The Problem With Menstruation Innovation

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Women have been menstruating since the beginning of time but there have only been three major inventions related to them: tampons, adhesive on the back of pads (to do away with menstrual belts) and menstrual cups. That is, until recently when period underwear hit the market. Though there have been other brands, like Dear Kate before them, THINX have become the biggest period innovation in decades. THINX makes specially designed underwear to help protect against period leaks which—gasp—are the fear of every menstruating woman. The company’s mission:

By reimagining feminine hygiene products to provide support, comfort, confidence, and peace of mind, we aim to eliminate shame, empowering women and girls around the world.

On their website, THINX proudly declares that they want to help “undo the taboo” surrounding menstruation and their product line can help do that. Just this past fall, for example, THINX took on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York after their ads were banned for being “too lewd.” This controversy put the double standard of women’s bodies in the spotlight: women are constantly objectified in advertisements to sell consumer products and that is perfectly acceptable, but if an advertisement is aimed at the female reproductive system as function rather than pleasure, then all hell breaks loose.

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The ads were eventually approved (after some questionable back and forth), but their initial rejection based on a patriarchal double-standard also brings to light the stronghold that men have on the advertising world, and the investment world.

How can we innovate in the world of menstrual products if the people who have the power to give these projects a thumbs up are period-illiterate men?

This question only creates more questions for us: if new innovations in menstrual products only serve to further hide the fact that women menstruate (leak-proof panties and menstrual cups), how are we addressing the taboo?

How does continuing to disguise menstruation help everyone grow more comfortable with it?

And if men in advertising and venture capitalists have no path to becoming comfortable with menstruation, how can we stop them feeling that visceral “ick” when the next innovator approaches them with a period-related advertisement or product?

The point of this article is not to trash THINX CEO Miki Agrawal, but to really think about whether or not products like leak-proof panties accomplish the mission companies like THINX set out to achieve.

Granted, no menstruating person enjoys bleeding through their clothes, especially in public, but when the accident inevitably occurs wouldn’t it be better if the occurrence were socially accepted?

Period feminism is gaining momentum and we are thrilled to be a part of it, but maybe some of us have different definitions of what “menstrual taboo” means. Are we all fighting for different causes? Are we crossing our wires of communication? To be clear, we support products like THINX and menstrual cups.  They are modern day innovations that allow menstruating people to better collect their flow in safe, non-toxic and reusable ways and that is fantastic. THINX even donates to the cost of creating reusable menstrual pads for Ugandan girls through the nonprofit Afripads and that is awesome! No girl should have to drop out of school because she has periods.

However, the idea of creating more products that serve to hide menstruation make us cringe because, while we welcome the long overdue innovation, we’re still not sure they’re progressing us toward period acceptance.

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