The Kasiisi Project Girls Program is now the first producer of locally manufactured sanitary pads in Uganda. Their M.A.K.A. pads (Menstruation Administration Knowledge Affordability) are made of papyrus. A package of ten sells for 650 shillings — one-third of the cost of imported pads. The availability of MakaPads helps women miss work and girls miss school less frequently.
Guest Post from Evil Slutopia
There are Tupperware parties, Passion Parties, Pampered Chef parties, and…Mirena IUD parties? Yes, apparently these events popped up early last year and were a joint effort from Bayer Pharmaceuticals and the mom marketing site Mom Central.
Here’s one mom blogger’s description of the Mirena party that she hosted:
Then tonight I hosted a party at my house with Mom Central. Mom Central had found me through this blog and asked me if I would be interested in hosting an event sponsored by Mirena. As I welcome any opportunity to sit down with some girlfriends with some free food and drink, I was happy to accept. Before the party started, I walked around nervously, terrified that only a couple of people would show up. We’re all so busy, and I worried that people would end up skipping a strange commercial-sounding event. But one by one, they rolled in and I began to relax.
We had an amazing evening, talking about sex, fashion, and living a simpler life. I realized that we don’t actually spend a lot of time talking about sex and relationships. We laughed a lot but also went home with some great tips.
If you’re thinking that “strange commercial-sounding event” sounds like an accurate description for a party like this, you won’t be surprised by what comes next. What this mom didn’t mention, possibly because she wasn’t aware, was the fact that the script used at these parties didn’t comply with FDA implementing regulations or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, prompting the FDA to send a warning letter to Bayer at the end of last year. (Bayer is no stranger to FDA warnings – they recently had to “correct” ads for their Yaz/Yasmin birth control pills, which are also the subject of several lawsuits, after the FDA said they were unclear and misleading.)
Before I get into the specifics of the FDA violations in this case, let’s take a look at some more details about these events. First, let’s look at Mom Central. The main Mom Central site has forums, blogs, parenting tips, a product testing panel, giveaways, and so on, but it’s the Mom Central Consulting site that we’re really interested in. Here are some quotes from the site about what they do:
- Companies eager to tap the powerful, abundant, dominant women’s market are often challenged to target and reach Moms simply through their own internal “experts.” We at Mom Central Consulting are Mom Experts currently engaged in crafting messaging, marketing to mothers and reaching millions of Moms nationwide every month.
- TODAY’S MOMS REQUIRE TARGETED, HOLISTIC MARKETING APPROACHES that reach them where they are in their lives today. At Mom Central Consulting we create customer loyalty and word of mouth programs that: foster credibility, drive evangelism and engage Moms in irresistible brand experiences that drive sales and fuel profits.
Our two-pronged targeted approach connects clients with our vast proprietary network of leading Mom Experts and Opinion Leaders and then activates Moms to become trusting, loyal advocates and consumers of your brand, product or service, making us experts at marketing to women.
- CORPORATE SPOKESPERSON BUREAU: We can draw from our pool of hundreds of talented media savvy spokespeople to create a customized corporate press campaign featuring credible experts within your product category.
So maybe the goal of the hosts and attendees at these parties was to have a fun night eating free food and talking about sex and relationships, but it’s important to keep in mind that that’s not the main goal of Mom Central or the product that they’ve been hired to represent. What they want to do is “activate” some Mirena evangelists.
In the case of these Mirena parties, the expert spokesperson that Mom Central used was Barb Dehn, Nurse Practitioner and member of the Mom Central Advisory Board. Barb is the author of a series of Blue Orchid Guides on women’s health topics like breastfeeding and menopause. In addition to those guides, Blue Orchid Press also has a Partner Program:
Blue Orchid Press provides partners with a non-biased, highly credible communication tool that physicians perceive as a true value-add to their practice and that patients actually use, enabling partners to deliver their messages directly to patients via the most trusted channel there is: the doctor. Physicians who see the value of the Blue Orchid Guides give them to all their patients, thus potentially expanding the target audience for partner products and services, and patients who receive the Guides from their physicians actually use them on a regular basis.
