Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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

Happiness Is in the Eye of the Beholder

October 22nd, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

When periods hit the news, and they do every now and again (no, not once a month – that’d actually be nice, and proof that it was a normal, neutral topic of conversation), my friends have me on speed dial. I’ve been hanging with my Off the Shelf Festival pals this week, though, and was apparently experiencing some kind of menses media blackout, because I was none the wiser about the latest Bodyform brouhaha until I got a Facebook message from my friend Bill that said ‘Quite remarkable’ with a link to a New Statesman article entitled Fighting Snark With Snark: Bodyform viral video destroys commenter.

So I clicked the link.

Nutshell: a guy recycled an old joke about femcare ads being unrealistic (This was at the expense of his girlfriend, whose period apparently resembles scenes from the Exorcist. Nice work. You’re a real charmer.) to made a tongue-in-cheek jab at the company, posted it on their facebook page, a zillion people ‘liked’ it (although there is this ‘fake likes’ issue so I do wonder a little – genuinely – not a lot, but a little), and the brand replied with a viral video, which only took a week to turn around.

Check it out:

Analysis: First thoughts? I did say I like a two-way conversation, but damn. There’s nothing more two-way than a brand adbusting an adbuster. He’s hardly destroyed though. He’s made rather a lot of, addressed repeatedly by name, and given an awful lot of attention. They put the response together in a week, which is only a few days longer than I’ve taken with some of my ad parodies, and they made a whole film with acceptable production values and neat touches. (Right at the end, the mobile phone rings with the classic Bodyform ad as a ringtone, and then the correct part of the song picks up to carry on as non-diagetic sound for the outro. Classy.) The guy in question was an easy target, though, and commented in a way that amusingly got under the skin of a femcare company with the following message: periods are horrible, women on their period are out of control, and Bodyform were terrible for pretending it was all sunshine and flowers. So in the clever-clever video, Bodyform duly apologise for pretending periods were about unrelated lovely fun things, etc., but – here’s the kicker – then agreed that periods are totally horrible – so horrible that nothing to do with them can be shown on screen, and the truth makes grown men cry.

By the time I’d watched it, though, my pal Seonaid over on the west coast of the US had caught up and sent me a link from an ad website, with simply ‘Awesome’ written above it. Huh. Seonaid is a hip cool lady and knows her stuff. She thought it was awesome, thought of me, and sent it straight over. So I watched it again. The (FAKE! TOTALLY FAKE! A DUDE OWNS THAT!) CEO pouring out some blue liquid from a pitcher into a glass and then the recall of her drinking it at the end, that was pretty funny – really sound visual comedy, and the fart was a great afterthought (Teasing a guy for thinking women are classical and not grotesque? That’s a good gag. Oh yeah – playing by the rules of signers in femcare ads, though, she totally drank from a big old pitcher of blood. But I digress.) The original post is a riff on an old joke that people throw around all the time about unrealistic femcare ads of the ’80s, but this time someone actually told the joke to the brand itself using social media, which many people found refreshing.

It was a tweet from my Sheffield buddy Saul that I’d most like to respond to:

Saul Cozens ‏@saulcozens: @chellaquint is this a step in the right direction http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Bpy75q2DDow … it still feels a bit too coy but it isn’t trying to hide anything

Good shout, Saul. I wasn’t sure either. Incidentally – I met Saul after he saw my TEDx Sheffield talk, which is a potted history of femcare advert messages. So if you add my femcare research background, my fanzine shenanigans, my natural skepticism, and my initial reactions to the Bodyform video, when I read this tweet I went back and watched the video again, not with the surprise and glee expressed by most of the people who’ve analysied this story for articles that are now cropping up in feminist blogs, ad industry press and in the mainstream media, but with a need to work out why everybody seemed to love it, and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

I hate to be a killjoy. I love joy. I’d be joy’s EMT, do joy CPR…heck – I’d even take a bullet for joy. But this facebook commenter’s post and the response, while funny on the surface, and clearly a lesson for all the advertisers and quite a few filmmakers, isn’t all it seems.

