“If you’d told me three months ago that I’d let a plastic surgeon examine my froufrou, that I’d show it to another woman (who wasn’t a doctor) and then allow an artist to take a cast of my Mary, I’d have laughed you out of the house. But it’s extraordinary how documentary-making changes your mind about even the most concrete of things . . . “
Snow on the ground and subzero temperatures this week, so I’m doing nothing but reading:
I’ll Show You Mine: Wrenna Robertson responds to the increasing popularity of labiaplasty with a new book featuring close-up, color photographs of women’s vulvas accompanied by personal stories about them.
The NYT article title reads The threatening scent of fertile women. I’ve felt it for years, and I still haven’t quite figured out why I react this way to this kind of article. Certainly it echos the age-old misogynistic discomfort of learned men for their own sexual urges, projected onto women. I’m trained in evolutionary biology, I believe that humans, like other animals, are subject to natural selection, and I believe that there are things that affect our behaviour that are not processed by our consciousness. But, for some reason, I feel a visceral reaction when I read discussions about the sex-related behaviours of women and men around ovulation.
Some of it is that I’m still annoyed that Nancy Burley’s American Naturalist article has been pretty much ignored. Yes, it’s well cited, but the fundamental conclusions seem to have been lost. In 1979, Burley proposed that so-called “concealed ovulation” is a mystery not just because it is concealed from men, but because it is also concealed from the ovulating woman. And she argued that the leading male-centred hypotheses did not account for this. Burley proposed that ovulation is unmarked because humans are smart and can count, and if they had a choice, many women would choose not to go through childbirth, or do so less often. She argued that natural selection acted to make it harder for women to know when to abstain from sex to avoid pregnancy. In other words, maybe concealed ovulation is not all about men, maybe it’s all about smart women.
It looks like Kotex is winning. Explicit comparison to the competitor’s product is an advertising strategy of 30-40 years ago. Under the new rules, the competitor’s product doesn’t even exist, and certainly isn’t deserving of mention in a promotion for your own.
This ad for Tampax appeared in the March, 2011, issue of Marie Claire
It’s unfortunate that artist’s rationale is framed along the lines of Is menstruation obsolete?, that is, taking the pill is normal, bleeding on the pill is optional, soon no one will be menstruating, and that’s probably a good thing and a positive cultural change. With a bit of nostalgia for those old-fashioned bleeding experiences, and their cultural significance.
As a female designer I had one big problem I wanted to solve. “It’s 2010, so why are humans still menstruating?”
The pill free, bleeding interval was devised when the contraceptive pill first came out, only because it was felt by doctors that women would find having no periods too unacceptable (Since 1960s, taking the pill continuously could have removed periods all together!) The doctors may think that women are attached to their periods, but only humans, apes and bats out of all mammals need to bleed monthly for their reproductive cycle. What does Menstruation mean to humans? Who might choose to have it, and how might they have it?
Still, it’s interesting to see mainstream media asking questions about what menstruation means when it is no longer a biological necessity, but rather a choice.
Last spring, Kotex introduced U by Kotex, a.k.a. You Buy Kotex, small tampons with bright neon applicators and a forward-thinking “Break the Cycle” advertising campaign announcing that Tampon Ads Are Ridiculous. Apparently tampon ads are STILL ridiculous. Here’s the new installment, developed by New York ad agency Ogilvy:
In the culminating field study of 180 women (average age 29), those whose menstrual periods had ended fewer than three days earlier or who expected their periods within three days remembered their last period as significantly more painful than women in the middle of their cycle (none were currently menstruating).
Oddly enough, I found this information about the study in article in Computers, Networks and Communication. They report that “[i]n a series of eight studies exposing people to annoying noise, subjecting them to tedious computer tasks, or asking them about menstrual pain, participants recalled such events as being significantly more negative if they expected them to happen again soon.”
The researchers suspect that this is an adaptive reaction; that is, people use the memory to steel themselves against future pain.
Preparing for class discussions this week about sex education policy in the U.S. found me flipping through the Prelinger Archives, where I found this gem: Molly Grows Up. It’s a menstrual education film apparently intended for girls in about the sixth grade, made in 1953. Along with a basic explanation of the physiology of menstruation and puberty, the school nurse assures the girls that no one can tell when they are menstruating. But then she offers them this advice visible in this screen shot — and recommends the girls wear their best dresses and take extra care with “hygiene”.