Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Etiquette for menstruation

November 19th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Photo courtesy of sweeteningthepill.com

Recently I was fortunate enough to be asked to lend an excerpt of my recently released book to the UK Sunday Times Style magazine. The mostly fashion-centric Style magazine is not really known for its edginess or risk-taking (except perhaps in the realm of shoe and make-up choices) and so I was happily surprised when the editor told me that the subject matter discussed in my book that she happened to find most interesting was, in fact, menstruation. I had expected her to want to focus on condoms perhaps, or just my personal story, but no, she was keenly interested in what I wrote about periods.

The argument I make in my book is that how we feel about hormonal birth control is inextricably linked to how we feel about menstruation. In a sense, many of the newer methods of hormonal birth control, as well as the newer uses (running packets of pills together, prescriptions for cramps or heavy bleeding) show an effort to get rid of the period completely, rather than just hide it away. I also discuss in the book, briefly, menstruation activism. However, I do defer to the far better work done by the likes of SMCR’s own Chris Bobel who writes on this topic with far more knowledge (not to mention wit).

You can read the feature in full here at my website (it’s otherwise behind an online pay wall and frankly I’m pleased to rob Rupert Murdoch of a few pounds by making it freely available).

In the end, the feature was not exactly an excerpt from my book – more so it was quotes from the book mixed with quotes from a long interview with the editor. Therefore I didn’t quite know what would be published in the magazine. The finished piece covered a range of controversial topics seen here at re:Cycling regularly – menstrual outing, reusable femcare products, the potential health benefits of ovulation…

If the high point of my career was getting the word “patriarchy” into the notoriously right-wing British tabloid The Daily Mail, I think I had another peak seeing this sentence in the Style (notorious for its high priced designer fashion spreads) – “This movement believes the act of stopping and hiding our periods with hormonal contraceptives and sanitary products is a mark of corporate ownership of our bodies.” I take great pride in also getting a discussion of menstrual extraction on to Style’s pages, and therefore onto the breakfast table of approximately one million British people – “an entire period’s worth of menstrual blood could be removed in a few hours instead of being experienced over days.” Well, if we can have Page 3, why not menstrual extraction?

The editor who did such a great job on this piece was Fleur Britten and in a funny twist of fate I realized, during our conversations, that in my first full time working position after college, at the publishing company Debrett’s in London, I worked as a production assistant on one of her books – Etiquette for Girls. At that time controversy surrounded Fleur’s section on the proper etiquette for one-night stands (I think it was something about getting out quickly, quietly, but leaving a nice handwritten note). So, it made me smile to see her skewer the etiquette of menstruation in the opening paragraph of this piece: “Many women are bored with having to take a whole handbag into the ladies rather than carry a tampon in their hand. Men say “I’m going to take a dump,” but we don’t say, “I’m just going to change my tampon.””

When I was carrying the proofs of Fleur’s book to the printers back some seven years ago, little did I know we would be conspiring to get the British public to say “I am menstruating” today over tea and toast.

It Is Gross, but Why Is It Gross? Adventures in Grossland

October 28th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

For me, that’s always the question.

Gross is a decision. It is a judgment based on a set of values derived from a particular perspective. And because of this slipperiness, some things are more widely deemed GROSS that some other things.

Readers of this blog are well aware that bleeding lady parts often end up in Grossland. And they end up there more often than other body parts doing their body part thing. So why is this?

It’s been a busy few weeks in Grossland— dizzying days upon days of seeing the obvious contradictions embedded in what we, as a culture, deem gross and what we see as just- bodies- being- natural-bodies. Sometimes these bodily functions are FUNNY and other times only mildly yucky, but still okay to talk about.And sometimes, in the case of menstruating bodies, we are socialized to keep the whole thing quiet and hidden.

My most recent trip to Grossland began with the uproar over the newly-released (and nearly sold out) American Apparel masturbation-period-vulva T shirt flap. The flap just barely died down when Kristen Schaal’s brilliant satire (on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) delivered a bit on the proliferation of sexy Halloween costumes for women. In it, Schaal suggested that women “take it to the next level … get everyone thinking about sex (by) dressing up as the place where sex happens!” (and in walks a 6 foot high vulva! With Stewart-as-straight-man remarking “I don’t know if we can show that….” )I love what she did there, but the piece is not ONLY funny for its feminist take down of the hypersexualization of women’s bodies. The costume is outrageous because it  is gross, right? “Sexy Vagina” (vulva, of course, more accurately, but this is not the time for anatomical correctness)  is funny because who-in-their-right-mind-would dress-up-like-that?  That’s disgusting. Welcome to Grossland.

