People who menstruate, have you ever faced the following dilemma: you are on your period, and you need to dispose of your pad or tampon. But all you have are your bare hands. What do you do? What if I told you that a group of men came up with a ‘solution’ to this (apparently) pressing issue?
There are a ton of useless vaginal products out there. The latest one is called Pinky Gloves, brought to you by a group of three men, which are essentially a pair of gloves designed to prevent you from getting blood on your hands when removing period products. The pair then forms its own bag, which you can use when disposing of your tampon or pad (instead of using its original wrapping, or toilet paper, I guess). And it’s bright pink of course, because what other colour would women want?
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Yes, Pinky Gloves sounds like the exact type of product someone who knows little to nothing about periods, or vaginas, would make. The founders are two men, Eugen Raimkulow and Andre Ritterswürden. The duo first presented the nightmarish product on the German TV show Die Höhle der Löwen, where inventors go to seek money from investors. Ralf Dümmel, a businessman, invested €30,000 into the Pinky Gloves, and so then there were three.
As you can probably imagine, this little invention caused some serious uproar. The gloves gained online attention worldwide after gynaecologist Jennifer Gunter tweeted out about them, “So these dudes designed pink gloves so tampons and pads can be disposed of properly and discreetly. I shit you not.” Others described the gloves as sexist, environmentally unsustainable, and blamed them for further stigmatising menstruation—while monetising on the stigma surrounding it too. For three men who do not menstruate in the first place, it was pretty much a win-win situation.
The whole premise of the product implies that having to touch your period blood, or struggling to find discreet ways of disposing of your period product are the most pressing issues people who menstruate face worldwide. For so long, periods have been deemed as something ‘dirty’, and something that we need to hide. It’s still so rare to see a pad or tampon advert where real blood (or at least something resembling blood) is used, and I’m sure many of us can recall the gut-wrenching panic of getting blood on our light coloured jeans, or the sheepish walk into the school bathroom with hidden tampons stuffed up our sleeve. But let me say this once so we’re all clear: menstrual blood is perfectly normal, it can be touched and washed off.
In many ways, Pinky Gloves is trying to be a solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, period poverty is at an all-time high worldwide, and in the UK alone, almost a third (30 per cent) of girls aged 14 to 21 have had issues either affording or accessing sanitary wear in lockdown.
Stigma surrounding menstruation, along with lack of necessary education, are contributing factors to period poverty. Tampon tax is a term used to call attention to feminine hygiene products being subject to value-added tax, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered to be necessities. While some countries have lifted this tax, it is still a pressing global issue.
The ‘pink’ tax is a similar term used to describe how products marketed towards women are often more expensive than those marketed for men (for example; razors, shampoos, and shower gels). In many ways, Pinky Gloves are contributing to this ‘pink’ tax—the gloves were reportedly sold for €11.96 for a pack of 48. Not that you need an alternative, but just doing a quick Amazon search, I found a pack of 100 disposable gloves for £10.49 (converting to roughly €12). Pinky Gloves are marketed as ‘femine’ and as an essential hygiene product, but are sold at a significantly higher cost than most hygiene products. After all, they are pink!
Amidst all the backlash (and some great memes), the great minds behind Pinky Gloves have released a few official statements, acknowledging their errors and apologising for them. In the latest one, they said they are pulling the product off the market, adding that “at no point did we intend to discredit anyone or make a natural process taboo.”
“The good thing about the current situation is that the period and its political aspects are getting a lot of attention and the important social discourse is now widespread,” reads the first official statement of the product’s Instagram. The truth is, as ridiculous as the gloves are, Pinky Gloves does highlight one pressing issue caused by menstruation (and spoiler alert, it’s not the blood getting on your hands).
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There is a sheer lack of education when it comes to sexual and gender health, and therefore the fact that this product exists should not come as a surprise. In fact, Pinky Gloves have a reported revenue of $704,000—highlighting the fact that there are people out there purchasing them. Periods should not be taboo, but the reality is that they still are. As a society, we certainly do not talk about them enough.
There is one thing that the founders of Pinky Gloves are right about—the fact that this discourse needs to be had. And I hope that the backlash does not discourage other men from trying to take an active role in improving feminine health. But it should be done through education, or in other words: an increase of listening to people who menstruate.
The main blind spot of Pinky Gloves was the lack of research and insight into their product. Perhaps the founders had good intentions at heart, but they didn’t think twice. After all this controversy, no Pinky Gloves for you, boo.
