Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Men(ses) At War

February 25th, 2014 by David Linton

Taboos against menstrual sex are probably rooted in an inchoate understanding that there is less likelihood of conception during menstruation. If procreation and tribal survival are the goals, then delaying sexual congress until ovulation makes sense, especially if the men and women involved are going to be reliably available to one another continuously. But, what if the window of sexual availability is open for a limited amount of time; what if it could close at any moment—permanently?

This is the situation facing men and women during war time mobilization. Soldiers are given brief furloughs following basic training before new assignments or prior to being deployed to a war zone. Such leaves are fraught with anxiety and questions: How long will the man be gone? Will he be wounded? Will he come back alive? The emotional stress of the moment is profound.

There is no way to know if couples in ancient cultures set aside menstrual prohibitions when faced with forced separations. Were love, sexual desire, and fear of loss stronger motivators than taboos and social conditioning? However, there is evidence that in mid-20th Century war times in the USA women were subtly encouraged to set aside any reluctance to engage in sex during their periods. In fact, doing so was framed as a patriotic duty, along with being a reliable worker in the defense plants. The evidence resides in a series of print ads widely distributed in popular magazines shortly after World War II began.

An entire campaign for Kotex products was built around the idea that women should be socially, romantically, and, by implication, sexually available to men home on leave from military service regardless of the status of their menstrual cycle. The most blatant example is an ad that appeared in Woman’s Home Companion and other women’s magazines in 1942 with the provocative heading, “You’re the fun in his furlough.” At the bottom of the ad we see two women working at a defense plant, a job that is made to seem doubly exhausting if the working woman has her period. Her problem is that her boyfriend is home on leave this night and she is thinking she just can’t go on a date. But it’s Kotex to the rescue. She can avoid being “a deserter” (at least it stops short of suggesting she’d be a traitor) if she’d only use the right menstrual product.

The sexual imagery in the ad is remarkably bold as she flaunts the labial folds of her gown and his penis/saber rises to her. The messages of the ad are quite clear: 1) this glamorous woman is menstruating and wearing a Kotex pad; 2) her boyfriend soldier is on leave for a short time; 3) both parties are sexually aroused; 4) they will engage in sexual intercourse this night despite the fact that she is menstruating; 5) the woman has a patriotic duty not to let her period get in the way of his sexual desire.

It is not surprising to think that sex would trump custom and tradition in circumstances such as the one depicted here. What is of greater interest is whether or not once the taboo had been defied in response to the threat of loss in the context of war the participants felt less inclined to return to the traditional ways once peace and stability had been reestablished. That challenging piece of research is yet to be undertaken.

The Problem with Menstrual Ads: An Excerpt from The Cycle

December 9th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta

Since my upcoming book about menstrual stigmas and the symptothermal method of fertility awareness is getting close to launch, I thought today’s blog post would be the perfect opportunity to provide a short excerpt for your reading pleasure. I’m excited to help debunk some menstrual myths and break some menstrual stigmas, and I hope you enjoy this little taste of what’s to come:

Menstrual advertisements and commercials are quite possibly the biggest contributors to modern menstrual stigma. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Menstruation ads are everywhere! How could they possibly create stigma?” While it’s true that television commercials, billboards, and other types of advertising are riddled with menstrual messages, they aren’t the type of messages we should be sending or receiving.

The first big qualm I have with menstrual ads is the strange blue liquid we always see in tampon and pad commercials. Watch as we pour this weird blue stuff on this pad to show you how absorbent it is! What the heck is that, anyway? Maybe that stuff is accurate for Smurfette, but that’s definitely not what my menstrual blood looks like! Part of the reason we find the idea of using a red liquid in these ads so revolting is that their use of this odd blue stuff makes us uncomfortable with the liquid that is actually absorbed by these products. One of the other major problems of advertising with this mysterious liquid is the message we’re sending to young people. When I was a kid, of course I remember seeing these ads, but I couldn’t have begun guessing the purpose the products actually served. When young girls see their first fateful stain, panic ensues. Many of them, like myself, may not even realize the purpose pads and tampons serve until they experience Menarche, or their first menstrual period.

