Ask Amma

Disposable Pads: The Medium and the Message

In What on 11 May 2015 at 8:00 pm

What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of disposable pads?  (If there are no pros you can list only cons.) 

 –   A blogger in Chandigarh

women talking shadowWhen asked to write about the pros and cons of disposable menstrual products, I remembered what a friend told me when she decided to give cloth pads a try.  Her mother was aghast.  Why do you want to do all that washing every month? she asked.  I was so glad when disposable sanitary napkins appeared in the market, I thought at last my daughter won’t go through all the same toil I went through during those bloody periods.

Why indeed?  Her daughter, my friend, proceeded to list the various negative health and environmental impacts of disposable pads and said that she didn’t want them next to her skin, she didn’t want to generate so much trash, and she wanted to practice a solution that would be affordable on a modest income.  That it would provide livelihood locally pleased her as well.

Her mother relented.  If disposable pads had so many cons maybe the time spent washing cloth was not wasted after all.

But was that, in fact, the only pro?

The real pro of disposable menstrual products actually has nothing to do with the product itself but rather the image of the free, happy, capable woman that their advertisements promote.  Obviously they would like you to believe that their products make all this possible.  Here are some of the images that help to promote this idea:

Designed with synthetic materials, disposable sanitary napkins are thin and can be used for more hours at a stretch than their cloth counterparts – which may be a con in the guise of a pro.  But what really sells the disposable sanitary napkin is the sense of freedom to go out and about, run, jump, dance and do anything you might want to do.

In fact, this is also true of the new cloth pads and even more so of the menstrual cups.  The contemporary cloth pad is made of comfortable soft cotton or hemp cloth, cut in a way that fits snugly without bulking up, secured with a snap enclosure to stay in place and can be washed, dried and reused for years.

Because the disposable pad has positioned itself as the preferred product of the modern woman, using cloth during periods is associated with poverty and backward attitudes.  Nowhere do backward attitudes suppress women as much as in the area of menstruation.  To be free of these restrictions and regressive attitudes, the advertisements beckon, use our products. This freedom is sought not only on behalf of women in countries like India known for menstrual untouchability and other forms of blatant discrimination but for women everywhere.  As the advertisement for a popular US brand “Always” urges, “Rewrite the Rules.”

1. Make manufacturers pay for clean-up costs.  Companies making disposable products should not make municipalities foot the bill for waste disposal, or leave communities to suffer from unsafe disposal or incineration.

2. Disclose ingredients in disposable pads so that people can evaluate their health and environmental impacts.

3. Change social attitudes so that girls and women have adequate facilities at home or in hostels to wash and dry pads in the sun.

If the positive messages about “happy periods” and reassuring mother-daughter talks about menstruation do more than sell disposables but help to change social attitudes then that will be a pro that may even help women themselves evaluate the pros and cons with greater confidence.

Related: Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture
Earth and Moon: Period of Change
Menstrual Cup Now in India
The Worst Thing about the Menstrual Cup

  1. […] Disposable Pads: The Medium and the Message Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture Earth and Moon: Period of Change Menstrual Cup Now in India The Worst Thing about the Menstrual Cup […]


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