Panty liners

// 14 August 2012

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This is a guest post by Amy Ekins. Amy is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, a project manager for a publishing company and is finishing up her MRes in Creative Writing, for which she was awarded a fee-waiver scholarship from Northumbria University. She tweets here.

arizona desert.jpgPanty liners are once again invading our TV screens, our magazines and our posters in ladies loos. Is it just me that thought the daily panty liner phenomenon was pretty much over? Is it just me that was enraged by it in the first place? Let me elaborate. The idea of a daily panty liner is ridiculous, and it is anti-feminist. “Why is it ridiculous and why is it anti-feminist?” I hear you cry. Well, let me tell you…

It is ridiculous, because if you do a little bit of discharge in your pants and they are unprotected, what happens? Nothing. They dry, because discharge is not a flood, and then you wash them, and the discharge is forgotten. You do not need a toxic little bit of bleached paper on a plastic backing chaffing against your bits all day. (Unless you’re, you know, bleeding, although then there are other options too.) Why is it anti-feminist? Because it is pushing the agenda, like so many other awful ‘feminine hygiene products’, that what the female body does naturally is disgusting, dirty and to be ‘dealt with’ using scented, flowery (and did I mention toxic) expensive bits of paraphernalia which dry us out, itch us up and bring us down.

Discharge is the body’s wonderful way of self-cleaning, and getting rid of all the nasties we don’t want left inside us – cookie crumbs, pet hairs from when you sat on the sofa with no underwear on without looking and accidentally sat on the cat… or what have you… ahem. Anyway, you’d think the female genitalia would therefore be regarded as a feat of design, a lovely clean, homely place, with a nice fluffy doormat welcoming you in. But no – if female ‘hygiene’ products are to be believed, we are sweaty, smelly, dirty, hot and oozing with horrid things.

The time in my life when my vagina was least happy was when I fell into the ‘hygiene’ trap as a teen. Yep, that’s right, I got the wash, I got the liners, I got the deodorant – yes, there is deodorant available for your vagina – and before long I was dry, I was itchy, and my soft and moist lady garden was arid as Arizona. (Well, I think so, I’m English and I’ve only flown over Arizona twice, but I looked at it and thought – “I can relate to that feeling, my friend” – on seeing its cracked, parched, rippling landscape).

What is my point? Don’t give some sexist pig your hard-earned cash, to end up with a vagina like the Arizona desert. Buy yourself some nice underwear or some beads to plait into your rug or something instead, and feel awesome as you clickity-clack whilst you skip through a summer meadow, fresh in the knowledge that your awesome pussy is pushing out those kitty hairs, and mother nature thanks you for not leaving your discharge-catchers in her overflowing landfills. Word.

ETA: In light of the comments below, Amy would like to clarify: I’m not criticising those that need daily liners on occasion, but not all of us do, and the marketing is the issue here – the notion that women’s genitalia is a shameful space.

Photo of the Arizona desert by Gleb TARRO, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Anna Brown // Posted 14 August 2012 at 10:59 am

To be honest, I think it’s pretty anti-feminist to tell me what my body does or does not do. I wouldn’t normally choose to share this much personal information about myself but here goes. In my case, my discharge *is* a flood. It doesn’t dry. It makes my underwear wet, which makes me sore, and it makes my trousers wet, which then makes me smell which then makes me very embarrassed. If I wear a pantyliner, none of this happens. I am looking into reuseable products as I don’t think it’s terribly environmentally friendly but I think this post is pretty offensive, to be honest.

Lucy // Posted 14 August 2012 at 12:19 pm

I also don’t really agree with this. I also have fairly heavy discharge at times, and it makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, just like the person commenting above stated – my pants are wet, my jeans get wet, and while I personally don’t find the smell of my vagina disgusting, I certainly don’t want everyone around me smelling at what point in my menstrual cycle I am at the moment – much like I wouldn’t want to go around without deodorant, because sweat is a natural and beautiful thing…

While I agree there has to be a more sustainable solution for this, I still stand by my use of pantyliners.

Laura // Posted 14 August 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Lucy and Anna,

Apologies. The post should have also acknowledged that some women do find panty liners useful and made it clear that it’s the way they are marketed that is the problem.

shine // Posted 14 August 2012 at 2:35 pm

i totally agree with all you say – it is just more sexisism to make women out into this smelly unclean being that needs shaving and cleaning –

Amy Ekins // Posted 14 August 2012 at 3:45 pm

Hi both – yes absolutely they can be useful, it’s the marketing that’s the issue – to me, anyway.

