I have a confession. Sustainable Cycles isn’t just about menstrual products. While menstrual supplies are the focal point of our work, this project is as much about social and economic justice, community conversation, breaking down stigmas, feminism on the streets and conscious consumerism, as it is about what we put between our legs.
Here are a few of the other things that Sustainable Cycles is about.
Sustainable Cycles is about women being visible, living examples of courage and strength. When we ride through small towns and big cities and talk to people on the street, many ask us: Are you carrying guns? Are you insane? Aren’t you afraid? They assure us that we should be. With so many living in fear, we choose to share stories of the generosity and hospitality we’ve encountered. Like the people who offered to host us with just a few hours’ notice, who fed us dinner in their warm kitchens and sent us off with breakfast. Like the “strangers” we end up talking about birth and death with, sharing stories and tears. In many corners of the country, simply being women traveling by bicycle and fixing our own flat tires is radical. We shake up people’s conceptions of what is safe, of what is possible, of what we are capable of. It seems almost everyone has a spark of adventure inside them, and we get to ignite this – countless individuals at gas stations or public parks tell us about their own dreams of taking off on an adventure, which we wholeheartedly encourage! When the teenaged girls we talked to at a day program in Jacksonville told me they’d like to go bike touring one day, I felt enormously proud. I realized the power of planting these seeds, and remembered all of the people who inspired me to take this life-changing adventure.
When we are traveling in a pack of six, as we did for the last leg of our journey last spring, we are enough to hold up traffic. We make cars move over for us. We turn heads. We take up room in the streets. We declare our presence, making ourselves big – when we are so often told to make ourselves small, as women and as cyclists. All of this we do entirely through a grassroots, people-to-people, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other way.
Sustainable Cycles is about conscious consumerism. We expose one way that corporate interest intersects with economics and environmental disregard to negatively affect our health. Tampons and pads are made from cotton, one of the most pesticide-heavy crops grown in the world. The pesticide-laden cotton (less-so for the more expensive organic brands, of course) and synthetic glues and plastics that make up tampons and pads, plus the petroleum-based plastic or cardboard applicators and packaging, plus the fuel required to deliver them all over the world, amounts to a lot of environmental toxins and a lot of garbage. And guess what – these pesticides and plastics are also harmful to our internal ecologies, and they get inserted directly into one of the most sensitive parts of the human body. (Check out books such as Whitewashing and others on our resources page for more info). So, we have a product that is dangerous to our bodies, harmful to the environment, and it is one that companies sell to us over and over and over, creating a monthly burden for many. Because environmental degradation and poor access to healthcare disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color, this issue is also one of race and class. We also learn about how many of the health class videos that students watch across the country are made by Proctor & Gamble or other corporations, and are usually accompanied by sample packs of tampons. Brand loyalty starts at menarche for many pad and tampon consumers.
Now, we’re not saying that disposable supplies don’t have their place. We understand that certain lifestyles, situations, and personalities are not conducive to reusable alternatives, which is totally fine! However, due to the health risks and the monthly costs and the waste, many folks would like an alternative. So why aren’t sustainable supplies more well known and available? Capitalism pop quiz! You are a multinational corporation that makes menstrual products. Which would you rather sell: tampons, which each woman will buy every month on average for forty years, or a menstrual cup that women will buy one time every ten years? Obviously the prior. And if you are a drug store trying to turn a profit on the materials you stock on your shelves, the same principle applies. On the other hand, menstrual cups, sea sponges and cloth pads are almost all made by small woman-owned businesses around the world, with a much lower profit margin and a social mission. When we shift toward these products, we shift toward a sustainable economy that provides us with choices that are healthier and low-impact for body and earth. We can redirect thousands of dollars that would otherwise end up in the already stuffed pockets of major corporations.
Through group discussions, we examine this phenomenon and start to become more conscious consumers, examining the way that economics, environmental impact, health, and social issues intersect in almost everything that we buy.
Sustainable Cycles is about breaking the menstruation stigma in order to encourage education, health, and period positivity. By talking about periods, whether in workshops or to people on the streets of the towns we ride through, we break the sound barrier that surrounds even the word “menstruation.” In our society, menstrual shaming is so pervasive that for many people, young women especially, if they don’t feel ashamed of their own cycle and disgusted by their own body, they are inconvenienced or in some way feel negatively about it. In my view, this is a tragedy in its own right and a part of the distorted sense of self that results from the alienation of whole self from physical body. Furthermore, when we don’t talk about something, we don’t learn about it. The stigma contributes to a lack of education about menstrual health and how to deal with bleeding from a logistical perspective, leaving most people feeling alone in how to handle their cycle.
In our workshops, we bring bleeding-bodied folks (of all genders)* together to learn from one another and share our experiences about menstruation. We hear story after story about the embarrassment of being caught red-panted, or about tampon mishaps, or the confusion of a trans-gender experience. In our conversations, we invite everyone to share their period stories to create a community where all experiences are welcome, from the painful to the celebratory. By voicing our stories, we break down the silence, relieving ourselves of the shame that many of us carry. We also get to celebrate the beauty and life of periods! Folks get to share the strength and wisdom they draw from their cycles, the beauty of the life-giving process, the connection to their bodies, earth, moon, mothers, and sisters. We air these stories, celebrate them, laugh in resonance, and learn from each other. Stories tell of some of the most intimate moments of our lives, of how we learned from our mothers or grandmothers or aunties, of how we relate to our partners, of how we treat our own bodies. We create sisterhood when we share and laugh and cry together. This newfound openness and connection can ripple out through our all of our communities. By inviting everyone to share, we uncover the collective wisdom and knowledge of our lived experiences, and share it to help one another live healthy, powerful lives.
So, this is a little bit more of what Sustainable Cycles is about, and why I can hardly wait for our 2017 tour. I hope you will make it to a workshop one day to experience it for yourself!
*We intend to support and fully include gender fluidity and the experience of trans-gender people in our work. We acknowledge that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. Therefore we often use terms such as “bleeding-bodied” or other gender-neutral words to refer to people who menstruate.