Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Bloody Ineffective

Years ago, I read an article by Caitlyn Flanagan in which she talked about a guy who had a stand-up routine riffing on a laundry detergent that advertised itself as good at getting out blood stains. The comic went on and on about who would be buying a detergent to get out blood? Serial killers? Ha ha! Flanagan pointed out that any woman could answer this question. She mentioned a time she'd been at a girls' high school on a warm day, and how the bathroom, the trash can full of blood-soaked pads, smelled like an abattoir. 

This is the phrase I remember, and I'm quoting it at almost twenty years' remove without Googling. My own bathroom trash can is currently full of pads and needing to be emptied before it reaches the abattoir stage. Blood is a reality for women of child-bearing age -- soaking it up, keeping it off our clothes, disposing of the waste. And the waste is big business. The monthly consumption in pads at our house alone indicates that we should buy stock in whatever conglomerate owns Always. 

Except for this past month, when I found myself, at a moment of necessity, at the drug store to pick up a prescription. Dashing down the feminine products aisle, I was confronted at eye level with an elegant matte package proclaiming itself to contain virtuous pads, the purchase of which would benefit girls around the globe who didn't have access to the pads we decadent Westerners take for granted. And they were organic too, nice absorbent cotton with none of that synthetic stuff that was so bad for the environment, both the global variety and the intimate environment the pad would function in. 

Well, I am a decadent Westerner who is short on time and and dripping with money, so I grabbed this handsome package. And now I'm going to be consuming the kind of laundry detergent that our comic thought was so amusing, because let me tell you something else Western science and research is good for: creating products that are effective. Why is it we don't use cotton rags anymore to soak up our monthly blood? Why is it women buy pads produced by mega-corporations with their labs and their synthetics and their R&D departments? It's because they work. It's because they don't leak blood. It's because they aren't thick and bulky. It's because the plastic wrapper doesn't come apart when you open it, and because the adhesive sticks. It's because they don't stink like an abattoir.

Is there a category of product marketed specifically for male needs that makes a virtue of not using the most effective means for the problem at hand? Old-fashioned tools, maybe, or boutique razor blades? But the message of these products is that used properly with methods of craftsmanship, they produce a higher-quality effect that modern mass-produced stuff. And women can and do use these things as well. "Virtuous" feminine products don't make these kind of claims. They rely on empathy and packaging: buy our thing because it's good for other women, and because we put it in an attractive package. Our pads may not work as well as the big-company pads, but that's okay because they're organic. You can feel good about your bulky, leaky pad, because a portion of your purchase goes to help girls in other countries, who presumably also wish not to bleed all over the place.

Empathy is a marketing tool. The only virtue of a pad is how well it works. Women (not just girls) in developing nations deserve products that soak up their blood, regardless of whether they soothe the consciences of harried women in the US. Money spent this way is money wasted. You can't stanch a bleeding heart with a maxi pad.


Rebecca said...

I have tried out menstrual cups this spring and summer. While they aren't perfect, I haven't found them to be more problematic to use than pads, just a different set of problems. Less waste, not no waste, but an improvement.

MrsDarwin said...

I don't have a problem with pads! I have a problem with pads that don't work being marketed as somehow being better for women.

Kate said...

I can't use the pads that "work" well for more than brief periods because the plastic "dri-weeve" and all the other wicking, absorbancy-tech stuff leaves me irritated in places that shouldn't be irritated. This leaves me limited to either the very cheap store brand stuff or the very expensive "all natural" stuff---and I haven't found a non-plasticky pad yet that can hold up, though the cheap ones do at least use a good adhesive!

Fortunately, there's always the belt-and-suspenders solution of tampons and full-coverage panty liners.

I've been playing with the idea of a reusable cup for years, but there are so many brands now that I hit decision fatigue very quickly when I look into it.

Agnes said...

I may be even more cynical, but one can't even be sure all this stuff about virtuously helping women in the third world is true. Even if they do donate some money, at the receiving end these things very often look differently.
Also, there is a difference in the aspect that organic pads may be less effective (in which case people might decide about their preferences) and the fact that helping third world women isn't connected to special types of sanitary pads (any big company might just as well contribute to the cause).

Julie Davis said...

Just a fun side note - there is an Indian movie on the topic of making better menstrual products available to women. It is called Pad Man, based on a true story, and was a gigantic hit. It's been on my list forever - got a great cast and so forth. You might like it as much as the Indians did! :-)