Petra Collins, the 20-year-old artist commissioned to produce the t-shirt image for no-friend-to-women retailer American Apparel gets this (even if her check was written by a corporate entity who could care less about the social message she has in mind). Collins speaks compellingly about the objectification and containment of women’s bodies that her work endeavors to challenge. And she reports that the controversy swirling around a line drawing of a hand stroking a menstruating (and hairy!!!) vulva was “awesome” because

“it totally proves my point…. that we’re so shocked and appalled at something that’s such a natural state—and its funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently.”

And appalled we are! One commenter on a TIME article about the t shirt controversy remarked: I….would equate her imagery with a straining rectum expelling a painful, post-digestion steak dinner.” And there it is. We can’t seem to have a menstrual moment without someone rushing in to equate menstruation with defecation. Liz Kissling has taken it on. Breanne Fahs has, too, more recently, but we still haven’t gained much traction in showing that

1) menstruating and pooping are not the same thing, and even if they were,

2) menstruating IS  more shamed than pooping

Menstruation is gross (throw in masturbation and pubes to make it really beyond the pale) because we say it is. And those that hasten  to compare uterine-lining shining with expelling feces are missing the fact that while the processes do overlap in some ways, we are NOT, culturally speaking, as hellbent on silencing the poop (or the farts and certainly not the piss) as we are the menses.  and why is that? Perhaps it it matters who is doing the business.  I assert that it ain’t no coincidence that  bleeding LADY parts are the Grossest of Them All.

To wit, I submit the following:

A colleague put the new film Movie 43, a blend of edgy and puerile vignettes acted by a star studded ensemble cast, on my radar. The film includes the segment: “Middleschool Date” (written by Elizabeth Shapiro. Elizabeth: If you are out there, will you be my friend?).

I’ve got Aunt Irma visiting

August 7th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

The IT Crowd is a British sitcom that centers on three IT workers and their daily misadventures. Maurice Moss, an intelligent but geeky technician who is quite socially awkward; his friend, Roy, who goes to lengths to avoid working; and Jen, the “Relationship Manager,” serve as the core team of the IT Department.

In the last episode of season one, titled “Aunt Irma Visits,” Jen explains to the men that she is on her period. I enjoyed the list of euphemisms she rattles off in an attempt to describe what’s happening, including “its high tide,” “closed for maintenance,” and “fallen to the communists,” with Moss noting that the communists do, indeed, “have some strong arguments.” It finally takes Roy shouting “first scene in Carrie” as a means of elucidation before Moss catches on. The men subsequently begin to experience sympathy premenstrual syndrome (I’ll leave the discussion regarding the validity of “sympathy PMS” for another post). Moss, in an attempt to get a variety of opinions on the idea, sends out an email to everyone—signed by both Moss and Roy—in his address book asking, “Do we have PMT [premenstrual tension]?” He also includes a list of symptoms the guys have: headachy, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Moss remarks that the last symptom is particular to him. In an hour, after learning of Moss’s and Roy’s problems, the staff create a mocking website depicting the men as women (the website—www.ladyproblems.com—doesn’t actually exist, for better or worse). Roy and Moss decide to try to calm Jen down in hopes that doing so will also calm their own symptoms, and the three have a Girls Night Out.

The show is overtheatrical and this episode is no exception. There is the standard play on PMS stereotypes, most notably the way Jen turns into a she-devil when bothered or irritated by the men. But the humor comes from each character’s specific traits and how they react as IT people to their sympathy PMS. There is a funny bit about how IT men all across the world are suffering from PMS at the same moment, thanks to Moss’s well-distributed email. Furthermore, it is the melodramatic nature of the show that allows the storyline to work. The plausibility of this show is nonexistent, and thus the plausibility of the PMS plot is intentionally frivolous. That’s the point.

This perhaps also illustrates a larger difference in American and British humor, or at least slightly different humorous approaches to menstruation. The episode is full of irony; my favorite is when Jen, as a she-devil, talks about ordinary activities such as using a different hair conditioner or trying to keep slim. I’m sure there are many out there who find this episode to be another jaded interpretation of menstruation, but I don’t. The fact that the emphasis is not on the perceived negative stereotypes of menstruation, but rather on how a certain group of men react to having PMS takes away the insulting references about menstruation (and places them on IT men—if there any IT men out there offended by this episode I’m here to listen to your grievances).

