Posted by Deepali Barapatre
Do you remember what you would call the part ‘down there’ when you were little?
It’s a void in my memory. What is not a void is what boys are taught to call their penis – pee-pee, susu, nunu and wee-wee to name a few. What better way to make someone feel shameful and insecure right from childhood about themselves than to deem their body parts unspeakable? The systemic messaging that there is something wrong with women, start from avoiding to name certain body parts and continues into their adulthood. When women conform to the idea that society has set for them, it not only costs them mental stress but also leaves them poorer.
According to a survey, men are paid 22.5% more than women. Women are not only paid less, but they are also lured into spending more by baiting them into an unrealistic feminine version that society desires. The unwritten manual has everything from how should they look, talk, sit and even how should their vaginas smell! In this article, we will be focusing on the extra costs that women bear to conform to the idea of vaginas smelling like gardens of Babylon.
As more women have gained power over their finances, we have also seen a rise in the feminine hygiene products in the market and intimate washes are one of them. Intimate washes are products that are used by women to wash their ‘intimate’ areas to help balance the pH level and prevent infection and itching from vaginal discharges. The question that arises here is that, is it a biological need or a want created by the market? If it was a biological need, wouldn’t evolution have done a better job than leave women hanging?
According to NHS, vaginas do not need any cleaning, they are designed to keep itself clean using the discharge it creates. As far as the external organ i.e. vulva is concerned, doctors recommend cleaning it with warm water. You don’t even need soap for cleaning but if you have to use one – a mild, colourless and unscented soap is advised. Without any scientific backing for intimate wash, the product is meant to prey on women’s insecurities and body shame them.
It is a capitalist attack on women to believe that to feel confident in your bodies your intimate area (because they will never use the word vulva in the mainstream media) should feel dry and smell great. VWash, a popular brand for intimate wash, sells it’s 350 ml bottle for INR 415, which lasts for about 3-4 months. A woman starts using feminine hygiene products normally after they start menstruating i.e after the age of 13 and the life expectancy in India is 70 years. The expected time of use of the product is 57 years.
So a woman ends up spending,
415 INR x 3 bottles a year x 57 years=INR 70, 965 in their lifetime (without adjusting for inflation).
Another product that I have seen recently enter the market is panty liners. For the longest time, I didn’t know a product called ‘Panty Liner’ existed. Panty liners are similar to the sanitary pads but are thinner and lighter. They are used to
- Soak daily vaginal discharge, if it makes you uncomfortable
- Tackle irregular periods or spotting
- Soak vaginal discharge after intercourse
- Provide a back up for menstrual cup or tampon
- Deal with postpartum flow
Since these panty lines must be changed every three to five hours to combat the risk of infection, a woman might use 3-4 panty liners a day. A daily user of panty liners would use 80 panty liners in a month, excluding an average of 5 days of periods.
4 panty liners x 20 days = 80 panty liners
A Whisper’s economy pack of 40 panty liners costs INR 198. A woman spends INR 396 per month on panty liners. Not bad, right? We spend more than this on a casual dinner or lunch. According to a pan India survey, the average age of menarche is 13 years old and the average age of menopause is 46 years old, which gives us an average use of panty liners for 33 years.
The final cost of using panty liners for a lifetime (not adjusting for inflation) is,
33 years x 12 months x 396 INR = INR 156,816.
If you are using panty liners to deal with excessive discharge or spotting, more power to you woman! But if you are using panty liners because you think your vagina should feel dry and clean, think again. Vaginal discharge is not a fluid the body throws out in disgust of itself as the society would like the women to believe, it is the body’s mechanism to clean itself and provide lubrication so that the vagina doesn’t wear and tear while walking (yes, walking), working out and having sex.
A lot of panty liners in the market are scented which increase the risk of infection. If you are using panty liners to conform to the idea of a fragrant, clean and dry vagina-land, you might be 1.5 lakh poorer in your lifetime, not to mention the money you will spend at your OB-GYN visits because of the infection due to scented panty liners.
Also read: The World’s First Vagina Museum Is Here!
A total of 2.2 lakh rupees might seem like a small amount to pay for a lifetime but think about all the other expenses women incur – diet products to reduce weight, the pink tax imposed on products marketed towards them, money spent on sanitary products and the burden of contraception that primarily lies on women.
One must wonder, if everyone had periods, would have a risk of getting pregnant or be put under the same microscope that women are put, would it still cost the same?
Deepali is an educator who works as a Programme Officer at Udaan India Foundation, a not for profit organisation in education sector aiming to provide knowledge, skills, values and support from foundation to employability to low income children’ and youth. She is passionate about education and gender equity and believes that each child should get an equal opportunity to lead a dignified life, irrespective of their gender. When not pondering about education, she likes reading, travelling and trying exotic teas. You can find her on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Metro