Not only do ads never show anything that even slightly resembles blood, but I have yet to see an ad or commercial released by Tampax, Playtex, or Kotex that makes use of correct terminology. Words like “vagina”, “menstruation”, and “endometrium” (the scientific term for menstrual blood) are glaringly absent from product ads. And yet commercials and ads for products like adhesive bandages and antibiotic cream are riddled with bloody knees and scraped elbows. Beating around the bush about an event like menstruation that will play such a prominent role in women’s lives isn’t doing us any good.

I made a trip to the public library in search of some resources to use for this very book. I knew I wanted to find books or journal articles about menstruation, but I wasn’t sure where to begin looking. Luckily, most libraries come complete with a handy computer that informs you of the sections in which you’ll find certain topics. As I was approaching said computer, a woman who worked at the library insisted on helping me with my computer search. Being that she had a lot more experience with this than myself, I happily accepted her help. She asked, “What topic are you searching for?” to which I replied “menstruation”.

She looked at me a bit funny, which, at this point in the game, I was used to; people tend to get uncomfortable when this particular subject is mentioned. Then she asked, “That’s a period, right? Like…what a woman gets?” Upon hearing this question, I figured that, like many people, maybe she was hoping she misheard me so she would be spared an uncomfortable conversation. “Yes ma’am, it is,” I said. It wasn’t until I saw her struggling to spell the word that I realized she had not misheard me. Sure, not everyone is great at spelling, but when I began chatting with her about the topic, it quickly became apparent how little she really knew about it. Eventually we got everything figured out, but I found myself extremely distraught by the fact that an adult woman had such a poor understanding of menstruation. But it wasn’t her fault. In a society where it’s beyond taboo merely to utter the word, it’s no wonder so many know so little.

“The Tampon that’s Right Even for Single Girls”

November 21st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s Throwback Thursday on social media, and we’re joining in with this ad for Pursettes tampons that ran in Cosmpolitan (U.S.) magazine in 1966. Nearly 50 years on, little has changed in femcare marketing: Look at the familiar themes of medicalization of menstruation, secrecy, fearmongering, and the dreaded scourge of odor problems.

The idea that tampons can steal virginity isn’t quite as pervasive today, but one can still find it in tampon ads as recently as 1990 in teen magazines.

Awesome period video “Camp Gyno” refreshingly anti-shaming

August 1st, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest Post by Therese Shechter

Have you seen this video Camp Gyno making the rounds of social media today much to the delight of anyone who is sick of the shaming and secrecy and perceived ickyness of talking about our periods? It’s a totally exuberant and delightful story of tween/teen girls and periods and camp and tampons that includes the phrase “red badge of courage” (which will now replace “crimson tide” as my favorite menstruation euphemism).

People are clearly loving it, with headlines like “An Amazing Breakthrough In Tampon Advertising” and comments like:

“Maybe now men can start to accept that periods are normal and not freak out if a girl does something as scandalous as carry a tampon IN HER HAND… and not her purse”

“It’s nice to see people are finally breaking down the walls and making menstruation a normal thing and not something to be ashamed of.”

I. LOVE. IT.

Surprisingly (not surprisingly) there are also a significant handful of commenters who are wondering why tweens are using tampons because, you know, VIRGINITY! Um, because some people find them more comfortable, you can swim in them,  you don’t feel like you’re wearing a wet diaper, and tampon use has nothing to do with virginity because hymens have nothing to do with virginity. Virginity is my business, BUT I DIGRESS from what’s really confusing me…

The video is for a new company called Hello Flo which creates “a customized solution” to “deliver the right products at the right time” for your period. Unfortunately, they sell the service with lines that read to me like the same old shaming we’ve been hearing since ladies got sent to huts at the edge of the village:

“I didn’t want to trek through my office with a practically see-through plastic bag with tampons.”