As we saw earlier in the summer, Facebook posts on femcare pages do garner attention, and Bodyform were right to respond (although if Femfresh had responded saying anything other than ‘You’re right, our stuff is pointless, possibly harmful, and we are slowly learning how to say the words vulva and vagina in pubic. PUBLIC. We mean public. Dammit.’ their product would have tanked immediately, which would have made lots of extra space on the shelf for reusable femcare products like menstrual cups, but been rather bad for their business). Femfresh should have responded this way, but either didn’t have the brand knowhow, or knew they had something to hide, and sarcasm couldn’t make it better. I made a spoof ad in response to that Femfresh campaign, you know. Not to go into a sulk or anything, but I’m a little disappointed they didn’t make me my own movie. I’m not in it for the attention – I do this because I want people to engage with their media environment – but at least after that case and this one we know for sure that femcare companies are hanging on our every word. It’s too bad that so far they only respond when there’s an easy target who’s comment plays right into theirh hands. Because this guy’s post and the ‘you asked for it, buddy’ reply both play up the same stereotypes of ‘all periods suck’, ‘all women are hormonal and out of control’ and ‘all men have to either deal with it or be shielded from this horror’ which is not very period positive, and throws in some mental health and physical disability stuff right in there with the sexism. I think the way to explain period positive to people is: the woman is not the butt of the joke.

Here’s his comment (sic):

Hi , as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years . As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things ,I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding , rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings !! Dam my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen …..you lied !! There was no joy , no extreme sports , no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving , gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform , you crafty bugger.

Bodyform were eating this stuff up though. It follows the classic advertising technique where the company has to convince you that you have a problem, before they can solve it for you. If you think periods are ok, you probably won’t have a lot of time for people who seem afraid to talk about it. But if you are a company that targets people who think periods are gross, this is right up their menstrual street. Which is why their response video intro on their page says:

We loved Richard’s wicked sense of humour. We are always grateful for input from our users, but his comment was particularly poignant. If Facebook had a “love” button, we’d have clicked it. But it doesn’t. So we’ve made Richard a video instead. Unfortunately Bodyform doesn’t have a CEO. But if it did she’d be called Caroline Williams. And she’d say this.

See what I mean about the totally fake CEO? She’s a made up character. Which reminds me – Richard’s girlfriend is a nameless, faceless possessed child. There are no women in the fake focus group (the fake-us group? the faux-cus group?). There are no real women anywhere in this exchange, with no real voice – they’re simply spoken about. Yet loads of women enjoyed watching it all unfold. I’d imagine the ‘battle of the sexes’ trope provides for a satisfying ‘smug male’ smackdown. I suspect some women who really do have horrendous periods caused by underlying medical conditions may have felt vindicated to finally see their take on things put across on screen. It’s definitely funny that the only graphic description of periods in the ad is accompanied by a subtle zoom out that takes in a conveniently placed plate of red jelly (that’s Jell-o or generic gelatin dessert, for speakers of US English). The eating and drinking menstrual blood metaphors are a little surreal – I’m not sure if they were going for vampire or cannibal, but these bits add a quiet menace that keeps up the horror movie theme running through the whole thing, just in time for Halloween.

Bodyform could have taken this opportunity to tell the real truth: that periods are part of a bigger cycle, can be anything from painful to annoying to no big deal to an exuberant turn up for the ‘not pregnant!’ books, or just, you know, a sign that you are in good reproductive health and everything’s ticking over nicely, like your pulse, and your blood pressure and your peak flow and stuff like that.

For some people, it’s just fine, you know. Periods are a part of life – like every other bodily function. We call them bodily functions because most of the time, they’re functional. Stuff works. And when it doesn’t work, like with this awful cough and head cold combo that is sweeping the UK right now (I hope this makes it into some professor’s pandemic prediction algorithm, but I’m nerdy like that…), you get cranky and irritable and may feel short tempered, like my wife does right now. I don’t think she’s acting like a character from The Exorcist, though. I think she has a head cold, and I will probably buy her some ginger ale to sip and try not to bug her too much. Like I said, this guy sounds like a real charmer. Bodyform is his target, but it’s at his girlfriend’s expense, and she’s not the only one on the receiving end of the putdowns.

