Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Tampons for Traveling the High Seas

August 30th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Humorous tampon marketing of the kind we’ll probably never see in the U.S.

[My apologies -- I've lost track of the original source.]

Thanks to reader NakedThoughts for providing a link to Red Wombat Studio, the creator of this idealistic tampon ad.

Menstruation, Prince Charles and The Biggest Hacking Scandal

August 29th, 2011 by David Linton

In light of the recent scandals over the phone and email hacking practices of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper editors and reporters it is surprising that there has been so little mention of the fact that the most scandalous, damaging and far reaching hacking story associated with Murdoch centered on menstruation.  The only thorough review of the links between the current story and the earlier one appears in a detailed piece in The Sun-Herald from Sydney, Australia, July 31, 2011.

I have previously written about the incident here and elsewhere, but in light of the current coverage it deserves a fresh look.

In brief: in 1989, a time before either cell phones or email were commonly available (hard to believe there was such a time!), a phone hacker recorded a phone sex exchange between Prince Charles and his then-lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles in which erotic mention was made of tampons.  Three years later the full transcript of the conversation was published in an Australian women’s magazine, New Idea, and a world-wide scandal ensued.

Now, nearly 20 years after the story broke, it is about to come back into play as further investigations proceed into the illegal hacking activities of the Murdoch media empire.  Perhaps we will finally learn how much was paid for a menstrual story that humiliated the Royal Family, who the hackers were, and who authorized its purchase and publication.

And, from a Menstrual Studies point of view, its longevity reflects the deep fascination that the menstrual cycle continues to hold for the general public.

Weekend Links

August 27th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Badass Baristas and PMS Superpowers

August 25th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Crimson Tide, a.k.a. Cassie Taylor (Super Power: Epic Rage)

Are you following the PMS Adventures of Crimson Tide, Maxi Pad, and Tam Pon? After a paid medical trial went bad, these ladies developed extraordinary superpowers that manifest only when they’re menstruating — and since they’re roommates, their cycles are often synchronized.

Start here to read an abridged version of their origin story and follow the links to catch up on all of their adventures.

[via LunaGal]

Event: “Zine Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”

August 23rd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cover of Adventures in Menstruating issue #5Friend of re:Cycling, Chella Quint, will be doing a reading with Jenna Freedman & James M. Parker at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center (172 Allen St, New York, NY), Thursday night (August 25, 7:00 – 9:00 pm).

Join Chella Quint and friends for some comedy readings that attempt to explore the why’s and the how’s of having grown up writing zines — from her 4th grade construction-paper and paper-fastener-bound school report on Benjamin Franklin to the latest issue of “Adventures in Menstruating.” New titles since her last visit to Bluestockings are Adventures in Menstruating #6 (deconstructing feminine hygiene advertising with wit, irony and brute force), The Venns (introducing the world to the great British pub quiz in a spoof research paper using charts, graphs and diagrams) and It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection). She’s also reprinting issues 1-5 of Adventures in Menstruating for a trip down memory lane. Collect the set!

Chella Quint is a comedy writer and performer living in Sheffield, England, but she is originally from New York.  Fresh from performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she’s looking forward to her annual trip home. Check out www.chellaquint.com

Joining Chella are

Jenna Freedman, Lower East Side Librarian author and Wrangler in Chief of the Barnard Library Zine Collection will be reading from her in-progress Orderly Disorder: Librarian Zinesters in Circulation tour zine, tentatively titled “Anything You Say on a Zine Tour Can & Will Be Quoted out of Context in a Zine-Tour Zine.”

and

James M. Parker, poet laureate of all the little people who live inside his head, is a NYC-based writer with delusions of grandeur. He’ll be reading prose and poetry from his chapbook, Spinning the Cube, including his contribution to Adventures in Menstruating #6.

The Shame Game

August 22nd, 2011 by David Linton

Long before the current fad in Reality TV shows that trade in humiliation and embarrassment, the prevailing menstrual culture inculcated in women a feeling that exposure of the fact that a period was in progress was a social catastrophe.  However, just as “The Biggest Loser” invites participants to parade their socially unacceptable bodies before the cameras for fame and fortune, there are times when women are invited to share their stories of menstrual humiliation in exchange for a moment of media recognition and even a cute photo spread.

Consider the October 1, 2007, issue of FIRST: for women on the go, a supermarket checkout publication.  A regular column titled “First Blush” that specialized in sharing readers’ “mortifying moments” in this issue was titled “My most mortifying tampon moment!”  It consists of four letters from women aged 35 to 50 relating stories of an exposed string, a blood stain on a car seat, dog mischief, and a child’s blurted remark about her mothers’ “bagina.”

