Monday, August 11, 2008

On Women's Health

I knew that I would learn a great deal about women’s health on this trip. I mean, yo, I am a journalist covering the work of midwives. But despite knowing vaguely the style of which I was going to be a part, I have been really surprised by much of what I have learned. This information is worth sharing.

On several outings as a boyfriend or general homie to girls, I have been to the “feminine” aisle at drug stores and super markets to purchase tampons or pads. I have always been amazed at the breadth and specificity of the varieties of products, but general man-aversion-to-girlie-things has seriously limited any passing interest. I mean, I don't know how double dutch works either. But now the midwives have hipped me to the game. (The tampon game. Double dutch is still a mystery.)

“Feminine products” present two problems. The first is the issue of their construction. The vast majority of tampons available for purchase are bright white, crispy white tee white. They can only be such a color as a result of being bleached with chlorine. But there is trouble. The residue left from this bleaching process still contains chlorine. Chlorine, when heated against the body releases dioxin gas, which is toxic. This gas absorbs into the body and ironically produces just those things that a menstruating cat wants less of; heavier flow and cramping. “Studies now show that exposure to dioxin gas leads to increased risk of cervical cancer and infertility,” says Rachel “Imagine that you spend one week out of every month placing this gas directly into the vaginal walls which have very absorbent mucous membranes, and you can see the issue. Tampon companies have tried to cover these statistics up for years. Heavier flow means heavier consumption of the product- so it’s no big surprise that the only counter studies to the fact that dioxin gas is extremely harmful to women’s reproductive health have been funded by the tampon companies themselves.” This problem is true for pads pretty much and tampons full throttle. The answer to this problem, then is to use unbleached products ("you can buy unbleached or chlorine free tampons at any health food store and with growing popularity at many drug stores"), which are a bit more expensive. I am assured however, that they are worth it. Pretty much all of my knowledge is second hand on this matter.

The next issue arises in terms of the cost of this style. In Uganda, for instance, the average income of a woman is massively low, so much so that many women are put in a position of having to choose between food and western menstrual products. It is a bad situation, but it underlines the basic truth that pads and such take income away from women. Along this line, the disposability of these products and the kind of sanitized way that they are advertised seem to perpetuate the highly suspect notion that menstruation is something dirty. (At least that is how it looks from Chaz’s-man-land.) Perhaps it is this sense of uncleanness that prevents women from considering reusable pads. The midwives began a venture with the child mothers of st. Monicas school for girls called the moon project. Since pads are so expensive to order for 300 girls, and since their disposal clogs the plumbing at the school (Rachel says: “most trash is burned as a means of disposal, but due to the belief that burning menstrual blood makes one infertile, most women won’t burn their pads, thereby creating a large sanitary issue in a country that has no landfills.”), Olivia proposed a solution that consisted of cloth pads of her own design. The girls of the school, who are all studying to be tailors, sewed their own pads out of gangster african fabric and terry-cloth. The pads are slim and sleek and button underneath the underwear to form ‘wings’. They also gathered “moon-buckets,” which can contain the water that the pads will soak and be washed in during moon time. These pads last for two years. The girls of the school will also sell the moon pads to women in northern Uganda. Such a move creates work for the girls and presents any moon project patron with stupid savings on pads. Like two months worth of income. Seriously. But while women tend to hold more scrill points in the states, I do wonder why I never see commercials for reusable pads, or why I have only heard just now about The Keeper, a reusable tampon-ish cup that rests against the cervix during menstruation.

Yeah, so it seems to me that the tampon game has question marks all over it. Though not nearly as many as the phenomenon of birth in western obstetrics. I will have audio on this issue produced soon, but if you hit up a bookshop check out Birth as an American Right of Passage, by Robbie Davis Floyd. Also Misconceptions by Naomi Wolfe. Also Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christine Northrop.

Yeah. So the next time you ask me to hit the shop and get you tampons, I might come back with the unbleached style. Don’t be mad at me.


Kim said...

u make me smile.

Maria said...

I'm happy to be your friend.

Tara said...

Righteous, sir. The reason you haven't heard of these in western mainstream-ism is the same reason you don't hear about things that are good for you unless something is direly wrong: money. You hit the nail on the head; the companies want to make more money by making you think that their standardized, "cheap" product is the ONLY way to go. Tell enough people that they want their pads to smell like flowers, and eventually, women will think that periods are dirty. American brainwashing and capitalism, holmes. Fuckin' A.

In the girl's bathroom on the bottom floor of the MIS building at USF, there are stickers all over the place for the Moon Cup. Made me smile to know that those girls where you're hanging out are thinking the same thing.

natrylmystic said...

Can't wait to hear the audio critique of Western obstetric practice particularly as it is applied to so-called Third World women. I have my understanding of what's going on in the US, but I want to know what's going down in Uganda these days. It's a serious issue that rarely sees the light of day in terms of discussion. And honestly, before I had my oldest, I never gave any thought to the problems of obstetric care in the states. But two midwife-assisted all-natural homebirths have hipped me to the style. What's interesting, though, is that in the US, more "natural" forms of care in childbirth (midwives, homebirth or at least birth centers, birth w/o drugs, w/o foreceps, etc.) are a luxury for women of the middle and upper classes with a particular level of education. It's like shopping at Whole Foods. Once we know its healthier and better for the environment to buy natural organic stuff we commodify it and make it unaffordable to all but those with loaded pockets. I think the same goes with pre-natal care and childbirth...

EnthyAlias said...

You never cease to amaze and educate me. Thank you for this post and all of the others.

Do you return soon?