Researchers in Italy have recently completed a study comparing the effectiveness of DNA testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) to the commonly used Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer. Their findings suggest that more cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with HPV testing than with the conventional Pap smear, especially for women over 35.
There are, however, some disadvantages to using DNA tests to detect HPV. For example, the test is less specific, which means that there are more false positives in the results. This means more women have to return for further testing. In practice, HPV screening has a callback rate of about 25-30%, compared to a callback rate of about 5-7% for Pap smears, according to Dr. Mark Einstein, a gynecologic oncologist and director of clinical research at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Health News Review points out that although the HPV test is more effective in the sense that it prevents invasive cervical cancer by detecting persistent high-grade lesions earlier and providing a longer low-risk period for older women, replacing Pap smears with it is not necessarily more cost-effective for patients, given the costs of the additional colposcopies that result from the higher callback rate from HPV testing.
We’ve mentioned Elizabeth Scharpf’s SHE (Sustainable Health Enterprises) at re:Cycling before. In 2009, Scharpf won the inaugural Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship for her project helping local women in developing countries “jump-start their own businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable, quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads.” This is a truly innovative program, combining microloans with the use of local raw materials (instead of imported materials) to ensure affordability and accessibility – quite different than Proctor & Gamble’s “Protecting Futures” campaign of a few years ago.
Scharpf is currently working in Rwanda, helping local women set up business making sanitary pads out of banana tree trunks. Using banana tree trunks – a part of the plant that is normally trashed – means more use is made of an existing cash crop while the expense of importing raw materials is eliminated.
A brief story about Scharpf and her work is featured in the February 2010 issue of Marie Claire magazine. I’m glad to see this project getting more publicity. (Story is not yet online, but you can view a PDF here.) The article is online here.
*(I really did type “cosmetetical”. Readers under the age of 40 and/or outside the U.S. can find the origin of the term here.)
Guest Post by David Linton, Marymount Manhattan College
Here’s where exploitation and menstrual activism crash into each other. While activists have been diligently working to reduce the “Ewww” factor so that women are not treated with disgust when (and because!) they menstruate, commercial interests have been just as diligently striving to find new ways to cash in on the period.
One of the newest gambits is found at an online beauty products site called M.S. Apothecary promoting a service that been around for a few years, C’ELLE®. C’ELLE® offers to cryogenically freeze the stem cells found in menstrual blood for future use. Originally the pitch for C’ELLE® focused mostly on the potential of stem cells to yield material that can be used to treat diseases, once medical science discovers a way to use them. Meanwhile, the material is judiciously stored away in one’s “portfolio.” The initial cost is described as a “special introductory rate for new clients” of $499, although the price hasn’t changed in more than a year. Following the first year there is a yearly storage charge of $99 that is subject to later increases.
The connection between a menstrual blood collection service and a beauty store comes in the way the service is described in the link that is posted on the M.S. Apothecary site:
Begin your beauty from the inside out. C’ELLE®, a revolutionary service that empowers women to take charge of their future health and beauty, allows for the collection and preservation of their precious stem cells. With C’ELLE’s® exclusive process and step-by-step instructions, any woman experiencing menstruation can easily and painlessly gather her own stem cells in the comfort of her own home. In the future, these cells may be the basis of medical treatments for threatening diseases, personalized cosmeceuticals and regenerative medical procedures, providing the potential for living a longer, healthier life.
It remains to be seen if menstruation will eventually come to be seen widely as a source of beauty “from the inside out,” but this is not the first time that menses and fashion have been linked. In the early 1990’s the sketch comedy series In Living Color ran several skits featuring menstruation. The fashion statement depicted in this one might be compatible with the pitch for menstrual blood collection.
*I really did type “cosmetetical”. Readers under the age of 40 and/or outside the U.S. can find the origin of the term here.