Note: This episode is available on Hulu Plus in its entirety, but you can also find it on Vimeo or in separate clips on YouTube.

Another Day, Another Shame: Sports Edition

August 5th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

The BODY POLICE just wrote us another ticket.

Sweating through our workout clothes, is a big NO NO, that is, if the sweat shows up (whisper…blush…giggle…) down there. The “solution” to the non-problem du jour is U By Kotex’s Sports Liners. Thank you, Kotex, for reminding me that I am, in fact, a functioning, healthy human. Here’s the commercial. (Prepare your rage).

In response, Australian Humorist Sammy J sent the BODY POLICE back to the station with: “The Crotch Song” He performed the jaunty tune on the new Australian weekly comedy series Wednesday Night Fever, which he hosts.  Then, like good satire often does, it went viral.

Apparently underestimating our hunger for a good solid FemCare smackdown, Sammy J humbly posted to his Facebook page on July 25th:I awoke to discover my song about crotch sweat has gone viral overnight, clocking up over 30,000 views. Power to the sisterhood!”  Well, Sammy J, your fandom is growing. Video views on YouTube alone are at nearly 48K and climbing.

I love the sassy critique of the product, of course, but I especially appreciate the way Sammy J redirects our attention away from the intractable ‘to use or not to use’ debate that quickly devolves into missing the point much bigger than any particular individual’s consumer choice. Instead, he exhorts every woman to steer clear of men (let’s expand that to ANYONE) “ who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.”

Amen.

Here’s the full lyrics here. Every delicious word.

 The Crotch Song by Sammy J 

 I saw a new ad for a new product aimed at women
New panty liners to eliminate crotch sweat.
And though I don’t have degree in feminism
I feel their message is a little hard to get

Cause the assumption seems to be that sweating when you exercise is a major turn off so it’s best to keep sweating in disguise

But that does not address the fact that any guy who judges you for sweating when you exercise is probably a cock-head.

So if we apply the logic they’re using to sell it.
And your crotch is sweaty so you buy a 30-pack

Well then there’s a stronger chance you’ll end up with a douche-bag, and that’s a few years of your life you won’t get back.

In-fact when you think it through
Any guy who talks to you despite your sweaty crotch has already past a very basic test
It means he’s not brain dead.
It means he understands the cause or link between exercise and perspiration.

So take him to the formal

The website says and this is word for word I’m quoting “It’s time we all stop being shy about vaginas” 


And then you click the product tab they’re promoting
 guilt, shame and embarrassment to sell their panty-liners.

So young girls if you’re listening and your crotch is feeling sweaty.
You can chose to use a liner. 
Do whatever sets you free

But as you make your way through life avoid dating the assholes who would make you feel as bad as panty liner companies.

[Source: LYBIO.net]

Care for a drink?

July 10th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Photo from Reddit user ImKatieJay

Reddit, the social entertainment website, has a section called “Reddit WTF?!” where users can post images or links that fit the category of “What the fuck?” Under the title of “Who Wants a Shot!?” one user posted an image of a package of five “flasks” that are in the shape of tampons and come with nondescript tampon wrappers. As the post is nearing 1,000 comments there is a lot to discuss about this image and what others are saying about it. Yes, we could have the usual conversation how this is simply another aspect of menstrual shame—the whole point of these flask tampons is that no one will want to touch them and thus the product and period are reinforced as disgusting objects. To be sure, there are many comments that illustrate this negative construction of the tampon and also frame the cycle as a grotesque event. Instead, I’d like to talk about the positive (and sometimes humorous) responses on Reddit to these flask tampons.

The comments range in topic including the price (most seem appalled at the $12 price tag); places where these could potentially be useful (movie theatres, airports, concerts, sports venues—there’s even a small write-up on them in Sports Illustrated); how drugs and pills could also be smuggled via the “tampons”; and who should carry these faux menstrual products.

