Toxic Shock Syndrome, Tampon Absorbency, and Feminist Science
Tampon-associated toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has disproportionately affected women, and specifically, menstruators. By 1980, the Centers for Disease Control recommended that women limit their use of superabsorbent tampons since the risk for TSS increased with greater levels of absorption. However, women had no way of following this advice since products did not have consistent absorbency labels. A standard to set absorptive capacity as well as nomenclature was required, and the consensus process to do so was governed by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). Esther Rome from the Boston Women's Health Book Collective participated as a consumer representative, and solicited feminist scientist Nancy Reame to help generate data on their behalf. Importantly, they rejected the use of blue saline and "blue goo" as a menstrual fluid in the syngyna—the synthetic vagina simulacrum lab instrument—to test tampon absorbency, and insisted upon heparinized blood instead. They challenged the process by which a standard is established, the method by which variables are controlled, and the erasure of menstrual fluid from tests about tampon absorbency. The feminist science yielded both usable and valid outcomes, with results that challenged the design of the experiment upon which standards were to be based.
Bobel, C. (2010). New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Centers for Disease Control, (1990). "Historical Perspectives Reduced Incidence of Menstrual Toxic-Shock Syndrome -- United States, 1980-1990," MMWR Weekly, 39 (25) (June 29, 1990): 421-423; http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001651.htm (accessed January 12, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control. (September 19, 1980). Follow-up on Toxic-Shock Syndrome. MMWR 29(37): 441-445.
Clarke, E. H. (1873). Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for the Girls. Boston, MA: J. R. Osgood & Co.
Farley, D. (1991). "Preventing TSS: New Tampon Labeling Lets Women Compare Absorbencies." Current Issues in Women's Health: An FDA Consumer Special Report (November): 20-24.
Fellman, S. Interview with the author (July 12, 2016).
Friedenfelds, L. (2010). The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gruber, W. "After 8 Years, Procter Still Not Free of the Rely Controversy." (March 27, 1989). Chicago Tribune http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-03-27/business/8903300138_1_procter-gamble-pampers-diapers-product-liability-suits
H.R. 1708, Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1708/text (accessed July 12, 2016).
Hajjeh R.A., Reingold A., Weil, A., Shutt, K., Schuchat, A., Perkins, B.A. (1999). Toxic Shock Syndrome in the United States: Surveillance Update, 1979–1996. Emerging Infectious Disease 5(6) (November-December): 807-810
Jacobi, M. P. (1877). The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Kobren, L. "Standard for Performance Characteristics of Menstrual Tampons," September 24, 1981. Schlesinger Library, BWHBC box 29, folder 2.
Martin, 1992. Women in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987.
Memo, (October 1, 1983). "Consumer Members of Tampon Task Force." Schlesinger Library, BWHBC, box 29 folder 2.
Mosher, C. (1927). Personal Hygiene for Women. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Osterholm, M., Davis, J.P., Gibson, R. W., Mandel J. S., Wintermeyer, L. A., Helms, C. M., Forfang, J. C., Rondeau J., Vergeront, J. M. and the Investigative Team (1982). Tri-Sate Toxic-Shock Syndrome Study. I. Epidemiologist Findings. The Journal of Infectious Diseases 145(4): 431-440.
Public Citizen Press Release, (June 1, 1988). "FDA Sued for Failing to Require Tampon Absorbency Labels." Schlesinger Library, BWHBC box 33 folder 11.
Rapp, G.W. (n.d.) A Comparison of the Absorptive Efficiency of Commercial Catamenial Tampons. Schlesinger Library, BWHBC box 29 folder 2.
Reame, N. Interviw with the author (April 6, 2016).
Reame, N. to Swankin, D., with attached report (May 23, 1983). BWHBC folder 34 box 1.
Rome E., Wolhandler, J. & Reame, N. (1988). The Absorbency of Tampons. JAMA, 259(5), 685-686.
Russett, C. (1989). Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schlievert, P. M., Shands, K. N., Dan, B. B., Schmid G. P. and Nishimura, R. D. (1981). “Identification and Characterization of an Exotoxin from Staphylococcus aureus associated with toxic-shock syndrome,” Journal of Infectious Diseases 143(4): 509-516.
Smith-Rosenberg, C. (1986). Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Swankin, D. Interview with the author (February 24, 2016).
Tierno, P. (2001). The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Whey We Need Them, ad How We can Protect Ourselves Against Them. New York, NY: Atria Books.
Todd J., Fishaut M., Kapral F, Welch T. (1978). Toxic-Shock Syndrome Associated with Phage-Group-I Staphylococci, The Lancet, 8100: 1116—1118.
Vostral, S. (2008). Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology. Lanham, MD: Lexington.
Vostral, S. (2011). Rely and Toxic Shock Syndrome: A Technological Health Crisis. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 84(4): 447-459.
- There are currently no refbacks.
Copyright (c) 2017 Sharra Vostral
ISSN 2380-3312 | If you have questions about the site, including access difficulties due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please email editor at catalystjournal.org