[NOTE FROM LAURA: Amy agreed that the fact that some women do need panty liners should be acknowledged and asked me to add the following to the post:

“I’m not criticising those that need daily liners on occasion, but not all of us do, and the marketing is the issue here – the notion that women’s genitalia is a shameful space.”]

Kate // Posted 14 August 2012 at 4:19 pm

I have been a long-time lurker but created an account to leave a comment on this post, which I also find offensive and disablist – I think it contravenes The F Word’s policies on disablism, so I would really appreciate it if you were to edit this post, or consult the guest blogger on that matter.

I was glad to read Anna and Lucy’s comments. My discharge was always fairly heavy, but I now have a flood, which seems to be more of a urinary issue – I’m a bit leaky. I am 25. I have been to see 2 GPs and one consultant about the urinary issue. I think all I really needed was for GP no. 1 to say, ‘this is within the bounds of normality’. However, I got referred to a consultant, who was bemused as to why I had been referred to him, and couldn’t understand why I was so upset – I already have one chronic illness, I thought something else was seriously wrong. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that my leaking is ‘normal’. I still get upset about it from time to time because my medication makes my urine, as well as vaginal secretions and general sweat, smell strange, but I’m learning to deal with it. Using a menstrual pad to cope with the ‘flood’ means that I can live happily and not worry about having wet knickers and trousers, which was very distressing.

I don’t think comments that dismiss/ignore women who have issues with secretions/urinary leakage are very helpful. I really feel that The F Word needs to continue working to be very inclusive.

If you’re reading this, Anna and Lucy – the pads I use are washable cloth pads. I bought them originally as menstrual pads, but wear them every day, so they double as ‘panty liners’. I love my cloth pads! I just throw them in the washing machine with everything else (after a quick soak and rinse if I’m surfing the crimson wave) and they can be tumble-dried too. I have ones of varying size and none are visible/noticeable through clothing. I would really encourage you to explore the possibility of reusable pads. They are wonderful! And the best thing is that my hair doesn’t matt when I have my period. Ha! Nobody ever talks about that! :)

I’m not sure if it’s ok for me to link to the website where I got my menstral pads on this comment – editors, if it’s not, please delete this part. I am in no way affiliated with this site, I am just so delighted with these pads. I bought mine from a Canadian site called New Moon Pads:

There are also some UK-based websites, but I found these to be cheaper and the UK site I used got their pads from Australia, so the carbon footprint was a little smaller from Canada.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, there are lots of patterns online.

Louise McCudden // Posted 14 August 2012 at 4:36 pm

I empathise a bit with the posts above but I did find this blog really quite funny and I definitely think it’s makes valid points as well. It does seem to me that it’s part of a bigger advertising picture, that tells women lots of things about us that are natural are actually unnatural and gross – and the other way around. Body hair is the most obvious example. And in other countries, vagina whitening nonsense (!), the obsession with prettifying and pornifying your own body. Also, much more trivially, obviously, a lot of sex toy marketing is like this.

I dunno, I felt like the tone was kinda justified and didn’t bother me too much, partly because it made me chuckle anyway but also just because sometimes the combination of all these things does make me kind of go ARGG FOR FUCKS’ SAKE and overdo my cynicism towards the whole industry, perhaps that’s what happened here with the writer :)

Laura // Posted 14 August 2012 at 4:40 pm

Hi Kate,

Thanks for commenting and apologies again for ignoring the experiences of women who do need panty liners. It was an unintentional oversight on both my and Amy’s part (I posted the piece on the blog), but I appreciate that it’s hurtful and I’m sorry the post offended you and others.

I know it’s not an appropriate excuse, but I’m trying to fit in a backlog of guest posts between a busy paid work schedule and I didn’t give Amy or the post sufficient attention. I’ll try not to rush things in future!

Louise McCudden // Posted 14 August 2012 at 4:50 pm

I would just like to add that I wrote my comment above before seeing Kate’s post, which was enlightening and humbling. Thank you for posting.

Interesting that panty liners aren’t really marketed in this way as far as I’ve seen!

Anna Brown // Posted 14 August 2012 at 8:20 pm

hi again,

Thank you Laura & Amy for your comments here & on Twitter. As someone who runs a feminist group and all the pressures I know come with that role, the last thing I’d want to do is make any feel “bad” about something they do for free and that wasn’t my intention at all.

However, I hope you see that when a piece starts with this: ” The idea of a daily panty liner is ridiculous, and it is anti-feminist.” some of us will find that challenging.