It’s the last point that piqued my interest as I was pleasantly surprised how many users were promoting different ways for men to carry these and suggesting appropriate responses should they be questioned. The most common one I seemed to find is the well-known use of tampons to stop nosebleeds, including one where a wrestler wrote that tampons helped him out numerous times with his nosebleeds. Others mentioned that tampons could be used by soldiers to help stop the bleeding from bullet holes or other wounds. Several people said that a man should carry these in his personal bag and if asked should say that they are for his girlfriend. This example, of carrying around a girlfriend’s tampons, also serves as a form of menstrual protest. It was obvious through several of the comments that a man who carries around tampons should expect to get odd looks and questions when someone searches his bag. However, the reaction leaned more towards an aura of think how funny this is going to be rather than the this is so disgusting scenario, leading me to conclude that many of the people who commented (particularly the men) felt that carrying around these faux tampons was, yes, a way to sneak alcohol, but also a form of menstrual protest.

In addition, there are many comments from people who seem disappointed in the unrealistic feature of the product, particularly the nondescript wrappers that simply say “TAMPON.” Perhaps this is more indicative of our saturated advertising culture, but a few posters thought that someone searching the bag would catch on to the fake tampons due to the lack of color or logo/design to suggest a particular brand. Although, as someone who has used off-brand disposable products in the past, I can confirm that often times there is no logo or brand name on the wrapper.

Lastly, mixed throughout the puns (for example, “Bloody Mary” anyone?) and suggested uses of these tampons, were the expected comments about the revolting nature of the period. What was interesting to see is that these comments were met with others that challenge this type of characterization. It was a tête-à-tête with some commentators as those who posted remarks such as “Men, never trust anything that bleeds for 7 days, and doesn’t die,” were countered with equally crass “Women, never trust anything with two heads and one brain.”

If Men Could Menstruate: 2013 [Aussie] Edition

July 8th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by poet Tami Sussman

Tami Sussman. Used with Permission

We might be 17 or so hours ahead in real time, but when it comes to The Arts, we’re a bit behind here, down under.

Poetry slams were introduced in Australia (by an American) around a decade ago and the National Poetry Slam is in its 7th year running.

In Sydney, where I live, there are about 5 Spoken Word events per month, if we’re lucky.  So it came as no surprise that I was only made aware of the Menstrual Cycle Research Conference and the RED MOON HOWL slam, one week before opening by a twitter follower who had heard me perform my poem “Fuck Yeah I’m Bleeding” at last year’s NSW heat for the Australian slam.

I can’t wait to attend this forum when it next graces NYC and perhaps perform this poem in front of Gloria Steinem herself:

https://soundcloud.com/sussmania/fuck-yeah-im-bleeding-heavy 

About the Performer:

In 2012, Tami threw herself in the Spoken Word scene, writing and performing in her first One-Woman show My Furry Heart. The show was a tremendous success, attracting over 700 people across a series of seven shows. Tami has since been invited on radio and to MC and perform at a range of festivals and events around Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland including “Jurassic Lounge” at the Australian Museum, in Sydney and Melbourne’s very own “Mother Tongue” in Fitzroy.

A 2012 NSW Poetry Slam Finalist, and 2013 SOYA Finalist, Tami is a now a very recognisable face in the Sydney Poetry Slam scene, with many winning performances at Glebe’s “Friend in Hand” and Sydney’s travelling “Caravan Slam”.

Twitter: @SussmaniaSydney
; Facebook:  ‘Like’ Sussmania; 
YouTube: SussmaniaSydney
; Blog: http://sussmania.wordpress.com

#Making Menstruation Matter—For All the Wrong Reasons

April 15th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Oops!

Somebody fell in it.

And by it I mean the tired old WomenCan’tDoStuffBecauseTheyAreWomen pit–a veritable snake hole crawling with misogynists, essentialists, and old school protectionists.

Image adapted from public domain photo // Design by Anne Bobel Zelek
[Actual menstrual status of shooter unknown. That's the point, people. You can't tell]

Terri Proud, a newly hired Administrative Assistant in the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, landed in the pit recently when she (allegedly) made comments about women’s menstrual cycles in combat. She was fired, and her boss, Colonel Joey Strickland, was asked by the Arizona governor to resign (apparently, Strickland hired Proud against the Governor’s wishes).

According to the Arizona-Sonora News Service, when asked about women serving on the front lines, Proud said “Women have certain things during the month I’m not sure they should be out there dealing with….”

Proud says she was misquoted. Was she or wasn’t she? Even if the quote is verbatim, I struggle to imagine a government official’s capacity  to register the absurdity of this comment, but maybe I am just cynical. Suffice it to say, there is surely more to this obviously political  here, but I’d like to focus on the menstrual dimension.