The piece is illustrated by the smiling author of one of the letters, “Meg Fitzpatrick, 42, Yardly, PA” whose story about the adorable daughter’s outburst earns her a prized photo in the magazine.

Accompanying the article is some promotional copy for a product called “The Combpanion Tampon and Pantiliner Case” that is described as “a hair comb with a hidden compartment in its hollow handle” so that the reader can “carry a tampon . . . without fear of being spotted holding your feminine product.”

I’m prompted to wonder what an equivalent column in a men’s magazine would look like.  Do men ever have “mortifying moments?”

Weekend Links

August 20th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Hymen Seek; or, Good Blood, Bad Blood

August 18th, 2011 by David Linton

The cultural taboo against male contact with menstrual blood can be traced all the way back to the Biblical book of Leviticus, and there have been various attempts to explain its origins, including the Freudian notion that male avoidance of menstrual blood stems from the fear that blood on the penis evokes fears of castration.

However, the contrary social value that prizes the presence of the hymen and, therefore, the evidence of its having been broken being blood on the penis, suggests a more complicated dynamic.*  James Joyce identified the conflict in the long stream of conscious ramble by Molly Bloom in Ulysses when she reflects on the connections she sees between the blood of her period and that produced by the broken hymen.

I bet the cat itself is better off than us have we too much blood up in us or what O patience above its pouring out of me like the sea anyhow he didn’t make me pregnant as big as he is I don’t want to ruin the clean sheets the clean linen I word brought it on too damn it damn it and they always want to see a stain on the bed to know youre a virgin for them all that’s troubling them theyre such fools too you could be a widow or divorced 40 times over a daub of red ink would do or blackberry juice no that’s too purply. . .

Today, rather than resorting to red ink or berry juice, as Molly Bloom suggests, women who can afford a surgical solution can purchase a hymen reconstruction operation.  But for those with fewer resources there are available fake hymen kits marketed under the name Joan of Arc Red.  Aside from the unfortunate image of poor Joan of Arc whose blood was shed at the burning stake rather than in a sexual encounter, these devices promise cheap and effective means of “passing” as a virgin.

When they first appeared, even the New York Times reported on the product, but not because of interest in quaint notions of virginity.  Rather, the focus was on the political ramifications.  The Times headline read, “Egyptian Lawmakers Want to Ban Fake Hymen.”  (10/5/2009) A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheik Sayed Askar, was quoted as saying, “It will be a mark of shame on the ruling party if it allowed this product to enter the market.”  Other individuals interviewed for the article called for the exile of those who import the kits or some other forms of punishment.  The medical procedure that reconstructs a broken hymen by stitching is already illegal in Egypt.  It remains to be seen if the recent upheaval in Egyptian society will lead to changes in hymen values.

For more information on the story, a more detailed report is available at the Huffington Post.

*Editor’s note: For more on the just the anatomical eomplexity of this dynamic, see our December 8, 2009, post about the re-naming of the hymen as the vaginal corona.

The Two Voices of Kotex

August 16th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

This Kotex advertisement appeared in the September, 2011, issue of Ebony magazine.

Slip on stilettos and zip up those skinny jeans. Because there’s nothing so comfortable to a menstruating woman as skin-tight pants, right? At least they’re not white pants.

It is interesting that for one line of products, Kotex is mocking the usual tropes of femcare ads, while deploying those very same clichés for their other line.

 

Landing the Menstrual Part

August 15th, 2011 by David Linton

The ways in which a “menstrual stain” can signify embarrassment, shame, or even some sort of moral or career failure are surely infinite.  If not a literal stain even being associated with menstruation in the most benign way can be seen as perilous.  Sharra L. Vostral, a Keynote Speaker at the June 2011 SMCR conference, reviews this dynamic in her book, Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology.

And until the tennis star Serena Williams broke the taboo in 2009, no established celebrity, actress or athlete was willing to appear in a menstrual product advertisement. [Editor's Note: Brenda Vaccaro, with her "Make Mine a Double!" ads for Playtex tampons in the 1980s, was an earlier exception.] The notion that being publicly associated with menstruation (in fact, being a menstruator!) is a sign of failure or at least marginalization crops up in peculiar places.

For example, the novelist and journalist Carl Hiaasen is known for his snarky style as he lambastes Florida’s often bizarre and convoluted social political and ecological goings on.  His most recent novel, Star Island, features a young actress named Ann DeLusia who has been hired to double for a teen pop star who is frequently so drunk or drugged that her career would be ruined if her dysfunctional behavior were captured by the ever-present paparazzi.