There’s a pretty good essay in this weekend’s New York Times (online here Saturday, in print Sunday in the Business section) about how hard Big Pharma has worked to market menopause as an estrogen deficiency disease. In addition to discussion of Wyeth’s advertising campaigns, the article mentions the firm’s contract with DesignWrite, a company drug makers pay to develop manuscripts for publication in medical journals, to prepare at least 60 articles for publication in medical journals on the potential benefits of hormone therapy for cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, colon cancer, vision loss and other health problems.
The article also includes access to PDFs of some of the thousands of pages of documents from Wyeth that were requested by plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the drug manufacturer. (To date, more than 13,000 people have sued Wyeth claiming that they developed breast cancer and other health problems after taking the company’s menopausal hormone drugs. As we reported three weeks ago, in ten of the twelve verdicts so far, juries have awarded significant sums to plaintiffs. ) The documents available at the New York Times include a publication plan for Wyeth from DesignWrite, a 1995 product launch speech from Wyeth’s marketing director proclaiming the company’s mission of bringing to fruition Dr. Bernadine Healy’s vision of “a world in which the vast majority of women would begin taking HRT, and we know that means Prempro, at menopause and continue on for the rest of their lives.” There’s also this handwritten note from a 1996 meeting about how to respond to a new study raising breast cancer concerns (red markings added by me):
Today I want to point to two important articles about women’s health from our friends at Women’s eNews:
- Yesterday, they published a story about Myriad Genetics and their firm grasp on the patents for diagnostics tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are known to place women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Until the patents expire in 2014 and 2015, its laboratory is the only place in the country where diagnostic testing for the BRCA genes can be performed. A lawsuit representing patients, women’s health groups, medical professionals and four organizations has been filed bythe American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and the Public Patent Foundation.
- Today, Women’s eNews published a story about the need for more research on Gardasil, the HPV vaccine recommended for young women and recently approved for boys and young men too.
In Rwanda, Harvard Business School Fellow Elizabeth Scharpf is breaking menstrual silence and challenging female poverty with the Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) program. SHE helps local women in developing countries “jump-start their own businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable, quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads.” This truly innovative program combines microloans with the use of local raw materials (instead of imported materials) to ensure affordability and accessibility.
In our previous post on this topic, Chris theorized, not unreasonably, that cramps and menstrual silence play at least as big a role as lack of menstrual products in keeping girls out of school in developing nations.
Both factors are likely at play, to varying degrees depending on the locale. The Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) recently reported that in Uganda, lack of menstrual supplies coupled with inadequate latrine facilities for girls seriously impacts the education of girls ages 11-13.
Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.
A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda – for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can’t afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth. [. . . .]
As Chris suggested in her post, the solution is about communication as much as it is about resources; FAWE found this to be true among the girls they studied in Uganda. The silences and taboos around menstruation make it difficult for girls to ask their parents for money to buy pads. FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through educating girls. They’ve started a “girl education movement”, organizing clubs in schools, and teaching girls that menstruation is is a normal occurrence, nothing to be scared of or ashamed of.
You can’t ask for help if you can’t talk about it.
For your seasonal pleasure, I bring you cloth menstrual pads decorated with Dia de los Muertos motifs (with thanks to Lisa, one of my Women’s & Gender Studies alumnae). These handmade pads are available at Etsy (of course!), either individually or as a set with several different sizes for your menstruating convenience.
Soft flannel or terrycloth pads are far more comfortable than paper, as well as more economical and better for the environment. If you’re going to use cloth pads, you may as well have some fun with them! CherryRiot, the Etsy seller who makes these beauties, also offers mentrual pads with tattoo themes, cherry blossoms, and other designs, as well as plain red.
Guest Post by David Linton, Marymount Manhattan College
A lot of ideas get hatched in a bar over drinks with friends. Most don’t make it past the sober morning after. But a conversation in a Denver bistro in 2008 led to the creation of a new Internet service that aims to address Rodney King’s eternal question, “Can’t we all just get along?” In this case the “getting along” applies to men and women who feel afflicted by the scourge of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome – PMS – and its presumed negative impact on otherwise harmonious relationships.