“We do it with care and appreciation for the sensitivity of this purchase.”

“All your tampons and feminine supplies delivered right to your door in a discreet box.”

You know, like back when your druggist wrapped your sanitary pad purchases in brown paper so you wouldn’t be embarrassed taking it home from the  store. Also, how does a tampon delivery service help that office worker with the practically see-through plastic bag? What she clearly needs is a Vinnie’s Tampon Case!

So what’s this disconnect between the exuberant little girl and all that embarrassment over taking-tampons-to-the-ladies-room stuff? It reminds me of companies using feminist language to draw consumers into non-feminist products. Like back when the “Dove Real Beauty” campaign first rolled out those billboards about loving your body… to sell anti-cellulite creme, which Jenn Pozner wrote about for Bitch Magazine.

So, what’s up, Hello Flo? Your video rocks! Its message is a hit! Why go and muddle the issue with that contrary copy? Here’s my proposal: Your follow up video should be a woman in an office taking her tampons out of that plastic bag and tossing them exuberantly at her menstruating workmates. No more plastic bags. We’re carrying them in our teeth! Office Gyno!

Update: The Hairpin just did an interview with the creators of the video. Commenter ChevyVan, with whom I’ve been talking, put it well:  “They want as many customers as possible. The ones that think the video is awesome, and the ones who want discreet packaging, and they’re betting on most people not paying attention to the contradictory messages those 2 approaches are sending. And again, it’s the sales pitch out both sides of the mouth that’s the icky part to people like you and me.”

Therese Shechter just completed the new documentary “How to Lose Your Virginity”; go to virginitymovie.com for more info on sales and screenings.

Cross-posted from “How to Lose Your Virginity” blog.

Giving birth in ditches

July 30th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

The second week of July began with a post at The Daily Beast titled ‘Are Tampons Anti-Feminist’ and ended with my own post for Dame ‘5 Facts About Menstrual Suppression.’ In between there was ‘Not Everything is a Feminist Issue for Chissakes,’ and ‘I Do Not Think Tampons Are Anti-Feminist, for Chrissakes.’ Meanwhile, towards the end of that week, women were having their tampons and pads confiscated by security guards at the Texas Senate as they entered to protest the proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks. It was a perfect storm for a debate around menstrual shame.

With notable foresight the first article mentioned ends with, “For women who can’t break the silence, there are other ways to protest. Just ask DiFranco. “I didn’t really have much to say/the whole time I was there,” she sings in “Blood in the Boardroom,” “so I just left a big brown bloodstain/on their white chair.”” Later, women at the Texas Senate shared responses that were similar to this statement (“No tampons allowed? Guess we’ll just have to bleed all over the seats” and “Maybe it’s time for a bleed-in”), although there were an equal number remarking on their feelings of humiliation and horror at having their tampons and pads exposed in public.

Somehow, along the way, these threads of discussion were merged – if we’re considering tampons as anti-feminist, or menstrual shame culture as anti-feminist more accurately, then surely what we’re saying is that women should just bleed all over their furniture and clothing, right? Right?

Texas native and high-profile feminist writer Amanda Marcotte weighed in on the debate: “I used to joke that anti-choicers would start considering bans on menstruation,” she wrote.

I would argue that between menstrual shame culture and the pharmaceutical industry we have a “ban on menstruation” of a kind already.

When asked why it was necessary to keep tampons and pads “private” anyway and why it was that confiscating them in public was being discussed as a power move on the part of the Senate employees, she responded with:

“I’m not afraid to be a urinating human being, but I also don’t just go pee on the street corner. One can want to go about without blood on their clothes and not be ashamed of being female. I promise.”

And then, after some attempts at reasoning, “Convinced. I am going to pee freely now, and anyone who says no is just down on me for having a urethra.”

Never mind that they weren’t confiscating toilet paper, available and publicly displayed in the Senate bathrooms.

Elsewhere she suggested that those who were questioning our acceptance of the menstrual hygiene industry’s messages were just “weirdos.”

