam that's designed to burst. An unstoppable stream of vivid red, and we're supposed to do gymnastics and party in a bikini like a tampon commercial? OMFG. F**king bulls**t."
I don’t think you should spray your blood around (my last line was tongue in cheek) or stop using tampons or pads or menstrual cups, but to say that there is no stigma around menstruation is further stigmatizing and, to use Stewart's words, "f**king bulls**t." To say that menstrual hygiene products, which are part of that culture, do not feed into it in some way is also "f**king bulls**t." To say that we make choices about our own periods without being affected by this culture is "f**king bulls**t" too.
"CAN'T WE EXPRESS OUR DISPLEASURE WITHOUT BEING BELITTLED OR PATRONIZED OR THE OBJECTS OF BIAS?" Stewart asked. Apparently, no, we can't.