The assumptions about what women can and cannot do while menstruating make for a long and logic-defying list. The rationale for menstrual prohibitions is sometimes religious  (e.g., bans on menstruating women from religious rites, sex, and food preparation). There’s another category of no-nos beyond the menstrual taboo, though.  Women can’t do [fill in the blank] because their periods render them incapacitated or otherwise put them at risk. Many people still believe a woman should not camp or hike in bear infested woods because their menstrual odor will render them bear bait.  Not true. Often, women themselves are constructed as the predators during their PRE-menstrual period. You know….PMSing women are dangerous, even potentially homicidal. And women can’t be trusted to make decisions (or serve on the Supreme Court) because they are Out Of Control.

But we know differently. Women—during all phases of the menstrual cycle—can do all manner of things,  all the time, thank you very much, including jobs that are not, shall we say, menstrual management-friendly. They fight forest fires. They collect data in remote field sites. They orbit space. They are perform brain surgery.

Yet, PREJUDICE against women is often JUSTIFIED because they menstruate. The Disability Rights/Inclusion Movement has taught us that often, the most pernicious barriers to inclusion are perceptions, not the actual limits imposed by our disabilities. That’s certainly the case here. Let me go out on limb here: if women were respected, if women were valued, if women were seen as competent peers, then the fact of their menstruation would be less of a “disability” and more of a fact of a life.

But you know what? I want to give Terri Proud the benefit of the doubt for a minute. When pressed about her comment by The Arizona Daily Star, Proud said “I don’t have a problem with women being on the front line if that’s their choice….I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘No, you don’t have that right.” In the same story, Proud is described as harboring  a “curiosity”  about “how menstrual cycles are handled” and noted “that whether or not that hurdle is being addressed is a real issue, even if it isn’t talked about. Women are designed differently from men and need to have their needs met on the front lines.” And I say to that: well done Terri Proud, Menstrual Activist.

Because she is right. Menstruation is a reality, and menstruators need support and resources. Managing our menses can be tough when we don’t have access to facilities, or privacy, or both. Anybody that’s been camping while on their period can tell you that (bears notwithstanding) this IS a REAL issue. So she is right to ask (even if she is merely doing so to recover from blurting out something really dumb) What is the US military doing for women in combat? Now with the ban on women in (officially recognized) combat positions is no more, a change in policy that is expected to open 230,000 front-line positions to women, this question demands answers.

One answer: Suppress menstruation through the use of extended oral contraceptive pills. That is an option, yes, but it might not be the right one for every woman. Even beyond many menstrual cycle researchers discomfort with the one-size-fits-all approach to dosing cycle-stopping contraception (readers of re:Cycling are no stranger to concerns about this trend), there is a deeper concern about the implications of just making the menses go away.

Cycle stopping contraception, Liz Kissling has argued, enables a particularly new manifestation of the docile neoliberal subject. The feminine non-mensturating body, is not, as popularly believed, liberated, but rather, one held even tighter to the hegemonic male standard. Place this compliant amenorrheaic body in the context of the military and a curious paradox is revealed. The submissive soldier? The docile woman packing an assault rifle? Really? Seems both oxymoronic, and hardly like a gain in the fight for women’s equality.

Instead, can we imagine an expanded universe of menstrual management options?

  • Reusable cups and sponges provided for free (with eww-effect reduction training included) ?
  • Cycle stopping contraception offered as an option (not a mandate)—including an honest discussion of risks and benefits?
  • Quality reproductive health care in which menstrual health is a part of a comprehensive whole?
  • Work cultures, even remote ones, that acknowledge cyclical and variable human needs of all sorts?

Otherwise, if women must alter their very bodies to “fit in” and be taken seriously in their jobs, show me the ground we have gained. Cuz when I look down, all I see is the bottom of the same ole stinky pit.

Little Girls! Just Say Yes to Your Dreams!

March 18th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Seen this one yet? (or the (eerily) related “Birth Control on the Bottom“?)

We posted “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” (written by Carissa Leone in 2011) in our regular installment Weekend Links on Feb 2. I had a mixed reaction. And when a couple re:Cycling readers described the video as “nasty,” I knew we needed to dig in a bit.

Let’s discuss.

