Since I bought my Mooncup and since I read the Cunt book that changed my life, I have been thinking a great deal about periods and my body and the way tampons and towels are advertised.
And I have come to the conclusion that the advertising is both damaging and, well, plain stupid.
My current bugbear is the advert for Tampax pearl, where a woman dressed in a green Coco Chanel suit plays Mother Nature, and interrupts a fashion shoot where a woman is dressed all in white on a white set. She informs the model that she can no longer participate in the fashion shoot because she is delivering her period. Because of course, when a woman has her period, she is completely incapacitated and should not in any circumstances participate in real life and go on with her day! (the sarcasm is heavy in my pen here). Anyway, the model tells her male model companions to stick around and finish the shoot, as she has bought tampax pearl, a product which means she can go on with her day. Oh poor women who don’t have the pearl product! cries the ad. How will you survive each month!
I am going to use this ad as my starting point for the many, many multi faceted issues I have with advertising for period products. (I refuse, point blank, to say sanitary protection. This is the only time I will say it).
Firstly, I take issue with the aforementioned point that Tampax are suggesting that without the magic of the pearl product, women can’t get on with their lives when they are on their period. This is a clever marketing ploy (“buy our product and you can live your life the way you want to!”), but also taps into a greater, historical and cultural anxiety about menstruating women. Traditionally, women on their periods were shunned, hidden away, and in their religious situations prevented from going to the place of worship. Why? Because your period was seen as something unclean, shameful, to be hidden. Ahh, patriarchal religious structures, and you ask me why you piss me right off? So, very subtly, Tampax are playing into this idea. They are saying that without the Tampax pearl, women should not be able to continue with their day, they should leave the public space, hide away until they are clean again, and they must never, ever, NEVER wear white! Unless, of course, they buy this pearl thing-a-ma-jig.
Now, the next question I have is what the fuck is this pearl thing-a-ma-jig anyway? What’s wrong with your regular old tampax? The answer of course is that tampons and towels as products are kind of a one trick pony. Women only need them once a month. They do the job whether you dress them up in a skirt, give them wings, add a “silken” layer or, make them in the shape of pearls. So all period companies have had to come up with all the aforementioned ideas to keep women buying the more expensive alternatives to their products. It’s a big con. A big, big con. And the biggest con of all is the pantyliner, doing the job that knickers have done for ages. The pantyliner is the period companies’ way of making sure that women buy their products all the time, whether they have their period or not. We then have the numerous femfresh products, the biggest sinners of all in my opinion. There is so much whatthefuckery going on with femfresh. They are products with only one goal in mind – making profit from women shaming. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
The problem I have with the way period products are advertised taps deep into the way women are taught to feel about their periods in our culture, and that is that they are something to be ashamed and embarrassed by, a “curse” that makes women become “hormonal” and “irrational”. This way of thinking is all wrong. I mean, think about it. Once a month, for between 3-7 days, for an average of 30-40 years, women have a period. That’s a hell of a lot of time to spend feeling embarrassed, ashamed and fed up. That’s a lot of time spent thinking your body has turned against you with its “curse”. It isn’t healthy to think this way!
Period advertising re-enforces these ideas.
Think about it. There’s an ad where a woman is with her boyfriend, who thinks her tampon is a sweet in her handbag. Thew! Because that could be embarrassing couldn’t it? Your boyfriend, the man you have sex with, might realise you are a woman with a womb and periods and everything! Man, I can’t imagine anything worse! (again, sarcasm). There’s an ad where blue water (blue??!!) is poured on a towel and women squeal at how absorbent it is. There are towels that are decorated in flowers and have been scented. It is all one massive WTF!
What are these ads saying to us? They are telling us that your period is something to be embarrassed about and must be kept hidden at all costs. It is saying that we must be discreet, we must be coy, we must be shy of our bodies.
And then, to top off this mouldy cake with a sour cherry, we have the famous tampax lady. The lady who Tampax, the company, send to schools to educate teen women about their periods, but most importantly, to educate young teens to buy tampax, and to feed them the message that Tampax thrives on, keep your periods hidden and feel ashamed!
When the tampax lady comes on her visit (in year 7 and year 10) she gives everyone a pack of tampax products, including a little holder so that no one will know you’re carrying a tampon in your bag.
Says it all really, doesn’t it.
This is what I would like to see. Firstly, I want period advertising that isn’t so women and body shaming that it has to use blue water to signify blood. I’m not saying we should use blood, it’s not like we use shit in loo roll ads, but something less anodyne and coy would be better. I want ads that don’t treat periods as some dirty secret that women have to keep hidden from men’s eyes. I want companies that don’t come up with endless much of the same products that are overpriced even when nearly all women from puberty to menopause need to use them.
But changing the rules of advertising these products can only go so far. Ads may shape our view of things, but ads are in turn shaped by cultural mores. What we really need is a big cultural overhaul in the way we look and think about periods.
I read about Barbara G Walker describing menarche parties, celebrations that her community would throw for a woman when she starts her period. How amazing is that? How amazing would it be that if from day one, we told women their periods weren’t bad or gross or smelly or shameful, but were a step in the road of life and part of being a woman, of becoming a woman, and our bodies way of preparing women for potential motherhood.
Instead of having the tampax woman come to schools to spout her propaganda, what if we told women all these things? What if social ed was dedicated occasionally to teach boys and girls about periods in a positive way, rather than splitting up the class so the boys don’t get embarrassed by “girl talk”.
If we talked about periods properly and didn’t see them as female shame, then this embarrassment would not be an issue in the first place. There would be no embarrassment around the subject because we would all be open about our bodies and therefore no embarrassment would exist.
When I started using my mooncup, my whole concept of my periods changed radically. I made a conscious effort to stop seeing them as this evil pain that was ruining my fun. It was hard. My periods are painful and always have been. Even now that I am on the pill (and my issues with the pill are a whole other story), they still hurt. I also had a decade or more of negative messaging around my period and my body that told me that I was right to be embarrassed and annoyed with my uterus. But I persevered because I really believed that changing my attitude towards how my body works would make my life easier. And it has. My body is no longer the enemy setting out to ruin my fun, it is no longer the “leaky vessel” that means my day is ruined. It is now my body, part of me, and part of my sense of who I am. Learning to see my periods as a positive thing has made me a much happier person. I think the mooncup helped. The mooncup means you have to get up close and personal with your periods. There’s no applicator or pearl or skirt or wings. It taught me more about how my periods work and behave far more than the tampax lady did.
I wish I could switch all the ads for woman positive messages from companies such as mooncup and lunar pads that tell women not to be ashamed about their bodies and instead to celebrate this one aspect of femaleness (disclaimer – obviously not all women have periods, this is therefore just one potential aspect of what can be seen as encompassing femaleness). Ads would not proudly disclaim how subtle and discreet their products are, they wouldn’t hand out little secret holders. They would tell women to love their bodies and to live happily in their bodies.
And they would never, ever, NEVER refer to “sanitary protection”.