One of the ways Hiaasen lets the reader know that the actress is in the lower tier of Hollywood hopefuls and desperate for a role is by revealing that previously she has been limited to appearances in obscure films, failed series and menstrual product commercials.  On three occasions he makes the same point:

  • If the stand-in job didn’t work out, “Unfortunately, . . . Ann would again be waiting on line with her friends, auditioning for soap operas and sanitary-pad commercials.” (p. 25)
  • At the start of her career “. . . she landed nonspeaking parts in TV commercials for an assortment of feminine hygiene products, including a recyclable contraceptive ring.” (p. 111)
  • Her mother quit speaking to her after “. . . one of my mother’s so-called friends called her up after she saw me on a Maxipad commercial. . .” (p. 160)

It’s too bad that Hiaasen couldn’t come up with a more creative and original way of illustrating the character’s career limitations than by signing on to the trite, and fading, prejudices about appearing in menstrual product ads.  He’s not as progressive as he might like to seem.

Tampon Wars

August 12th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Remember back in February when I made fun of Tampax for explicitly comparing their Tampax Pearl to U by Kotex in their newest print ads? Such direct comparison to the competitor’s product is not a trendy marketing strategy; it hearkens back to the days when Darrin Stephens was a copywriter. (You young-uns can look up that reference.)

I wasn’t the only one who noticed: a recent article in Ad Age says the “30% better protection” strategy has not been used in femcare marketing since Rely tampons were withdrawn from the market in 1980. Not coincidentally, that was the last time Tampax picked up significant market share — a lot of those former Rely users switched to Tampax (Tampax was not owned by P&G at the time, but Rely was).

With the U by Kotex brand apparently winning new customers as well as winning others away from Tampax, how successful will “30% better protection” be as a persuasive strategy? Jack Neff (author of the Ad Age piece) points out that it’s pretty challenging “in a category where absorbency has been tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the wake of the Rely withdrawal.”

Not Having A Happy Period

August 10th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Editor’s note, August 10, 2011: Procter & Gamble has responded that this video was NOT produced or commissioned by them, and is in fact a spoof. While it is still offensive and worthy of criticism as such and your comments are welcome here, please do not direct your ire toward Procter & Gamble.



Edited again, August 10, 2011: I’m beginning to doubt the veracity of the unsigned P&G claim that the company is unaffiliated with this video. The same anonymous quote, attributed only to “Procter & Gamble”, is starting to show up in nearly every online discussion of this ad — at least in discussion of how offensive and un-funny it is. I’ve traced the video back to the Ads of the World site, which provides the following credits:

Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, London, UK
Creative: Jim Thornton
Director: Ben Jones
Production Company: Helimax Films
DoP: George Steel
Producer: Sherry Collins

I note that P&G has not posted their denial at Ads of the World, or at Jezebel – two blogs with *considerably* larger audiences than re:Cycling. Color me suspicious. I’d like to hear what others think.

 


Final edit, August 11, 2011: Many thanks to blogger Jane Fae, who phoned both P&G office and Leo Burnett UK, and received the following statement from a senior representative at Leo Burnett:

“All creative agencies will look at different creative ideas to push boundaries and engage consumers. We will occasionally make test films to try and bring an idea to life without a request from the client. These films are for internal use only, for us to understand the power of an idea and are not for publication. This creative was never commissioned nor approved by P&G. We regret this has been made public without our approval or authorization and apologise for any offence caused.”

 


Procter & Gamble have finally responded to consumer complaints about their patronizing “Have a Happy Period” slogan, with a disturbing video showcasing what they term “some of East London’s finest transvestites”. This is so many kinds of wrong, starting with the conflation of transsexuality and drag performance. But instead of re-inventing the wheel and taking it apart myself, I’m going to re-direct re:Cycling readers to the excellent analysis Shakesville’s EastSideKate did yesterday.

I pulled this P&G contact information and sample letter from commenter “Teaspoon” over there:

Toll-free phone number in the U.S. (Always brand specific): (800) 888-3115
Web form for U.S. contact: http://pg.custhelp.com/app/ask

A sample letter that anyone may feel free to adopt or adapt as they like:

Dear P&G representative:

I was recently directed to a web video ad for your Always brand products intended for airing in England and possibly wider audiences, featuring London “drag queens” in tears over an ostensible inability to menstruate.  Quite aside from the errors inherent with conflating cross-dressing performance with transsexuality, this sort of advertising is cruel to transwomen who do feel incomplete, and it helps create a hostile situation for transsexual individuals.  These individuals already face a greater risk of violence simply for being who they are, and your advertising promotes further dehumanization of those who are different.

As a long-time loyal purchaser of Always brand products, I am dismayed by such mocking and harmful advertising.  Until the ad is pulled and a public apology that acknowledges the harmful nature of the ad is issued, I will no longer purchase Always brand products, and I will be reviewing my other purchases to avoid other Proctor and Gamble products as well.

Sincerely,
A former customer

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.