By Nolina S. Minj
The other day I walked into a cosmetics shop in a mall to buy shampoo. At the counter I noticed fuchsia and white bottles of ‘intimate hygiene’ products. I was a little startled, I had come across the horrors of vaginal douching on feminist internet, and so I suspected that this product could not be the great saviour and protector of womankind’s ‘delicate parts’ as it claimed.[i] When the saleswoman tried to sell it to me, I politely managed to say no thanks. This was her job, it would be unwise to start a tirade about the evils of the alignment of sexism with consumer capitalism with her. But as I was leaving the store I noticed two women eagerly listening to her. They were contemplating buying the product. I was baffled. Surely, this new in-thing is as useful as the anti-fatigue floor mats (apparently standing on them makes you less tired) that were being promoted outside!
You can find a plethora of articles online about vaginal douching in the West (in brief, somebody some decades ago thought it was a good idea to have women squirt Lysol down/up their vaginal canals). Yet, not that many about these intimate hygiene washes and wipes which are a phenomenon not of the quaint and evil past.
The posts that do exist about vaginal washes don’t approve. Even Cosmopolitan thinks that they aren’t necessary. Yet the corporatocracy would have you believe otherwise, this is what one of the brands, VWash Plus (produced by Mumbai-based pharma Glenmark) has to say.
‘‘Everyone feels they are doing just fine when it comes to intimate hygiene. It’s this sense of misplaced confidence that makes them think that all the talk about intimate hygiene is not for them…Some body parts, like the vagina, are very delicate. These sensitive parts require special care and attention. While bathing daily keeps you fresh, it is simply not adequate to maintain your intimate hygiene.’’
You have to love their choice of words. Women don’t you dare have ‘misplaced confidence’ about your hygiene! You are dirty and stinky! Now shut up and let us douse your fragile feminine parts with some tea tree oil and buckthorn infused chemicals!
So dear reader these are my reasons pleading you to not jump onto this latest bandwagon, for the sake of your health. Remember Lysol was once sold as something that ensures dainty feminine allure.
1. Vaginas can clean themselves
Yep, vaginas are independent, and they take very good care of themselves. As OB/GYN Dr. Jacqueline Waters has famously said online ‘‘The vagina is a self-cleaning oven.’’ Vaginas are well-balanced ecosystems and contain plenty of good bacteria. They do not need help from special external forces. In fact even using soap to wash your vagina, is dangerous because it can upset its natural pH balance. Of course most vaginal washes claim that they help maintain this balance. But I think vaginas should be wary of claims since the dawn of the tightening and whitening industries. And you know plain water works just as well. So unless your gynaecologist specially tells you to use a particular product. DON’T!
2. The very existence of vaginal washes carries the patriarchal subtext that vaginas are unclean
Ever heard of a special lemon and eucalyptus wash that caters to penis owners intimate hygiene needs?[ii] You probably haven’t, because nobody thinks that penises need special hygiene or have to smell a certain way. This indicates a furtive notion that vaginas are dirty, smelly and even ugly. It’s worth noting the vocabulary used by these brands in selling their products. Hygiene is a key word. The products help generate feelings such as ‘fresh sensations and everyday freshness’ and help to ‘prevent unpleasant odours and irritation’. God bless them, vaginas you can stop being so filthy, itchy and irritating now!
The problem is that vaginas are not supposed to be squeaky clean, as these brands intend. Instead they are moist and acidic, they normally have secretions and odours or aromas (to each their own). They bleed, squelch and even fart (vaginal farts have their own name: queefs). So ultimately, the marketing discourse of these products objectifies vaginas, sanitising them to meet strange consumerist standards which are undeniably non-natural.
3. The environment, your pocket and good old logic
We really don’t need this product and it doesn’t quite make the cut as a coveted luxury item. It’s a redundant article that blatantly screams mindless consumer capitalism. Till date, I haven’t heard of people fainting due to their terrible vaginal odours, or any epidemic of vaginal infections or diseases caused by hygiene issues. Meanwhile, billions of vagina owners around the world, have successfully managed to continue the human race for centuries now. And they all managed it sans these self-important intimate washes.
I can think of several other non-sexist ways by which the earth’s resources and our excess money could be wastefully or perhaps wisely spent.
So attention yoni owners! Please don’t let consumer capitalism find its way into your pants. Let us not blindly buy into the objectification of our privates. And remember the wisdom of the angry vagina in the Vagina Monologues.
‘‘My vagina doesn’t need to be cleaned up. It smells good already. Not like rose petals. Don’t try to decorate. Don’t believe him when he tells you it smells like rose petals when it’s supposed to smell like pussy. That’s what they’re doing—trying to clean it up, make it smell like bathroom spray or a garden. All those douche sprays—floral, berry, rain. I don’t want my pussy to smell like rain. All cleaned up like washing a fish after you cook it. Want to taste the fish. That’s why I ordered it.’’
Que Viva la Vagina!
[i] I am keen to use the term vagina owners instead of women as not everyone who has a vagina identifies as a woman. Yet, at certain times I use the word women, as these brands are marketed (from a cissexist viewpoint) to women.
[ii] Unfortunately one similar product does exist, but the only person who seems to have bought it on Amazon left the helpful comment ‘Don’t waste your money’.
Nolina Minj is currently working with KrantiKali. She has a masters degree in comparative literature and way too many interests to keep track of. You can find her on Twitter @TheCactusWoman