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Sharra Vostral, “Testing Tampons: Toxic Shock Syndrome, Feminist Advocates, and Absorbency Standards”

February 23, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Part of CSW’s Feminism + the Senses Lecture Series


During the 1980s in the aftermath of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), the Centers for Disease Control recommended that women use the least absorbent tampons possible, yet manufacturers did not label boxes with reliable information.  This talk examines the establishment of the Tampon Task Force, the contested “syngina” synthetic vagina lab apparatus to test tampon absorbency, and the regulation of  female-specific tampon technologies.   The legacy of these efforts is the standardization of absorbency ratings as well as product labeling, and evidence of the importance of feminist health activists’ involvement within policy negotiations.

Sharra Vostral is an Associate Professor of History in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University, where she is affiliated with both Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and American Studies. Her research centers upon the history of technology, specifically gender, and histories of medical devices and health. Her book, Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology examines the social and technological history of sanitary napkins and tampons, and the effects of technology upon women’s experiences of menstruation. Her current research explores the 1980 health crisis of Toxic Shock Syndrome and its relationship to tampon technologies.

She received her Ph.D. in History at Washington University in St. Louis. She completed her M.A. in American Studies at St. Louis University, and earned honors in Comparative Religion at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Before coming to Purdue, she was an Associate Professor in Gender & Women’s Studies and History at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Supported by the Estrin Family Lecture Series Fund


The Bixby Center on Population and Reproductive Health

The Institute for Society and Genetics

UCLA Department of History

UCLA Center for Social Medicine and the Humanities


February 23, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


UCLA Center for the Study of Women


Kerckhoff Hall Grand Salon
Los Angeles,
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