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The Conundrum of Green Menstruation; Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Other Stories

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Personalised green menstruation is the latest trend in the market. From organic pads packed to meet individual cycle requirements to reusable menstrual cups, manufacturers are keying in on discussions on sustainability.

One thing I’m sure we all have noticed is that their marketing appears to be mostly online. Advertisements in mass media; television and print predominantly continue to focus on the typical disposable sanitary napkin, as green menstrual products feature in a more digital niche. Why? If the ultimate goal is sustainability, why is everything green far more expensive?

The forces working behind green menstruation make for good plot devices, telling multiple stories of moral dilemmas, inequalities, and privilege.

It comes as no surprise that the exploitative nature of capitalism is a key antagonist, not just in the story of green menstruation, but of sustainability itself. Marketing has fed us so many ideas about sustainability equaling environmentally friendly, that we fail to realise that firms conveniently forget the other two elements: the social and the economic. Real sustainability requires a revolution in all three fields. However, eco-friendly materials are far too expensive, requiring the consumer to ultimately bear the costs.

The relative exclusivity of certain products like silicon-based menstrual cups and bamboo fiber sanitary pads; their digital marketing and availability in select locations, reflects a pre-constructed idea of target demographics and spending. Green menstruation is ultimately a costly privilege.

There is also the capitalistic notion of greenwashing, the more permanent cousin of the more seasonal pinkwashing. RIOPads in one of their blog posts mention that the idea of a 100 percent eco-friendly pad is at the end of the day, nothing but a marketing fad. Still the compulsive guilt-tripping strategy of advertisements, especially among the classes able to afford these products, makes them cave in to 'do their bit for the environment.

Much of this shaming for the kind of products a menstruating individual uses is rooted in patriarchy. While menstrual waste contributes about 113,000 tonnes of material to Indian landfills, it also remains true that this share is less than three percent, according to reports from the Central Pollution Control Board. Regardless, the severity attached to reporting on the polluting nature of menstruation (a biological process!) is much harsher and urgent to more mechanical industrial development activities.

Menstruation is a process that sits at an intersection of reproducing caste and gender-based inequalities and is hence stigmatised. To criticise the choice of the more commonly available products, without attempting to eradicate the period taboo, is frankly a ridiculous farce. Not to mention that the (expensive) alternatives too are sometimes deemed taboo; the ‘penetrative’ nature of menstrual cups is a little too close for comfort, particularly in Indian societal rulebooks.

Grappling with green menstruation is thus a pandemonium, both at the broader societal level as well as an individual moral level. With multiple voices and plot devices and actors, there appears to be no one size fits all solution as of yet.

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