Herstory: Evolution of Periods

Humanity has done a good job of recording the bloody experiences of our forefathers - from the bloody battles, bloody beheadings, and so on. But there’s one bloody experience that remains surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) undocumented - and it’s not Genghis Khan being prone to nosebleeds!

In this article, we’ve scraped together everything we could find to give you an insight to how some of our sisters handled menstruation in the years gone by ... and suddenly we’re thinking synthetic tampons and pads aren’t that bad (just kidding - we still think they suck!)

Ancient Times

Did you know females have been experiencing menstruation since before we humans fully evolved as a species? Yep, that’s right - we were period-ing before humanity as we now know it today was even a ‘thing’.  Yet, we know so little about it! This lack of info about menstruation is probably because history has, since forever, been recorded by men, and from a male standpoint. After all, it is called history.

While we don’t know too much about periods in the ancient times, there’s still speculation that women may have had lighter periods compared to women today. This could be because of malnutrition, and people not having the same access to resources as we do now (Deliveroo is still quite a new thing after all!)

In terms of the products women used whilst on their periods, there’s been talk of women relying on ragged cloths, washing and reusing them each month (similar to reusable cloth pads!). There’s also talk of loincloths being used in Ancient Egypt too.

From an ancient Chinese standpoint, although we struggled to find much on how periods were handled by our sisters then (yes, not surprising right?), we did find something about attitudes towards blood itself. In Chinese culture, blood is thought of as something powerful, due to its physical and symbolic importance to human life - without it, we wouldn’t be surviving after all… There is, however, distinction between the idea of clean and impure blood (what?!). In essence, clean blood is something essential to maintaining good health and allowing for new life to form. Impure blood, on the other hand, is blood that flows out of our body at times of danger, pain, and even death.

So, what category did menstrual blood fall under then? You guessed right - menstrual blood fell under the latter category, impure blood, and some people even associated menstrual blood with symbolizing a dead fetus. Crazy, right?! FYI there’s no such thing as “pure” or “impure” blood.

1800s

In the west…

During this period (pun intended!), our western sisters would just bleed through their clothes while on their period, unless they were lucky enough to afford washable sanitary pads. Towards the end of the 19th century, concern about sanitation became a thing, and there was worry about whether or not it was healthy for women to bleed through their clothes, and continue wearing the same clothes until their period was over.

This worry eventually led to the invention of the ‘Hoosier’ Sanitary Belt - a belt which women could pin washable cloth pads to, and allow their period experience to be more hygienic (and less likely to cause infections!)

Then, in 1888, the first disposable pad, Lister’s Towels, was introduced.

Conversely in China…

Women were not so lucky with there being concern about whether their period-care practices were hygienic or not. Instead, our sisters in China had to face negative attitudes and beliefs associated with menstruation, and the menstruating woman. The idea of menstrual blood being impure and unclean did not stop during the ancient times, and our sisters had to live in a time where menstruation was regarded as ‘polluting’ and ‘dirty’.

Also, sadly enough, the only time menstruation was regarded in a positive way was that it connotes a woman being of reproductive age, and able to fulfill her ‘sole’ purpose of reproducing (collective eye roll…)

1900s

After the introduction of cheap disposable sanitary pads, more women were able to take part in the workplace, and take part in activities in ways they couldn’t before (YAY!). At the time, pads were made out of wood pulp bandages - weird right? The material was chosen as not only was it highly absorbent, but cheap too - it was used for bandages during WWI too! And, over here at LUÜNA, our pads have wood pulp in it too, as it’s completely biodegradable!

After the war, a new product completely changed the period experience for women. In 1929, tampons were invented by Dr. Earle Haas. These tampons were to be inserted using two cardboard tubes, and removed using a cord that extended outside the vagina. Whether the tampons were made out of synthetic or organic materials, we’re not too sure, but we can only hope right?

From then on, owing to their convenience, tampons only continued to increase in popularity in the west. There were, however, growing concerns about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), and this brought more incentives for proper government regulation on the composition and safety of menstruation products.

 

Concerns about the dangers of menstrual products led to a drive in the development of more ‘safe’ alternatives for women. In 1937, Leona Chalmers invented the first menstrual cup made from latex rubber. Though at LUÜNA we don’t advise putting latex inside your body (our cups are made from 100% medical grade silicone), we still applaud our sister, Leona, for breaking through into this largely male-dominated industry. You go, girl!

 

And finally, in the 1970s, self-adhesive pads were invented, allowing women to wear pads without the Hoosier Sanitary Belt. The Belt was then phased out soon after (finally!)

Today 

Well, we’re on the iPhone 11, but when it comes to sanitary products, the options we have are still largely limited. Writing this article, we’ve found it so frustrating that even though we’re almost at the end of 2019, trying to find out what our period care is made out of can feel as difficult as trying to dig around online about how our sisters in ancient times dealt with their periods.

While menstrual cups and tampons especially are commonly used by our sisters in the west, the idea of putting a foreign object into one’s vagina remain a controversial and taboo topic here in Asia. But, as Zoe Chan, the lovely founder of Free Periods HK pointed out in our interview with her (Taboos Can Always Be Broken), “products should not be something that affects or breaks your virginity, or regarded as parallel to having engaged in sexual encounters and experiences”. Although we’ve gone such a long way from isolating women from men whilst they’re menstruating, to having women swim at the Olympics (Fu Yuanhui, you inspire us all!), here at LUÜNA we still acknowledge we have a long way to go. After all, we exist because the industry hasn’t evolved as much as it should have, considering change has been initiated for a while now!

So, where does LUÜNA stand, amidst period care today? Well, we’re here to change attitudes and experiences of periods for women across Asia. We want to ensure that from now on, history books are full of menstrual innovations created by women, for women. Period care has evolved and changed a lot from the past, but there’s still a long way to go. As a brand, we’re excited to be leading this change, working to bring safer and more eco-friendly alternatives to women across Asia.

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 There's never been a better time in history to be a menstruating woman than right now. Why?

We've launched our subscription service! So you can get your period care delivered directly to your door - how futuristic!

Learn more about it here!

 

Meet the amazing author of this article: Athena Kung

Athena Kung is LUUNA’s intern in Hong Kong. After completing her undergraduate degree in Human Geography at Durham University, she will be returning in October to complete her Masters. She enjoys meeting individuals who seek to consolidate gender equality in Hong Kong. Athena is also interested in finding new ways to be more sustainable in daily life, and encouraging others to adopt eco-friendly habits too!