Karah Giesecke

The Roots of Menstrual Capitalism: How Menstruation Became Commodified

Before the invention of disposable pads and tampons during the late 1920s and early 1930s, period products were homespun creations. Period products were made by women for women out of leftover pieces of cotton and other fabrics that were often washed and reused. Those who could afford to, however, would dispose the pieces of soiled cloth. The ease of disposing menstrual cloths then resulted in the creation of products that were meant to be thrown away. Disposable menstrual pads and later tampons, unlike their more rustic forefathers, were branded and their advertisements associated these products with a new kind of modern “delicate” woman. While material culture, or the objects that surround individuals, are typically used to establish status and identity, menstruation’s material culture produces identity and status in more nuanced ways because period products are meant to be invisible. This invisibility, or menstruation suppression, paired with the commodification of period products created a unique relationship I plan to explore between consumption, identity and invisibility.

Message to Sponsor

Thank you for supporting undergraduate research here at UC Berkeley! It is an immense privilege to be able to research menstrual capitalism, the history of period products and herstory when so often these histories, like the products themselves, are pushed to the side or completely ignored. I am incredibly grateful for this gift of being able to research what I love this summer and am excited to work towards my senior thesis given the challenges that this past year has brought us.
  • Major: History, Anthropology
  • Sponsor: Wishek Fund
  • Mentor: Sandra Eder