Menstrual Cups: An Eco-Guilt Trap or a Silicon Slide Towards Empowerment?

Michela Quecchia is a third year at KCL and a cancer survivor with an interest in healthcare and the environment. Currently juggling OCD and philosophy studies.

[Featured Image: A hand holding a silicon menstrual cup in front of green foliage.]

Social circles – i.e. how open and understanding we are towards social groups that we do not recognise as our own – periodically expand and restrict. Non-Caucasian races aside, women are one of the groups that face more restrictions and discrimination when our social circles get smaller, and one demographic that is often made to feel guilty or used as a scapegoat. As someone particularly driven by guilt, I could not help but notice how much of the drive to switch to the menstrual cup stemmed from eco-guilt. The proud feeling I got from switching to the cup and getting in more direct contact with the workings of my vagina and my period got rapidly replaced with a feeling of regret for all the period products I had used in the past, and a tendency to judge women who were not trying to go organic or zero waste on their period care. Was this yet another ploy to pit women against each other? A way to turn female empowerment into a misplaced belief of over-responsibility? Six brilliant ladies have offered their opinion on the matter.

I started this enquiry by asking my six amazing volunteers (three current and three past cup users) to complete a survey on the social and political dimension of menstrual cups. One of the questions I found most useful – and also most telling – regards the main drive that brought these women to make the switch. As suspected, a higher percentage did it because they care about their environment, with four women picking this answer. Only one woman started to use the menstrual cup because she was concerned about what she put in her body, and a sixth participant switched for other reasons, which she identified with the research for more comfort with her heavy flow, and her interest in trying period-cup sex. With four out of six women recognizing their care of the environment as the main drive to make the switch, my concerns for eco-guilt leading our decision-making process seem to gain worryingly solid foundations.

The next question sought to establish the average percentage of pressure women feel when it comes to adopting an eco-friendlier period care plan. The average answer to this question amounts to 77%, with the lowest percentage voted at 48%, which, being just below the 50 threshold, appears as yet another red flag on just how much women are conditioned to conceive their biology as damaging to the environment. However, when confronted with a direct question on whether women pollute more than men, the six interviewees came up with answers that left external influence less space to condition their beliefs than I had imagined. Four out of six women have declared the belief that women pollute more than men wrong. Alma, a physics and philosophy university student, points out the sexist connotation of calculating women’s polluting impact on menstruations, and highlights how tables can easily turn when taking into considerations different eco-conscious measures, such as veganism, which has an incredibly positive impact on the environment and has been mainly adopted by women, with 64% of UK vegans and 78% of US vegans identifying as female. Lucrezia, a student working on a thesis about climate change communication, also points out how trends that have been traditionally associated with women (such as the excessive buying of clothes or beauty products) are becoming more popular and mainstream in the male demographic. Further, while it can be true that women are more responsible for waste linked to beauty and period products, as Chiara, a postgraduate in London, explains, it seems necessary to look into the origins of this trend. We are now increasingly aware of the pressure dynamics that society makes us go through to condition our spending behaviour, and we also understand how this is heavily dictated by a male demographic that wants to control and decide upon women’s appearance and behaviour. It would then be worth studying which gender demographic is to be held most accountable for waste and pollution related to the beauty industry.

Back to periods. With two thirds of interviewees not believing women accountable for a bigger share of waste as a consequence of menstruation, the worry of menstrual cups being used as an instrument of shame and guilt has eased. More enthusiasm is gained when confronted with the empowerment force that these tiny, powerful cups possess. 100% of interviewees have found the menstrual cups to weight positively on women empowerment, with everyone mentioning either the normalization of bodily fluids largely considered disgusting, or a deeper knowledge of female anatomy and what is normal for them and their vaginas, or both. Nicky, a liberal arts graduate, also tells us that using the cup made discussing the workings of her vagina easier with her health practitioners and friends, an incredibly progressive and reassuring step in a society that sees women avoid potentially life-saving screenings such as the smear test due to fear and embarrassment.

Although I am still concerned about the possibility of cups being used as a shaming tool to make menstruating individuals feel responsible for yet another problem that afflicts our society, I have also been reminded of how understanding and open-minded my fellow women are. It is easy to fall into an eco-anxious thought system, but it is also necessary to remind ourselves that we cannot be at fault for something we are subjected to each month by human biology. Since antiquity, women have been trying to find an internal method of period care that could work best. However, men-lead phenomena such as silicon scarcity due to wars and sexual oppression have hindered us from helping our health and the planet, thus entering yet another circle of repression and shame towards our biology. Let the menstrual cup be the slide towards a more eco-conscious and empowered way of living!

Works Cited:

Imaner.net. (2019). Vegan profile. [online] Available at: http://www.imaner.net/panel/profile.htm [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].

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