The original post is at a woman’s expense. It’s written in a patronisingly innocent tone toward Bodyform, and the butt of the joke is the man’s girlfriend – a woman whose period causes her to become, quote, “the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin”. He does call out their outrageous adverts, but not for implying that women’s real bodily functions are normal. He says (and Bodyform sticks with this view in its response) that women lose it during their periods, which are unmentionably horrible, and men are the real victims.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed. There are a number of dissenting voices in the comments on the Facebook page, calling this stuff out, but many of these commenters are dismissed with replies that are patronising or accuse the poster of, charmingly, not being able to take a joke because they are currently on their period.

Here are a couple:

I estimate about 25% of the female responses on here are very aggressive towards Richard, even though he was clearly just making a joke. Hmmm what on earth could be currently causing about a quarter of women to act like psychos, lacking any form of reason or logic? – Chris Dubuis

Lol, seems like half the woman on this post have their monthly friend. Good thing Richard is on their mind! – Paul Antoniuk

Here’s one from a woman who wanted those who were not amused to shut up:

Very clever Richard and I like the companies come back……. both VERY clever……… LIGHTEN UP LADIES…….. it’s a joke, a HA HA, a giggle, snicker and or snort…… it’s all for fun……. I found it amuzing, thank you for writing this Richard. it was a hoot – Linda-Lee Bosma

Wow. Effective reinforcing of negative messages, Bodyform. But here are a couple of commenters who do a better job than Bodyform in terms of injecting some fair representation and role reversal into your humour:

Richard, sometimes a man just needs a little more game in order to get a date with a skydiver, dancer, biker, surfer or rock musician. Keep trying, buddy, and good luck. – Liisa Pine Schoonmaker

@Richard…I train at a MMA gym..I train in Muay Thai Kickboxing, regular boxing, and BJJ. I do it while my “Happy Period” is in session. I don’t let it slow ME down. I also do the fun stuff like dancing and amusement parks. So, I guess they must have made the advertisement about me… – Lorelle Massageworks

They did have a particular target in mind for their advert, but it’s not the person above, it’s not Richard specifically, or men generally, or women who have painful periods. The whole thing’s a smokescreen. The truth rocks up 45 seconds into the viral video, when the C.E.FAUX (That works, right?) says:

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s no such thing as a happy period.”

She looks straight into the camera, delivering a direct hit to the Always ‘Have a Happy Period’ campaign. (This tagline was in use in the US, more recently in the UK, and is still around in other European countries. It’s most well known for, ironically, a fake viral campaign that started out as a McSweeney’s article, and coincidentally namechecked another fake exec, but this one was male.) It’s not ok to pretend all periods are a walk (rollerblade?) in the park, but the reverse is also true. It’s not all doom and gloom, and it’s irresponsible to insist it is. Even their focus group fake out (The voice over: “We ran a series of focus groups to gauge the public’s reaction to periods.” is run with clips of men crying while watching a screen we ca’t see.) Playing up the negative maintains the taboo even while trying to pretend to break it down. It may seem funny on the surface, but look below the blue liquid for a minute and things do get scary.

This ad isn’t just a coy game with Richard, though, and it’s not just complicit in supporting men’s negative feelings about periods and the people who have them, or even those annoying old ads. It’s a big ‘up yours’ (as it were) to Always, a coded message to potential customers to laugh along with them at the international maxi-pad market leader’s catchphrase, and a bit of (nearly) subliminal encouragement to jump ship and declare new brand loyalty with cheeky old Bodyform (which many Facebook page posters have now done, including one lady from Canada, who went so far as to say that she had never heard of Bodyform before, but should she ever be in the UK and have her period, she would seek their products out specially, in some new kind of uber-brand-loyalty I have never before seen, except in my head where I covet Smeg fridges and they populate my fantasy dreamhouse).

But back to the ad. Fakety-fake-faker Caroline ‘Fake’ Williams continues: “The reality is, some peopele simply can’t handle the truth.”

One perceptive Facebook commenter seems to reply directly to this:

Finally, at last, we have found value in the truth. By the way, just when was it that man first became incapable of handling the truth? Speaking of the truth, when did we stop telling the truth? Ah! There in lay the rub, If we don’t tell the truth, how on Earth are we going to be able to handle the truth, let alone ever know it when we hear it? – Bradley Acopulos

A good point. Simply saying you’re telling the truth doesn’t mean you actually are.

