Got a Girl Crush On: Holy Sponge!
“[We] believe that change begins small…at home–and our bodies are our homes. And if our bodies aren’t valued, we won’t value ourselves or other bodies.”
Introduce yourselves: who are you, where are you coming from, what is it that you do?
We are Holy Sponge!, a queer female-owned business that is committed to offering safe and natural menstrual products including menstrual sea sponges, reusable cloth indigo pads, and more. Janeen is owner and maker at Holy Sponge! and her partner, Daniela, is Web Design Badass and Workshop Madame. We both come from backgrounds in the therapeutic world and bring that into our work and activism. There is a side of the work that is running the business and a side that is teaching workshops on topics like “The Politics of Menstruation” and “Take Back Your Period–A Conversation on Blood and Shame.” We want people who bleed to know that having a monthly flow is healthy and natural–it even is revered in some cultures.
Why periods? Why sponges? Where do you harvest them from? Where did this start and how?
Janeen started Holy Sponge! in 2011 shortly after arriving to the Bay Area from the east coast. She fell in love with natural sponges and began making personalized menstruation kits for her friends until they suggested she became a professional sponge dealer–which seemed like a lot more fun than using her Masters in Social Work!
Why sponges? Not only are they totally sustainable–from how they are harvested to being compostable at the end of their life cycle–but they also feel great. They are the only internal menstrual option that actually forms itself to the shape of each unique body. Cups are another great option but we love the fact that sponges are grown on the ocean floor, anti-microbial, and contain compounds that may fight cancer cells. Plus, sponges spend their lives moving with the ocean tides, which are determined by the moon, like our watery bodies & moon cycles. It makes a lot of sense to us that sponges and menstrual blood are made for each other.
Our sponges are harvested in Florida under strict conservation laws, meaning that they are only trimmed from the top which extends their life cycle and also that there is a rotation method used in harvesting so no single area gets depleted. We’ve found a wonderful female diver who we get the sponges from, and then we inspect, trim and sort the sponges before putting them in our ritual menstruation kits.
How do you hope to help further educate and de-shame women about having their periods? How do you see this turning into a broader movement? Are there other women doing something similar?
Part of our work as menstrual activists is to offer workshops on menstruation. We love to talk to people about their periods and the feelings that surround bleeding. Although women’s rights have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. This is quite evident to us in the stories we hear about how women and people who bleed relate to their monthly flow. There are still horrible, awful messages being passed down from one generation to the next or in the media about the meaning of menstrual blood.
Women and people who bleed need safe spaces to talk about it, because there really aren’t very many other spaces for this kind of shared experience of shame and pain. And that’s where our backgrounds in social work, counseling, and group work really help us in facilitating these discussions. We hope to take workshops on menstruation to more communities in the future, especially to people who don’t have access to this information. We just listed a sponge kit in our etsy shop called “Spread the Bloody Word” that buys someone with low-income a seat to a workshop when you buy a kit for yourself.
This movement has been fueled by the work of so many women who’ve come before us- wonderful groups like the Society For Menstrual Cycle Research, The Red Web Foundation, Occupy Menstruation, Sustainable Cycles, The Red Tent Movement, Women’s Voices for the Earth and more. Each group has their own focus–some are quite academic (SMCR); some demand labeling, research, and independent testing for fem-care products (Women’s Voices for the Earth); and others want women & people who bleed to have safe spaces to bleed (Red Tent groups). We love connecting with other activists and hope the movement continues to grow. One of our favorite books–if you are wanting to know more about the whole topic is “New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation” by Chris Bobel.
Why is this important? What have you learned from this endeavor?
You know, some might consider this work small potatoes. I mean, menstruation…who cares, right? I (Janeen) have a background in working on big issues like HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and I even went to get my Master’s Degree so I could advocate for the rights of children internationally. And now, here I am, working on menstruation for women and bleeders in the US. Why? Because I believe that change begins small…at home–and our bodies are our homes. And if our bodies aren’t valued, we won’t value ourselves or other bodies. If we are okay with sticking rigid wads of chemical-laden cotton in our bodies, shrugging it off as part of what we have to endure for being women, then what else are we okay with sticking in our bodies? And WHY are the corporations okay with selling toxic shit? There has been clear scientific research linking rayon (an ingredient in tampons) to all kinds of cancers. Yet, those products fill the shelves and there is no accountability for the people who are getting rich off of menstruating bodies.
I’ve learned that women want to talk about their periods about their blood. When a space is provided, folks will show up and engage in a dialogue around menstruation. I’ve learned that convenience sells and self-love is a hard sell- but not impossible. I’ve learned that we have to speak up, challenge the norm, be willing to talk to our friends and families, our sisters and daughters about why the health of women and folks who bleed is so very important.
Who are you currently crushing on? What women inspire you?
We are seriously crushing on Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, who has been working for years (10+) to get Congress to approve The Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act, which would require The National Institutes of Health to conduct independent research on whether the additives in tampons are dangerous over years of use. This bill has been shot down nine times previously, but we are rooting for the tenth attempt, where Maloney will also have Lauren Wasser, the model who lost her leg due to TSS in 2012, speak to Congress.
Anything else you want to say?
Come and see us August 13th if you live in LA for our workshop “Take Back Your Period: A Conversation on Blood and Shame” at the Women’s Center for Creative Work!