Marcotte: “I just want once to make a tampon joke without the weirdos who think women should bleed freely for “feminism” coming at me.”

Response: “Do these people have jobs? Or couches?”

Marcotte: “I have no idea. I just assume it’s part of that crunchy fake feminism that thinks women should give birth in ditches, too.”

I don’t think many women are going to argue that we bleed on our couches and clothes because, considering the statistics on division of housework, it’s definitely women who are going to have to clean that up. And if doing laundry isn’t anti-feminist, well, I don’t know what is.

Elsewhere the writer of ‘Not Everything is a Feminist Issue…’ Erin Gloria Ryan, another high-profile feminist writer, when directed to re:Cycling as a source of knowledge on the issue responded with “Ill read it (the blog) aloud at my next fun social gathering filled with normal people.”

Whether it’s from lack of awareness of the history of oppression of women via their bodies or whether it’s just another symptom of the corporate/capitalist feminism that dominates the mainstream, these are the women considered to be representative of the whole.

I relay the details of this interesting week not to depress, but to galvanize.

I, for one, am proud to be a weirdo, an abnormal person, a crunchy feminist, a fake feminist, oh and a miserable enemy of uteri everywhere, a bitch, and a…err…fish.

Don’t Go In The Russian Ocean

June 20th, 2013 by David Linton

If an argument still needs to be made that cultural attitudes toward the menstrual cycle vary tremendously from place to place, despite the biological universality of the phenomenon, perhaps the clearest source of proof lies in variations in advertising practices. For instance, consider a recent TV ad from Russia. (WARNING: Viewing of the ad might not be suitable for all audiences due to its depiction of extreme violence.)

The ad employs several of the oldest tropes in menstrual product marketing and then mixes in a piece of menstrual folk lore (an old husbands’ tale?) with a new spin. Two women, one dark haired in a black swimsuit and one a blond in a white suit, are seen in conventionally glamorous poses as they enter the sea to the strains of a romantic Hollywood orchestral sound track for a refreshing dip at a beautiful beach. They begin to swim, about 50 yards apart from each other. Suddenly, a huge shark surfaces under the woman in the black suit, taking her in its jaws as she screams. Parts of her body fall off before the shark hits the water with her in its mouth and disappears. Meanwhile, the woman in white calmly stays in the same place untroubled by any fear as the product name and tag line appears on the right side of the screen above her: “Tampax: Now Leak-proof.” The words are also spoken aloud by a male voice-over.

Now we see the references to swimming and wearing white as little ironic commentaries on the clichés of menstrual product advertising and learn that those matters are trivial compared to the real worry menstruating women must deal with: attracting sharks! (Perhaps there will be a sequel featuring bears.) Unfortunately, though the woman in black had taken a necessary precaution in her choice of swimsuit color, she made the mistake of choosing an inferior menstrual product that made her vulnerable to shark attraction. Apparently the shark myth is trans-cultural.

The ad takes an additional shot at destabilizing menstrual protocols by employing a tough-sounding male announcer to do the tag line, a role customarily reserved for women.

From an American perspective the first thought is that this never could have been used in a campaign in the U.S. However, it is hard to pin down just why. Like the famous “Beaver” ad from Australia, this piece, despite its tongue-in-cheek mockery, is too blatant. By comparison, American ads, particularly for conventional pads and tampons, nearly always have a coy tone, a wink and a nudge, that suggests that, despite our self-celebrated frankness and claims of liberation from shame and embarrassment, we still harbor lots of deep-seated, good old fashioned prudery.

The real question is, will an ad like this sell the product? Surely shark phobia is not so wide spread in Russia, a country with few shark-infested waters, that women will opt for this additional selling point. No, this ad is typical of the post-modern approach that sets out to shock or entertain the viewer rather than tout the merits of the product. The desired response is to create so much buzz that viewers will say to friends or to companions ignoring the screen, “Hey, did you see that Tampax ad where the shark eats the woman?” Advertisers these days are increasingly in the business of meme creation.

