Reproductive Hygiene Technology Flashback

Of all the technologies that have gone extinct in your lifetime, which one do you miss the most?

Oohh, this is a tough question. I certainly have nostalgia when it comes to 8-tracks and cassette decks, but I don’t really *miss* them. And cassettes aren’t actually extinct.

I learned to type on a typewriter in 11th grade. I am grateful for the keyboarding skills that have definitely paid off for this blogger, but I certainly don’t miss all of that whiteout and carbon paper and precision. And I’ve never actually owned a typewriter. I did have a word processor in college which was awesome. I bet it is still in my parent’s attic.

There’s an important distinction between nostalgia and extinction. I’m sure with my hand tremors using a rotary dial phone would be a challenge, but I have very fond memories of dialing that thing and sitting on our top step to the basement to chat with various friends. I also remember that my parents had a trash compactor. It terrified me at the same time as it seemed very cool. And I can hear the sound in my head – it was a very satisfying sound all that crunching and smashing. But man did that thing take up a lot of space. And eventually my parents just used it as a trash drawer with regular bags until they remodeled the kitchen in 2000.

My work with Cathy’s Closet reminds me of another retro moment. I was about 13 or 14 and working as a “cart girl’ at the church bingo. One night, I got my period and didn’t have supplies with me. My mom was playing bingo so she told me to go into the bathroom and get something from the machine dispenser – I’m pretty sure she just wanted to focus on her 400 cards and shoosh me away. So I dubiously went into the ladies bathroom basement (as opposed to the girl’s bathroom closer to the classrooms.) I inserted my quarter which did seem sort of fun. And then there it was.

The machine gave me a wrapped up cotton pad with 2 small safety pins.

I was completely bewildered. This was around 1983 and I was used to pads with adhesive strips. The Always wings may have started into vogue as well. I had no idea what this package in my hand was or how I was supposed to use safety pins. It also didn’t seem like a particularly good idea to use safety pins in my underwear near my sensitive young lady bits.

I went back to my mother who was familiar with the old school getup, but exasperated because she had to leave her bingo. She wasn’t so much exasperated with me as the fact that the Catholic Church was dispensing 1960’s supplies in the 1980’s. I wasn’t particularly thrilled either. But we got me all pinned and my mother then tried to describe the even more old school sanitary belt. What? What? OMG it was bad enough I had this thing happening to me that was basically awful, but belts? My Mum just helped me make do and sent me home to find something modern.

I never used a machine again. In fact, I don’t think I’ve used a bathroom machine since except maybe one time to buy aspirin. It is much easier now that I’m a middle-aged lady and can literally carry everything in my giant tote bag.

I was very careful to always carry a pad with me from that day forward.

Menstrual Belt circa 1940 Image from Museum of Menstruation


Ad for menstrual suspenders - Dear God. Image: Museum of Menstruation
Ad for menstrual suspenders – Dear God. Image: Museum of Menstruation


Reusable pads have made a comback and come in all sorts of pretty fabrics and materials. I tried them for a while – I even had a “moon jar” for soaking them between wash loads. But eventually it just became too awkward, especially with a roommate and pets.

So I definitely do not miss this technology, nor am I nostalgic for the days when women had to go to such lengths to manage their reproductive health and not offend anyone’s sensibilities. <eye roll> For more information, check out the Museum of Menstruation website – it is fascinating.

Pads and tampons are urgently needed for Cathy’s Closet – I’ve been talking with various members of the community to learn exactly who needs what and what I’ve found has been quite eye opening especially in the trans and genderqueer communities. The general consensus is that providing products in a dignified environment will benefit everyone.

Reusable products aren’t always feasible for everyone. Some folks don’t have access to running water or laundry facilities, much less the ability to soak or store reusable items. Others don’t have the funds to make an upfront investment and pay to launder these items. So while donating these items is terrific – it really comes down to choice.

You can organize a product collection to contribute to the Closet. It really is something most every woman can related to – being caught without what they need.


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