Louise Klintner defended her thesis “Normalizing the Natural: A study of menstrual product destigmatization” on 16 April 2021. Below you can find out more about Louise and her research, described in her own words.
As a fresh graduate from the business programme (civilekonomprogrammet) at LUSEM in 2015, I ventured out to find a job that would give me a sense of purpose. It took about a year before I circled back to the idea of returning to Lund University and consider applying to the PhD programme. What finally made me do it were reports from an Argentinian study where carcinogenic toxins had been found in tampons as a consequence of the widespread use of pesticides on cotton crops. I started looking into the standards and regulations in place on the contents and safety of menstrual products. I soon discovered a frightening lack of such frameworks in particular on a global scale. Products used so intimately on or inside the body and in particular by so many people are generally heavily regulated and monitored, but this was not the case regarding menstrual products.
As I dug deeper, I noticed that it was not only that standards and regulations were missing, but there were other problematic market conditions that became illuminated. For example, the homogeneous nature of products on the market, which were few and had been around for a very long time (tampons and pads have looked virtually the same since the beginning of the 1900s). Additionally, the way products were marketed in a manner disconnected from the reality of menstruating and using menstrual products, for instance the use of blue liquid to illustrate absorption.
To investigate these matters further, I initiated a qualitative study in the menstrual product field. In my pilot study, an early supposition of mine was confirmed, namely that the stigma on menstruation and, by extension menstrual products, played a large role in the status quo of the menstrual product field. Simultaneously, there were clear indications that the stigma was changing, more specifically, weakening. The purpose of my thesis became to develop our understanding of the factors that contribute to the destigmatization of menstrual products. Previous research on destigmatization processes in product fields was sparce and I ended up conducting one of the most comprehensive studies on product destigmatization thus far. In particular, my study takes into account how mechanisms driving destigmatization play out on all three levels of society: the individual, organizational and institutional.
During my time as a doctoral student, I have had a few passion projects on the side that I plan to continue pursuing after my dissertation. First and foremost, I am the initiator of a standardization project aimed at ensuring the health and safety of menstrual products around the world. Together with the Swedish Institute of Standards (SIS) and a number of other stakeholders, including consumer organizations, producers, NGOs and entrepreneurs, I submitted a proposal to start a new standardization area in ISO through its consumer interest organization, COPOLCO. The proposal has thus far been well received and our work will hopefully gather further support from the minimum of five member states in COPOLCO required to move forward.
Second, I am engaged in a research project, again together with SIS, funded by Vinnova. The purpose of the project is to further our knowledge of standardization and innovation of stigmatized products. In particular, it aims to understand how standardization can contribute to, rather than stifle, such innovation. These questions have arisen during my work and is a topic I consider worthwhile pursuing further.