Despite the sound research and persuasive arguments of writers such as Carol Tavris (The Mismeasure of Woman), Anne Fausto-Sterling (Myths of Gender), Joan C. Chrisler (Charting a New Course for Feminist Psychology) and Paula Caplan (Fighting the Pathologizing of PMS), to name just a few who have labored to dispel the pernicious misconceptions and stigma surrounding the menstrual cycle, stereotypes and myths have been tenacious. Thus, in the digital age it was probably inevitable that PMS Lore would find new outlets for dissemination. Which brings us back to Denver.
One of the participants in the fateful exchange over Coors and coolers in the Mile High City was Jordan Eisenberg, a self-described entrepreneur. He and a group of friends had somehow gotten into a spirited conversation about PMS. The women expressed annoyance that men sometimes asked, “Are you getting your period?” as a way to discredit feelings women had about real concerns. It was so bad, they said, that even if they actually were menstruating, they could never acknowledge it because they’d be dismissed out of hand.
Opinions bounced around until one of the men mentioned that he put the date of his girl friend’s expected period in his Palm Pilot so he could anticipate her mood swings and avoid topics that might provoke conflict on “those days.” The men thought that this was a sensible idea, and the women were outraged that anyone would track their biology so mechanically.
For all but one of the participants the evening’s outing yielded no more than another story to share with friends at some future bar gathering. But for Jordan Eisenberg it was an inspiration. And so was born the Web site PMSBuddy.com.
In no time at all, the site has become an Internet hit. It can be found as an iPhone application and comes up under a number of Google search terms. Within a year of its launch, the site claimed to have 150,000 registered users and that it was currently tracking (as of 10/5/09) 33,192 menstrual cycles. According to the daily tally 1,366 women whose cycles were being tracked began to have PMS that day. Another 6,437 would begin within five days and the “Overall Threat Index” was “1-4:1,” whatever that means.
One might view the site as just a “guy joke,” another way for men to make light of something they don’t understand and to cope with their menstrual fears. The PMSBuddy web site uses fairly benign language and claims to have good intentions. It even has what it calls an “altruistic” aim with a slogan that boasts, “Saving relationships, one month at a time!” yet it reflects an underlying anxiety. It addresses male subscribers in a chummy voice: “PMSBuddy.com is a free service . . .to keep you aware of when . . . things can get intense for what may seem to be no reason at all. . . .there is no reason to ever be blindsided by PMS again.”
In addition to tracking the cycles of women in the lives of its subscribers and sending warning announcements about the impending periods of one’s wife, girlfriend, daughters, etc., it has a section called “PMS Stories,” submissions from subscribers about their PMS encounters and opinions. On the first day I first looked at the site there were nearly 150 stories posted from both men and women, but by the time these pages are being read there are surely many more.
My first reaction on discovering PMSbuddy.com was a combination of wonder and amusement.
Of course, this is not the first (nor, sadly, will it be the last) example of men taking cheap shots at menstruation or trying to turn prejudice to profit. An episode of In Living Color from 1991 (Season 2, episode 9) was titled “PMS Defense System” and featured Jim Carey in a mock ad for an emergency phone link that gave men 24 hour access to a woman who could talk you through any encounter with a woman afflicted with the disease of PMS.
Dot Girl™ First Period Products, a retailer of first menstrual period kits for pre-teen girls, announced today that they are partnering with Best Bones Forever!, a national campaign led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health.
