Forget the "Woman Gynecologist"
by Stacy Graber
You don't have to be a casualty in "The Great Tampon
Wars" staged by the major pharmaceutical companies. The rag cartels are
manipulating images of female bodies and exploiting those images for financial
gain, as they always have. But where does this leave women? Should we really
choose between Tampax or O.B.? Is it really relevant whether a "woman
gynecologist" designed our tampon? Are we buying into commercial pitches
about femaleness rather than recognizing that we should make our own decisions?
In the world of product consumption, problems do not create products -
products create problems. Humiliate women into believing that their
menstural blood is filthy unnatural and uncontainable, and you've created a
specialized market for myriad deodorizing, prophylactic and stabilizing devices
Is that bad? Yes. Consumers may confuse authority and need (e.g., because
a "woman gynecologist" created this you need it).
However, even the Food and Drug Administration isn't always clear on what
women need. Remember the toxic shock crisis and the removal from the
marketplace of those high-absorbency tampons made of polyester foam and
carboxymethylcellulose? Unfortunatly, celver advertising erases memories
fo the crisis, and momentarily conscious consumers are quickly recaptured
with "new and improved" promises.
But if you're determined to stay away from mass-marketed products, there
are options. Using alternative products also protests the abuses of
science and commercial culture. Because their use threatens the medical
and economic establishments, they are seldom encouraged by physicians and
other Western medical practitioners. Fortunatly, most of these products
are available at the neighborhood co-op or natural foods market or
directly from their manufacturers.
We identified one company that offers tampons that are very different from
the ones you're used to. Naracare is an applicator-free tampon made of
natural cotton. If you've developed dryness and itching from tampon use in the
past, products like Natracare may solve the problem. Another plus is that no
bleach, chlorine, fragrance or optical whiteners are added. One disadvantage
to mass-market tampons is the bleaching process. A byproduct of bleaching
wood products, such as rayon used in many national brands, is dioxin, which
is a naturally occuring chemical considered potentially dangerous in high
doses. Women who use chlorine-bleached brands may be subjecting themselves
to higher levels of dioxin than are naturally present in their system.
Tampons, a fairly recent invention, are not the only form of feminine
protection available. Generations of women before us used rags - hence
the unsavory euphemism for menstruation, "on the rag." In addition to
being economical and sanitary, cloth rags are more ecologically sound
than are disposable items. A women-owned company in Portland, Ore.,
machine-washable and reusable organic cotton pads that rival the ones
our grandmothers used to snip. These rags function like a duvet - cotton
liners are enclosed in a cloth envelope that fastens around the crotch of
your panties. However if the idea of buying rags seems ludicrous, cut up
and old cotton bed sheet or fold and create your own.
Another form of protection used in many countries is the sea sponge - the
natural kind, not man-made cellulose. These peaceful Poriferas absorb
moisture and fit perfectly to the contours of your body. Prior to initial
use, inspect the sponge for foreign material and boil it for one to two
minutes. After use, rinse the sponge in warm soapy water and then reinsert.
You can deodorize your sponge in a vinigar-and -water solution. Also, choose
sponges from Caribbean or Floridean waters rather than the Mediterranean due
to the prevalence of oceanic pollutants in this variety, suggest the
editors of The New Our Bodies Ourselves.
A woman-designed device called "The Keeper" is a reusable, rubber cervical
cap that collects menstrual fluid. Its application is similar to that of a
diaphragm. The rubber device is worn near the vaginal opening, situated
behind the pubic bone and extended back behind the cervix. The cap cleans
up easily, and is has a life expectancy of up to ten years. This is in
contrast to the three thousand dollars a woman will spend in her lifetime on
disposable products, says Lou Crawford, manufacturer of "The Keeper."
Extraction is a means of mentrural management that began in the Seventies in
the United States when advanced women's self help groups researched abortion
technique, according to The New Our Bodies Ourselves. In extraction
the uternie lining is removed via a small, plastic tube called a cannula. The
procedure not only has the potential to terminate a pregnancy in the early
stages, but also may eliminate the discomfort of a period. Extraction is not
available to women through public health care facilities and is illegal in
For more inforamtion, write to the manufacturers below or look for
other products and information at women's clinics, at health food stores,
or in books.
- Natracare, LLC, 191 University Blvd. Suite 294, Denver CO 80206
- Gladrags, PO Box 12751, Portland OR 97212 (800) 799-GLAD.
- The Keeper, PO Box 20023, Cincinnati OH 45220