Since the beginning of 2021, as reported by the Financial Times, the Mexican capital has decided to ban the sale of menstrual products until its plastic applicators are replaced by more environmentally friendly materials. This daring decision is a fundamental part of Claudia Sheinbaum’s green agenda, Mexico City’s first mayor and climate change scientist, whose green policies have been a priority since she took office two years ago. What many publications forgot to mention, however, is that the decision had already been announced back in 2019.
First came the plastic shopping bags, then straws and disposable cups. Now, the last polluting products to disappear, thanks to Mexico City’s anti-plastic campaign, are tampons. But the capital seems to have overlooked one thing: being the one taking the blame when it was actually up to the country’s leading period products companies to offer enough eco-sustainable alternatives for Mexican women.
Although many women’s rights activists have been fighting for years to get rid of the tax on menstrual products, it’s hard for them to understand the importance of the environmental approach when not being offered enough alternatives. With good reason, many are now left wondering whether the government should have taken a different approach and a more gradual one before imposing the current ban. However, as stated above, the Mexican government did warn companies (and citizens) of the upcoming changes.
Talking about the news, Anahí Rodríguez, spokeswoman for the NGO Menstruación Digna (Dignified Menstruation) said, “It’s the government’s responsibility to take steps to protect the environment. But they should have made sure there were tampons available with applicators that used an alternative to plastic, at an accessible price, before they withdrew them.”
“This is punishing women,” said student Chiara Gómez to the Irish Times. “I didn’t know they were going to do this—a lot of people depend on them. And it’s a bit strange that they are starting with tampons when there are other things that use a lot of plastic, like unnecessary packaging.”
While a few stands in the city now urge customers to bring their own containers or buy plastic bottles, many markets still use plastic bags or serve food with plastic forks with coffee shops often placing plastic lids on takeaway beverages.
This week, pharmacies and supermarkets displayed sanitary towels and menstrual cups, but not enough eco-sustainable tampons for everyone. Applicator-less tampons are not generally available or used, as Mexican citizen @yansomade told Screen Shot, “tampons without applicators are rare in Mexico because culturally, we are not used to them. They exist, but they are not popular.”
Although many publications reported that tampons could now only be purchased online, via sites such as Mercado Libre and Amazon, and with prices as high as $3.40 (£2.45) per tampon, @yansomade explained that brands specialising in period products such as Saba and Kotex had actually been warned about the new policy back in 2019—and so had the rest of the country. However, both Saba and Kotex decided to ignore the warning and continue to sell tampons with plastic applicators.
As a result, what was left of those brands in the capital flew off the shelf, and soon enough, people started looking everywhere for Tampax tampons, which have a recyclable applicator made of cardbox.
One chemist in the capital laid out the official ruling to explain why tampons had vanished from shelves: “We’re not allowed to display tampons,” before quietly offering to sell some under-the-counter “while stocks last.”
Men also criticised the move. “As if women didn’t have enough problems, now the government has given them another: no tampons,” Carlos Elizondo, a political-science professor at Tec de Monterrey university, wrote on Twitter. “In other countries, they have zero VAT. Here, they are banned—and in the middle of a pandemic too.”
Meanwhile, Lillian Guigue, director-general for impact regulation and environmental regulation at the city’s environment ministry, insisted the ban had been announced long in advance, adding she had been negotiating with producers, but COVID-19 was slowing down their ability to reformulate applicators without using plastic. Until then, “we all have to do our bit … if we don’t make an effort with the products we consume, we are destroying not only our future but that of all generations after us.”
For many, especially young women, that means reusable menstrual cups. But in a country where the coronavirus pandemic has pushed an estimated 10 million more people into poverty, some cannot afford them and in any case, 260,000 homes in Mexico City lack running water. Dignified menstruation “becomes a privilege, not a right, with these measures”, said Rodríguez.
Her NGO has been fighting to have Mexico’s 16 per cent sales tax waived from sanitary protection—a move backed by Olga Sánchez Cordero, Mexico’s interior minister. Legislators refused last year, but the supreme court this month agreed to review whether the tax was unconstitutional.
In the meantime, the Mexican government urged women to “rally behind the cause” for the sake of the planet. “It’s not about stopping having the products we need,” said Guigue. “It’s about making better choices.” The obvious way in which the news about this anti-plastic ban has been shifted to put the blame on the Mexican government instead of on the country’s leading period product brands highlights the problems the media still face: impartiality and researched reporting. Mexico City’s anti-plastic ban should be praised, not put down. Instead, brands like Saba and Kotex should be criticised. After all, they just chose not to listen, at the expense of Mexican women.