Bodyform uses a clever ploy but it just reminds me of Nick Clegg. (I guess at this point, Bodyform would say, ‘It’s called a metaphor, Richard.’) At 18 seconds in, the actor hired to impersonate a pretend CEO says: “We lied to you Richard, and I want to say sorry. Sorry.” At the Lib Dem party conference, Nick Clegg apololgised for promising he wouldn’t raise university tuition fees, when he should have been apologising for raising university tuition fees. Bodyform apologises to a guy for making periods look like fun, but they should be apologising to women for playing up to the stereotype that periods turn women into possessed little girls.

So. It was remarkable, Bill. I have felt the urge to remark upon it at lengt. It was awesome Seonaid. I am in awe at the irresponsible and seemingly irrepressible force behind age-old period stereotypes, propagated by people who do their research and should know better. And Saul, it was not a step in the right direction, they were being coy, and unless advertising changes radically, they’ve probably got plenty to hide.

Cross-posted at Adventures in Menstruating

Adventures in Menstruating cycles through New York

April 14th, 2010 by Giovanna Chesler
Sarah Thomasin at Bluestockings, photo by Chris Bobel

Sarah Thomasin at Bluestockings

Last Sunday evening, at the Lower East Side bookstore (and feminist Mecca) Bluestockings, Chella Quint attempted to begin her 5th installment of a performance built from her zine Adventures in Menstruating. However this piece, Here’s The Science Bit, was quite rudely interrupted by Mother Nature, in tweed, presenting a pink and red wrapped box. Mother Nature who typically appears in Tampax adverts, exclaimed “It’s your monthly gift!” Chella seemed pleased to accept it. This confused the woman. “But…but, she stammered. It’s your monthly gift?!” Chella reminded her that she was quite happy taking it, thank you very much, and proceeded to open up the box (wondering why boxes are a running theme in fem care advertising.) For the next hour, as the paper flew and big red bows zoomed around the room, the gifts kept coming from Chella and co-performer, Sarah Thomasin, now donning lab coats.

Chella (a contributor to this blog) and Sarah’s writing on the fem care industry is spot on. Since 2005, they have produced the zine and now a blog which attempt to poke and prod the hawkers of pads and tampons out of their shameful marketing strategies. This evening they re-examined ads from the 1950′s for Zonite, a douche so powerful yet “safe to tissues” (??!) and Modess, a menstrual product pre-wrapped (i.e. disguised) in plain brown packaging. Of course, as Quint pointed out, the only other product to be wrapped in this manner were bombs.

Chella Quint and Sarah Thomasin

Chella Quint and Sarah Thomasin

In another hilarious bit, Quint played a Mooncup while Sarah proclaimed “I’m a tampon!” They argued back and forth of their varying abilities to collect and discard menstrual blood. However, The Tampon had to leave the conversation mid-sentence, only to be replaced by another Tampon who had not been part of the initial conversation with Mooncup. This happened thrice over (though of course, this would happen thousands of times over in a 10 year period, the typical lifetime of a menstrual cup, wherein the average woman would cycle through approximately 2,750 tampons.)

Adventures in Menstruating on S.H.A.M.E., photo by Chris Bobel

Adventures in Menstruating on S.H.A.M.E., photos by Chris Bobel

To combat the side effect of pop culture’s representations of menstruation, S.H.A.M.E. (Shame, Horror, Ads/Media, Erasure) Quint presented a takeaway for the evening – The Stain. The latest in fashion, Stains are red felt blobs akin to blood stains which you adhere to the front of your clothing (at your crotch) or at the back side. As Chella and Sarah presented their gift they praised the product “The best defense against stains is a healthy dose of shamelessness!” Several attendees wore their stains out the door, proudly walking down the street impervious to shame-induced fear and carried forth the overall feeling of Adventures in Menstruating – high brow and low brow at the same time.

Red is the New Black

February 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Stains (TM)

Introducing Leak Chic.

Chella Quint celebrates Fashion Week, recently ended in London and New York, with clot couture.