It’s hard to get cranky about a federal program that seems to consist mostly of PSAs about good health habits for girls, but a couple of things about this particular campaign make my SpideySense tingle:
- The press release about this new partnership states that Dot Girl™ is based in Seattle and was founded by sisters Terri Goodwin and Kathy Pickus with the intent to help parents manage the often difficult conversation about menstruation with their prepubescent daughters. The sisters’ products also “create empowered young women who have a positive first period experience.” But a closer look at the contents of the Dot Girl’s First Period Kit suggests a close relationship with Kimberly-Clark: it contains two Kotex products and coupons for discounted purchase of other Kotex products. I also note that the name and logo of the company, Dot Girl, evokes the red dot used in Kotex commercials and logos. Kotex received a lot of kudos when their Red Dot campaign was first launched in 2000, for its playfulness and for being the first advertising campaign in the U.S. to use the word “period”.
- The Kit also contains a sample package of “Scensibles™”, labeled “scented bags for clean, easy, discreet disposal of feminine care products” and a package of hand wipes. I suppose these are included because periods are so smelly and dirty; apparently empowerful young women need to be very clean. In the U.S., it is not unusual for key developmental moments such as menarche to be marked by increased consumer behavior but it still rubs me the wrong way that an organization purportedly focused on helping girls and their parents with this transition tries to do so by selling stuff – especially unnecessary stuff with shaming implications.
- I also note that all the material about how to develop and maintain healthy bones makes no mention of the link between bone health and menstruation. With each ovulatory cycle, the ovary secretes progesterone, which stimulates the production of osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are cells that build new bone. If menstruation is irregular or suppressed with cycle-stopping contraceptives (which work by suppressing ovulation), bone health can be negatively affected.
This is an interesting study, in a “Whoa! Somebody actually thought to do a study of that” kind of way. And that’s saying something, coming from someone who studies discourses of menstruation. Two economists designed a study to try to demonstrate that women bid differently in auctions depending on the phase of their menstrual cycle. They found that women bid significantly higher than men in their menstrual and premenstrual phases, but do not bid significantly differently in other phases of the menstrual cycle. They extrapolate from this that women are greater risk-takers during the fertile phase of their cycle.
The detailed statistical modeling and analysis is beyond my expertise as a humanities scholar, but I find the underlying premises of the study and its conclusions problematic. First, they assess which phase of her cycle their research participants are in by self-report and the assumption of a 28-day cycle: “We distinguish the menstrual phase (days 1 to 5), the follicular phase (days 6 to 13), the peri-ovulatory phase (days 14 to 15), the luteal phase (days 16 to 23), and the premenstrual phase (days 24 to 28).” As my colleagues at CeMCOR will tell you, one cannot assess ovulation merely from self-report of date of last menstrual period and projected date of next period. Regular menstruation ≠ ovulation. And pretty much any menstruator can tell you that the average 28-day cycle is just that, an average. The researchers also noted that 15% of their participants used hormonal birth control, but
Specifications (5), (10), (13), (16), (19), and (22) reveal that our results remain robust when controlling for hormonal methods of birth control. Hormonal methods of birth control do not have a significant effect on bids.
Since hormonal contraceptives (such as the birth control pill, ring, or patch) suppress the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, these women do not ovulate or experience the five phases of the cycle the researchers enumerate.
Additionally, the participants in this study appear to be students at UC Davis; college-aged women often have irregular, anovulatory cycles due to their youth and other factors, such as poor diet, stress, and irregular sleep patterns. Even age at menarche (the first menstrual period) affects whether a young woman ovulates regularly.One must always be suspect of sweeping generalizations from a such small, elite sample.
And I find the whole evo-psych approach and conclusions troubling. While I cannot deny that hormones exert an influence on behavior, I think it takes an awful lot of inferential leaps to get from the data in this study that “that women bid significantly higher than men in their menstrual and premenstrual phase but do not bid significantly different in other phases of the menstrual cycle” to “an evolutionary hypothesis according to which women are genetically predisposed by hormones to generally behave more riskily during their fertile phase of their menstrual cycle in order to increase the probability of conception, quality of offspring, and genetic variety.” So many factors could influence the higher bids that it’s an extraordinary reach to attribute it to phases of the menstrual cycle, especially given the unscientific way the cycles were charted.