There’s something very absurdly funny about eating birth control, even if the women are still tweens and the birth control is merely mulit- colored jelly beans intended to get young girls in the pill-popping groove before they are saddled with a baby and an half-finished high school education.

First of all, women CAN eat their birth control, donchaknow… Warner Chilcott brought to market their chewable, spearmint flavor oral contraceptive, Femcon Fe, for women who have difficulty swallowing pills and apparently, find stopping for 30 seconds to swallow water.

But I digress (I guess I just want to be clear that we are ALREADY munching our pills).

It is hard not to love how this sketch takes down the pandering to the girl tween market. Oh lordy. There’s so much potential there! (one estimate figures that kids aged 8-12 years are spending $30 billion OF THEIR OWN MONEY and nagging their parents to spend another $150 billion annually!) Little girls quickly move from Disney to diets, from fingerpaint to fake eyelashes, from tutus to belly shirts…..I have seen it with my own girls and it feels, frankly, like an inexorable force.

Viral sketch writer Carissa Leone graciously replied to my questions regarding the piece. When I asked her what inspired her, she channeled her Women’s Studies training (go team!) and supplied her two main reasons:

(1) “I saw a little girl on the subway,holding a baby doll in one of those pretend baby slings…and I thought, “If only she really knew what motherhood was like. I wonder if anyone has explained the authentic experience. I wish she were carrying a briefcase and reading a teeny issue of Ms. magazine instead… “

AND

(2) “The idea that women can/should have it all, in terms of relationships and families and career still seems to be put forth as a tangible (and”correct”) goal in Western culture. It’s a pressure I and many other peers feel, and one that I don’t think is truly possible, or necessarily awesome.”

And Big Pharma takes a hit, too, per the spot’s director, Brian Goetz, who offered this when I asked him about what led to the sketch:

“I wanted to do the video because the script spoke so well to the branding of pharmaceutical commercials, where no matter what the product, as long as you say there’s a problem and that you have the solution, throw some happy people and fun b-roll in it, you’ve got a successful campaign. On top of that, it’s always fun to legitimize terrible ideas in sketch comedy. And if that means having multi-colored jelly bean birth control pills, all the better.”

But I think there’s more to it that that.

Why do I find myself laughing and crying at the same time? Well, I just finished my advance copy of Holly Grigg-Spall’s forthcoming Sweetening the Pill  or How We Became Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (out this Spring with Zero Books). In it (and here as well, on this blog), Grigg-Spall makes the case the hormonal contraceptives have become so normative that we, as consumers, permit an imperfect (at best) product to flourish even while other options may be more appropriate. The one-pill-fits-all mindset is so pervasive and bores in so deep, so young, Grigg-Spall argues, that when someone says, ‘hey! I don’t want to be on the pill,’ these—what she calls “pill refugees” — are hastily branded as irresponsible, antifeminist, or just plain dumb. That is, the pill gets constructed as our savior, our liberator, our saving grace, even when its not.

And that’s where this spoof enters….since the pill IS all these things, let’s get those girlies on board NOW! Why wait? Good habits start young, after all. And product loyalty is not just for toothpaste and laundry detergent….

And so, “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” is super smart feminist critique. It calls out the enduring wrongheadnessness of romanticizing motherhood and co-opting what I would call a tragically hollowed-out pseudo feminism harnessed to push product:

  • Little girls playing Mommy is cute, and kinda bullshit!
  • Its never too early to teach little girls about options!
  • She’ll know that birth control means winning a college scholarship

Yup. There’s lots of problems with that. Thanks to the feminist satirists to help us see.

But I have to say one more thing.

Leone and I discussed (what I consider) the unfortunate below-the-belt invocation of gender dysphoria to as she put it, “most absurd, heightening beat” in the sketch (here’s another, more recent example of same, on SNL). I don’t think trans or gender queer or otherwise gender variant people should ever serve as punchlines, as I told Leone so in our email exchange. When I inquired about this moment in an otherwise spot-on sketch, she said that is was never intended it as a negative perception of transgendered kids. But still  it is, and I think it points with a big fat finger at how much work we still need to do to move trans issues from margin to center.

Let’s push forward without leaving anyone behind. Let’s laugh at feminist satire that avoids (even unintended) transphobia. Let’s keep our targets clear and our allies clearer. Let’s say YES to that dream, for real.

Shameless. Or, How To Make An Ethical Femcare Ad.

February 1st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

I saw a femcare ad that I actually liked.