StainsTM. A removable stain to wear on your own clothing as you see fit. A fashion statement that really says something, and that something is, ‘Screw you, Madison Avenue. I’m taking this one back. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and my blood on my pants. I’m gonna reclaim the stain, reclaim my blood, and reclaim my period.’ Because people, I’m telling you red is the new black.

Read more at Adventures in Menstruating.


Laughing AT Us

October 28th, 2009 by Chris Bobel
SKIDS: Masculine Hygiene, 2007, Chella Quint

SKIDS: Masculine Hygiene, 2007, Chella Quint

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I missed the viral web-based marketing campaign  “Men with Cramps” launched in 2006 by Dandelion for P&G’s ThermaCare. (Dandelion, by the way, calls themselves a “brand-sponsored storytelling company”. I. Am. Not. Making.This.Up)  The campaign generated 1.3 million views and over 15K mentions in blogs and chats and critical acclaim with a 2008 Bronze Effie Award. Nothing like a good story, I guess.

Full disclosure:

I find the campaign hilarious. This is very witty satire. The parodies of “doing science,” of Ken Burns-style documentaries and especially of MASCULINITY are beautifully executed.  As I watched the series of short videos, I laughed so hard my partner had to take his work to another room (and I had the audio on headphones). But it was the kind of laughter that felt naughty, betraying, even forbidden (and alert readers already know we at re:Cycling are consistently suspicious of “the forbidden”).

Why the guilty pleasure, then? Why not JUST pleasure?

Well, the obvious answer is not simply that I am a cranky humorless feminist (see above), but that this campaign’s intent, of course, is to move product and that always causes me pause. There’s funny and there’s funny that makes somebody rich. I prefer just funny.  And while ThermaCare (a heat wrap designed to soothe menstrual cramps) doesn’t necessarily depend on the menstrual taboo for its success (unlike pads and tampons which exploit the cultural mandate to tidy it up and NEVER, EVER spring a leak), a sales pitch is a sales pitch and I begin to resent the sneaking feeling of being manipulated by corporate shills.

Lighten up, you say? Well, that’s just the top layer.

Dandelion explains that the idea behind the campaign was to  “Give women the vicarious, cathartic pleasure of watching MEN deal with the pain of menstrual cramps.” They further explain that in their research (whatever that is), women expressed a deep need for the men in their lives to really understand menstrual pain, and furthermore, “women universally believe that men are wimps when it comes to pain.”

Marketing strategy in a nutshell:  Drive traffic to the product through pained women’s revenge fantasies.

But as I found myself doubled over with laughter, I realized that I wasn’t loving this material because men were finally getting theirs, I was yucking it up because the mockumentary ridiculed the kind of serious attention some of us pay to the menstrual cycle. If you stop and think a minute, it suggests that women [and their advocates] are just taking themselves too seriously.

Gender switcheroos like these typically work because they demonstrate the ridiculousness of something (usually a gender script, like women’s preening behaviors or men’s swaggering) through exaggeration. I do exercises like these in my Intro to Women’s Studies classes often and they work well. The role reversal lifts a cultural veil.

Watching the earnest blowhard talking heads arguing the PROFOUND impact of menstrual cramps on the events of history (Napoleon had ‘em, and Achilles, Shakespeare, too), ya gotta ask:  Do we look THAT silly making arguments about how debilitating menstrual pain can be? 30 seconds with wacky Dr. Fardel and you end here: Are menstrual cycle scholars coming across as THAT self-important and vacuous when we design our research studies, collect our data, and report our findings? Fardel’s hysterical research subjects and their tales of woe lead to: Are women really THAT whiny when they complain of  PMS and/or pain that really really hurts and gets in the way of normal, daily functioning?

Gee, to watch these clever parodies, one would think so.

But I am not going there.

Instead, I consulted someone who thinks and writes about FemCare advertising a lot more than I do. I asked menstrual activist/performance artist/zinester/comic  Chella Quint to “read” the campaign. Here’s what she wrote:

“Yeah, they’re funny, but in some ways [women are] still the butt of the joke, and their ultimate goal is still selling you stuff you don’t need that will make them rich.”

What she said.

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.