And in a country that has enthusiastically embraced the shark-attack aspects of consumer capitalism, this ad just might be a fitting metaphor.

This brings us to the dark side of the ad. Its violence against women is appalling. Sure, it’s meant to be quirky and transgressive and to mock some of the worn out images that have dominated menstrual product advertising for decades, but while doing so it offers up an image of a woman being torn apart followed by a macho male voice implying that if the stupid victim had only had the good sense to buy the product that he was advocating this unfortunate fate would not have befallen her. Will women never learn?

(Thanks to Karina Billini for alerting me to his one.)

Yaz and Yasmin Back in the Spotlight

May 9th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill

Last year the FDA made the decision to keep the birth control pills Yaz, Yasmin, and Beyaz on the market despite controversy over corporate corruption of the review process.These drugs are back in the spotlight.

The French health minister has called for doctors to stop writing prescriptions, 2,000 lawsuits against Bayer launched in Canada last month, and Marie Claire Australia dedicated five pages to an in-depth feature about the side effects, instigating an investigation by the country’s top current affairs show Today Tonight.

Bayer has gone about settling the 13,000 lawsuits in the US out of court, likely with the hope of keeping the details of confidential files regarding marketing techniques and research out of the public eye. Unperturbed by mounting reports from women of the myriad health issues caused by their products, the company launched Yaz Flex in Australia at the end of 2012. The first oral contraceptive on the Australian market presented as being for the purpose of preventing periods, Yaz Flex comes in a digital dispenser that records how many pills have been taken and alerts the user when she’s missed a dose. There are enough tablets to allow for just three breaks a year. In the US in April the FDA, equally unperturbed, ruled that pharmaceutical company Activis can start selling generic versions of Yaz, providing a low-cost version of what has been the most expensive oral contraceptive of recent years.

The feature in Marie Claire Australia generated 300+ comments on the magazine and television show’s Facebook pages. Many of the commenters were women who had developed blood clots when taking these brands. Some had made the connection at the time and others made the link only as a result of the coverage after months or years of not knowing why they had endured the injuries. Some of the women were presently experiencing the symptoms of a blood clot mentioned in the show and made the decision to stop taking the pill as they typed.

The piece was written by a long-time member of the Yaz and Yasmin Survivors forum and balances interviews with women who suffered the serious physical side effects with those who have been victim to the serious psychological side effects. I’m among those who experienced a long list of negative physical and psychological effects when taking Yasmin for more than two years and it was this forum that prompted me to stop taking it.

Monash University in Australia is one of the few facilities to have undertaken research into the correlation between birth control pills and depression. Professor Jayashri Kulkarni found that women on the pill were twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, and mental numbness (known as anhedonia). The Yale Daily News reports that in the wake of her research receiving a little media attention Dr Kulkarni received more than 300 emails from women “clearly describing when they went off the pill that they felt subjectively more happy. The anhedonia, for example, disappeared, the irritability disappeared, the sense of poor self esteem disappeared”.

She is now focusing her attention on researching what she believes to be the particular psychological impact of the Yaz brands, those pills containing the synthetic progesterone drospirenone and low-dose synthetic estrogen.

Although there is no direct-to-consumer advertising in Australia these brands of pill gained popularity there just as they did in Europe and Canada. It is interesting to note that Marie Claire US ran an article in 2011 titled ‘The New Super Pill’ that named Yaz and Yasmin as the latest, greatest “no-acne, no-bloat and pms-be-gone” pills that also allow you to “shorten your period”. The pages of magazines such as Marie Claire in the US are usually scattered with adverts for Yaz and Yasmin, the NuvaRing, Nexplanon impant, and Mirena IUD. The print and television commercials often play on the same insecurities reflected and bolstered by the majority of the women’s magazine articles.

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.

Early German Menstrual TV Advertising

February 26th, 2013 by David Linton

It is axiomatic that advertising commonly reflects and reinforces social values. At other times, by introducing new products or new perspectives on existing products, advertising serves as an agent of social change. Nowhere are these two phenomena more evident than in ads for menstrual products.