I know, right? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I’m kidding. I’m exactly the same person. It’s the ad that’s different.

Now. I don’t promote individual femcare companies. I do ad analysis. As long as femcare adverts remain the loudest voice in the menstrual discourse, I’ll keep encouraging people to use social media to create a two-way conversation and to increase their advertising literacy. Since I started this project, though, I’ve longed to see an ad that was period positive: that didn’t use shame to sell or use humour at the expense of menstruators. This is the first one I’ve ever seen.

It’s a viral video that’s been put out this week by Mooncup UK, a small (but growing), ethical company producing reusable, medical grade silicone menstrual cups. The ad directly challenges the current market leaders and promotes their own product without once dipping into the fear/embarrassment/secrecy triumvirate used throughout the history of femcare.

Here’s the ad:

And here’s the analysis:

Like a number of femcare ads that have made news over the past couple of years, it’s funny, viral, and sends itself up.

Where previous ads by bigger brands have gotten it wrong, though, it’s usually been because there were still echoes of the history of shame, fear and manufactured problems that could all be solved by the product. Ads for disposables somehow never seeming to mention the inconvenient truth (thanks, Al) about landfills and waste.

But the Mooncup ad works because:

They have a massively on-message USP. The unique selling point is that it’s reusable for years. Those who prefer tampons to pads could be persuaded to make the switch. I know many people who have sung their praises for ages, and while I’ve been doing the Adventures in Menstruating project, their company’s reach has grown far beyond its Brighton offices, and awareness around menstrual cups generally (a number of companies produce silicone and latex menstrual cups around the world), has spread, mostly by word of mouth, small distributors, and a few clever ad campaigns.

Brand loyalty for products that you don’t need to replace often is built through trust, reliability, and integrity. It’s a classic advertising model, but it’s usually applied to big ticket items like cars. Gives a whole new meaning to Think Small.

I’m aware that there are very different business models working with a one off purchase vs. repeat purchase disposables. If tampon companies respond, it’d be refreshing if they used what I like to call the Ocean Breeze Soap model. (Tampons are convenient in a pinch. Just like other disposable products are handy for the same reason. It would be way better for the environment if we used fewer convenience products, but if you do choose to use a disposable product of any kind, we hope you’ll choose ours.) Disposable femcare companies can’t deny their carbon footprint, but they frequently take the lazy option and distract consumers with shame and fear.

Shame is out of the equation. Its persuasive powers aren’t tainted by the classic canon of leakage fear, invisibility, euphemisms like ‘comfort’ or ‘freshness’, or that mysterious blue liquid. (Okay seriously – what IS that stuff? Do they use water with food colouring? Wildberry fruit punch? What?) They don’t need to use shame – no femcare company does.

They have a convincing argument backed up by statistics (that they are willing to share and which you are welcome to read and critique further). This ad lists the reasons why menstrual cups are better in a direct product comparison: better for your body, better value financially, and better for the environment than disposables. (In the style of a rap battle. But I’ll come back to that in my next post next week.)

I emailed Mooncup and requested data to back up the claims, and they, impressively, sent it straight over:

Source: no of tampons (22 per period)

Source: tampons absorb “everything”

Source: Mooncups hold 3x as much as a tampon

The Little Boy and the BFG

November 26th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Photo by Andrea Mason. Used with permission

His mother told me she was in the shower and when she came out, there he was. “He kept pushing them through the applicator and saying, ‘A flower!’ and then trying to sniff them,” she explained  (and the t-shirt, by the way, is just a wonderful coincidence).

So why is this such a charming yet cringe-worthy moment captured in time?

A sweet little boy innocently explores some curious objects, ‘flowers’ to him. They are not charged with a snicker and an ‘ohmigod.’ They are not products just for women’s deep dark ‘down there’. They are neither yucky nor gross. In fact, they are FASCINATING and FUN! And that’s because our menstrual shaming culture has not worked its insidious magic on him yet.  Today, these tampons are just flowers. [And a fun fact here: in the Middle Ages, the word “flower” was commonly used to signal menstruation, according to scholars Etienne Van De Walle and Elisha P. Renne]

As I studied this photo, dissecting the typical reactions it surely elicits, my mind wandered to my favorite passage from the Roald Dahl classic, The Big Friendly Giant. In it, Sophie, the little girl who befriends the massive and gentle protagonist with his own unique vocabulary, attempts to explain the impropriety of open, let’s just say it, fart talk.