The piece doesn’t, to me, really “take down” any marketing campaigns or specific products. I don’t read magazines nor go out much so would be interested to learn what these adverts contain and the messages they convey.

Don’t forget though, that some of us *are* “…sweaty, smelly, dirty, hot and oozing with horrid things.” and would rather use a product that makes us less insecure and self-conscious than stay in our houses and be miserable when we do go out in the quest for some sort of “proper” feminism.

I feel concerned that a younger version of myself would read this and feel that the problems I was experiencing were because I wasn’t feminist “enough” and go on to suffer through, or feel bad about my feminism. While I’m not a proponent of “choice” feminism – any choice a woman makes is feminist because she’s a woman making a choice – neither am I, as a feminist, here to criticise other women for the choices they make. I’d rather seek to understand than condemn.

Amy Ekins // Posted 15 August 2012 at 8:35 am

Hi Anna

I’m really grateful you returned to this article.

I intended this as flippant, something where you can of course – use pantyliners, but not if you don’t need to. The problem with a movement that represents all of the female population is that you can be exclusive in certain notions. Mine being a good example here, but a better one being the pubic hair argument. I appreciate your being brave enough to use your own experience as example, so I’ll pop my own here too.

Pubic hair – and the removal of – is a popular go-to in the argument against the sexualisation and dis-empowering of women. To remove it is seen – by some – as a removal of one’s womanhood – the often cited ‘little girl look’. I happen on these articles on occasion, and feel misrepresented. I, personally, remove all of my pubic hair. I’d call it a choice, but it’s not much of one. I have severe eczema, and pubic hair makes me hot and itchy. So it all has to come off – all of it. I shrug at those articles because I see myself as exempt because my reasonings are medical. (This is ignoring the matter of choice – I’d be here all day if I went down that route!) I suppose that experience I have makes me assume (and we all know what that does!) that others are the same.

If any young person with such issues as mentioned above by the commenters that have taken the time to share and explain how they feel does happen on this I would hope that they can either recognise it as flippant and not applicable to them, or, that they will read these comments and find them useful in navigating their feelings.

Phewph, what a long comment for this time in the morning! Re- examples, I’m at work but shall ping some up this evening.

Sira // Posted 15 August 2012 at 4:35 pm

I’m sorry that some of the readers here found the post dismissive of their experiences and it makes me feel a bit guilty because I related and it made me giggle. I have my off days. I often feel a bit overly moist and whiffy down there, but it must not be that bad because I’m still too cheap to fork out my hard earned for panty liners, and when it is it’s usually too late for me to do anything about it.

I think the problem is that panty liners are something that some of us would probably like to use now and again on special occasions or particular times in our cycles, some of us need to use everyday and others of us can’t see the point of at all.

It seems to be the way of the world with marketing that they feel the need to convince us that we can’t possibly live without their new amazing product whether it’s a panty liner, a breakfast cereal, an anti-aging cream or a conservatory.

I think maybe what we need is a two pronged attack here – both the gimme a break, money for old rope argument and the I need this product because it helps me get through the day argument. Because the panty liner is not a product that’s absolutely necessary for all women all the time. It’s a useful tool that some women need.

Enough of these voices telling them what’s what and maybe we can persuade them to actually refine their strategy so they’re not making women who need them feel defensive and women who don’t paranoid, and worst of all having us all argue between ourselves.

Amy Ekins // Posted 15 August 2012 at 7:22 pm

Sira, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – I’ve nothing to add, except – thank you for commenting!

Victoria Sauron // Posted 16 August 2012 at 11:09 am

I agree with the first commenters, and also find the definition of what is and what is “allowed” in order to be a feminist rather offensive. I consider that I “need” pantyliners for about half of the month (even the phrasing of “some women” in the apology implies that those of us who do, are in a medically unusual minority) and reserve the right to wear pantyliners, use underarm deodorant, take showers, brush my teeth and wash my hair frequently enough so that I don’t smell unpleasant. I’d hope that men would do the same. Not a feminist issue. Vaginal deodorant, complete hair removal, bleaching etc… yes, feminist issues. A general standard of basic personal hygiene, not a feminist issue.

Incidentally, I wear no makeup whatsoever and tend to think that the wearing of makeup is much more of an interesting borderline position (I’m not at all sure that wearing any makeup at all is consistent with feminism, but I’m sure many would disagree and would perhaps cite Betty Friedan and notions of masquerade, and then you have an interesting and balanced discussion.)

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