On one hand, when ads tell consumers that a particular device will guarantee secrecy or the avoidance of embarrassment, they perpetuate the shame factor that is deeply embedded in the social construction of menstruation. But on the other hand, when ads promise greater freedom of movement and social engagement, they make a contribution to undermining the notion that the period is a physically and socially debilitating event.

It is especially interesting to observe these processes at work in the context of varied social and historical settings. Though the menstrual cycle is a biological universal, its cultural significance is as mutable as any other human condition. For instance, consider the attached TV ad for Tampax, which is the first ad for a menstrual product to appear on German television.

Before we even know what the product is we learn that it has to do with some sort of perfection. Against a black screen the following words appear:

Stets Makellos. . . (Always Impeccable)
Freiheit in Sauberkeit (Freedom via Cleanliness)

Three brief vignettes follow set in countries that only a decade before were mortal enemies and are now depicted as role models for modern women. In the U.S. we see that modern women work in an office and that there’s a peculiar new word that has something to do with relieving work pressure: “Tampax.” Next, we visit a jazz club in Paris where sophisticated women also share the secret magical word that seems to make it possible for them to hang out in nightclubs. It’s some kind of password or incantation. Then we hit the beach in Italy, which was at the time this ad was created in the mid-1950s, was becoming a favorite destination for German tourists. Again the magic word, “Tampax,” has something to do with the fact that these attractive young women in their two-piece bathing suits can frolic in the surf.

Finally, we are told, “And now also in Germany,” accompanied by an image of a damaged Brandenburg Gate and two other German landmarks, and we get to see the product and find out what it is. By now the product is nearly a magic wand which, when waved while whispering the secret word “Tampax,” can result in an easier work day, fun evenings of dancing, and worry-free days at the beach. But while those are the characteristics of American, French, and Italian women’s lives due to Tampax, German women, if they adopt this “world brand, with applicator,” are promised “perfection of female hygiene.” And to drive the point home, a stern looking woman dressed in what looks like a nurse’s uniform, assures the women gathered around her and watching at home on television that if they use Tampax to manage their periods they will be, “Safe and Clean.”

There are many striking things about this ad, not the least of which is the stereotypical view of German concern for cleanliness which, in this case, takes precedence over the hedonism of those French and Italian women — although American women are depicted as hard workers (note the way the office worker assaults her typewriter). And note the specific reference to the fact that Tampax uses an applicator. The chief competition for Tampax in Germany was the o.b. tampon which was invented in 1947 and does not use an applicator. At the time the marketers of Tampax believed that German women would respond to the same appeal to fastidiousness that American women exhibited in their desire to avoid touching themselves too intimately. However, o.b. did become the German tampon of choice, far outselling the American competitor. Though the woman at the end of the ad is costumed like a nurse, the appeal to hygiene and hospital sterility did not tip the scale in favor of Tampax.

About thirty years later a reversal of this tampon competition occurred when the owners of the o.b. brand tried to take on the American market by promoting the superiority of using a tampon without an applicator. That campaign also failed, though its story reveals more nuances regarding the ever-evolving role of menstrual perspectives across cultures. A future post will delve into that chapter of menstrual history.

“My Daughter, My Advice”

February 18th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Strange ad copy for an actor without children. But it’s celebrity flashback Monday! Brenda Vaccaro is one of a small number of celebrities who appeared in femcare advertising after she was famous. (Others include tennis star Serena Williams and gymnast Cathy Rigby and Mary Lou Retton.) Cheryl Tiegs, Susan Dey, and Cybill Shepherd all appeared in print ads before they became famous models and actors.

Shameless, Part 2

February 7th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

So I like the new Mooncup ad for lots and lots of period positive reasons.

Here it is again:

I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:

“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.

Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.

Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.

Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).

I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.

When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:

“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”

I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.

With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.

The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.

“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”

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

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.