Everyone is whizzpopping, if that’s what you call it, Sophie said. Kings and Queens are whizzpopping. Presidents are whizpopping, then why not talk about it? Glamorous film stars are whizzpopping. Little babies are whizzpopping. But where I come from it is not polite to talk about it.

Redunculous! Said the BFG. If everyone is making whizzpoppers, then why not talk about it?

Exactly. Everyone farts, so why the hush hush? About one-half the world’s human population menstruates (most for multiple decades) but we are expected to pretend we do not.

Redunculous, but oh-so-common. So when a little boy brings evidence of menstruation into the light of day, we think, if only he knew what THOSE THINGS WERE REALLY FOR! The horror!
But what if he knew AND he didn’t care? What if he knew and he STILL thought they were still fun to play with, still reminded him of flowers?

What then?
 What would menstruation feel like, for menstruators and everyone else, without the yuck factor? How would resistance to shame reshape our menstrual culture? Our menstrual practices?  Our attitudes toward our very own bodies, whatever they do or do not leak? These are not new questions—we ask them again and again on this blog and that’s just here. And yet, while we are clear that menstrual shame is counterproductive, even damaging to quality of life, most of us are still pretty stuck there. What do we actually DO differently to normalize menstruation? Isn’t this how we remake the world, one simple act at a time?

Can we begin with this sweet little guy? Let’s try. What do we say to him when we find him on the bed, about to peel open another super tampon?

Uh..no, honey…those are just for Mommy. Those are not for little boys. Let me have those (as we hurriedly scoop them up and hide them, better this time).

OR

Do we say something else, something that refuses to inject these wads of cotton and rayon with a mysterious negative charge, and just, matter of factly, states their purpose—the same way we would respond as if he had broken into a box of Band-aids or Q-tips. If he has a follow up question (sometimes they do at this age; sometimes not), we answer.

What would YOU say to our little tampon enthusiast?

HALLMARK – When you care enough to send the very . . . ??

August 6th, 2012 by David Linton

Hallmark greeting cards and related trinkets have long exemplified wholesome, up-tempo, Norman Rockwell-styled sentimentality, often packaged in clichéd verses and trite images of puppies, kittens, flowers, babies, sunsets and other references guaranteed to elicit a smile, a tear, or a warm glow. However, as rude humor has spread its influence, expressed most vividly and viciously in celebrity roasts and the Comedy Central show, Tosh .0, Hallmark was not to be left behind. A visit to the racks of cards, books, and novelties at your local card shop reveals a wide variety of snarky items offering cheap shots at a wide variety of groups, hobbies, and practices.

Not Guilty by Reason of Menopause

Among them are several items that attempt to poke fun at what are thought to be characteristics of women in some stage of the menstrual cycle, notably PMS or menopause. Setting aside the fact that the items perpetuate the common misuse of the term  menopause when what is meant is perimenopause, consider a small book presently on sale titled, Not Guilty by Reason of Menopause.

It is comprised of more than 50 pages, organized in double-page spreads, each of which offers a completion to the phrase, “You might be menopausal if. . .”

A few examples will suffice:

“. . . you think about the ‘til death do us part line in your wedding vows a little too often.”

“. . . you tell all your children they’re not your favorite.”

“. . . when your husband proposes a romantic vacation, you suggest ice fishing.”

Collectively, it amounts to an anthology of mean-spirited nastiness with little redeeming humor. Women are depicted as crazy, stupid, vicious, obese, and every other negative stereotype imaginable.

And with each insult women are expected to smile sweetly at being the butt of a bad joke. Of course, to express outrage or even mild annoyance with these sorts of put-downs is to risk of being accused of lacking a sense of humor or, worse yet, of being “politically correct,” the favored dismissive term of those who demand that their repugnant values are somehow benign or lacking in impact or intent.

We’ve come a long way from the days of 1910 when Hallmark was founded and especially from 1944 when the company adopted the slogan that is still theirs today, “When you care enough to send the very best.” In this case one might ask, “The very best of what?”

FemFresh Fails — and we think it’s Funny!

June 27th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Here’s Chella Quint, of Adventures in Menstruating, with more ad busting and shame busting. For even more, see her post at Ms. blog.

Chella Quint is just back from delivering a TEDx Talk, ‘Adventures in Menstruating: Don’t Use Shame to Sell’, link coming soon!

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.