Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

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

August 23rd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

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

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

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

Joining Chella are

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

and

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

Summer’s Eve Campaign Targets Wrong Body Part

August 2nd, 2011 by Laura Wershler

The print ad for the Summer's Eve campaign refers to the "V" but not the vagina.

If a product manufacturer or its advertising company, or both, cannot figure out which part of the female body their new line of feminine hygiene products can be used for, then both are in big trouble.

There has been much hoopla over the recently launched Summer’s Eve campaign. Links to stories about and response to the campaign can be found in my fellow blogger Elizabeth Kissling’s July 27th post. The most serious backlash to the campaign resulted in three videos perceived as “racially insensitive” being pulled from the campaign website late last week.

What rankles me about the campaign – beyond its patronizing, unsophisticated and euphemistically silly approach to the female genital area - is that it appears to target the vagina when it is clear that none of these products are actually intended for use in the vagina.

Regardless of what one might think about the value of or necessity for these femcare products, an advertising campaign for such products must convey accurate information. Like where to use them.

The product line includes: cleansing wash, cleansing cloths, deodorant spray, body powder, and bath and shower gel. Click on the OUR PRODUCTS box on the website home page and you’ll see this: Meet the products that love your vagina. Oh, really?

These products are not intended, I repeat, not intended for use in the vagina. One would think that the product manufacturer knows this. Why then did they choose a talking vagina, and across-the-board references to the vagina, to convey their product message on the website?

Interestingly, the print and TV ads hold no direct reference to the vagina. The website coyly advises viewers that they can call it “V” for short. It is this moniker and the tagline ” Hail to the V” that crosses over to print and television.

Maybe this was intended as a subtle reference to the other “V” word – vulva . It’s pretty clear this is the body part for which the Summer’s Eve products are intended.

I wanted to know why the creative team at The Richards Group, the ad company responsible for the campaign, chose to use the word vagina instead of vulva. My request for an interview to ask this question was turned down, so instead I asked two colleagues what they thought the reason might be.

Valerie Barr, veteran sexual health educator and training centre manager at Calgary Sexual Health Centre, suspects it’s because vagina is assumed to mean what is actually the vulva. She says, “I believe this assumption, or taken-for-granted use of the term, serves to avoid discussion of the clitoris and therefore, female sexual response.”  Barr says she thinks it demonstrates that in our culture we continue to be unconsciously uncomfortable with women being sexual beings.

Rebecca Chalker, female anatomy expert and author of The Clitoral Truth, also believes that fear of the word clitoris has much to do with it. ”Clitoris is the most toxic word in the English language, and to this day is considered obscene and too offensive to be used in the media. Just try it on people,” she says.

“Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) made the vagina safe for the general public – even she did not use the C–word. Vagina has now become the default reference for everything ‘down there.’ Those ad guys are no different. Perhaps they’re just using the default because that’s what they think people can relate to most readily,” Chalker says.

Although vulva is the accurate word to describe the female body part intended to benefit from the Summer’s Eve product line, Chalker says, “It would be a tragedy if vulva becomes the new default. In anatomical parlance vulva just means covering.”

All of this proves that Summer’s Eve Vaginaland is a minefield, and incredibly more complex than the silly campaign would have us believe. Marketing femcare products has always been a challenge for advertisers, but that’s another story.

In deciding to pull the aforementioned videos from the campaign, Stacie Barnett, Richards Group PR Executive, told Adweek that the backlash “had begun to overshadow the message and goal of the larger campaign – to educate women about their anatomy and break down taboos in talking about it….”

Well, the educational value of the ”Hail to the V” campaign is in question, and we’re still not talking about the right body part. 

The Power is in the Vag

November 8th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

In the latest episode of Vag Magazine (a production of the Upright Citizens Brigade), Fennel shares her strategy for managing menstruation.


Vag Magazine Episode 3: “Swamp Ophelia” from Vag Magazine on Vimeo.

“We’ve had some complaints from our cleaning feminists.”

New Technology, Same Mistakes

July 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Screen shot from iOvulation appWe’ve written previously about some of the apps for tracking menstruation and PMS, but this new iPhone/Pad app for tracking ovulation is problematic.

iOvulation is an application that calculates the time of ovulation and generates your personal fertility calendar. Simply enter the length of your menstrual cycle and the date of your last period, and iOvulation will calculate your fertile days.

The web site suggests it useful both for trying to conceive and for trying to prevent conception. However, I wouldn’t recommend the latter, as its algorithm appears to predict ovulation based on dates of menstruation: “The ovulation dates are calculated based on normal menstruation calculation logic for women having regular periods.”

In other words, it perpetuates what Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Health and Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body, labeled the two biggest myths about menstruation in this interview with Scarleteen: (1) the idea that ovulation occurs on Day 14, and (2) A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days.

Also of interest is how squeamish the creators appear to be about sex and reproduction: the web site refers to “unprotected i*********e” and notes that the probability of conception is calculated “based on your ovulation time and other factors such as lifespan of the egg and s***m”. (For those of you unaccustomed to the practice of concealing obscenity with asterisks, that’s “intercourse” and “sperm”.)

As someone who studies and teaches sociolinguistics and writes about menstruation, I’ve seen a lot of euphemistic language over the years. But marking intercourse and sperm as unfit for print is a first.

Colored Tampons: For Whites Only?

May 5th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Nicole Luna, Marymount Manhattan College

"Try Something BOLD"Elizabeth Kissling’s March 16 post on the launch of the U by Kotex campaign and the comments that followed touched on the implications of the “new” Kotex products and their accompanying empowerment crusade. Comments ranged from how the new tampon applicators resemble glow sticks to how, with the new “menstruation optional” pills and implants, tampon and pad manufacturers are grasping any marketing ploy to keep girls menstruating and buying their products. Indeed, “empowering” women about their menstrual cycle and encouraging women to “celebrate their bodies” is a smart marketing move by Kotex in the face of the menstrual suppression option. The following comment from Giovanna Chesler’s on Kissling’s March 16 post sums up my own opinion about the “radical new product”.:

“Might I add that when I heard that Kotex was bringing a new, radical product to market, I assumed it would be a menstrual cup. What’s new about painting a tampon applicator? Still plastic. Still disposable. Shows how naive I am. Kotex selling menstrual cups… that would be the day!”

Let us not forget, these products still have the same pesticide-infused cotton and the same one-time-use, land fill-bound plastic applicators and wrappers.

At first, Kotex had successfully baited me with their empowerment rhetoric (although I do not buy their products), because YES I want the shame and embarrassment that surrounds the menstrual cycle to be banished, and YES I want “vagina” to be taken off of the list of “dirty words”, and YES I think tampon and pad commercials are ridiculous. Thus, the Kotex marketing campaign is remarkably cleaver, since it speaks, at least on some level, to those of us who want what is on the “U by Kotex Declaration of real Talk” pledge, which is as follows:

I Will…

  • Celebrate my body and my period as natural, normal, and important
  • Respect my vagina, and know that ‘vagina’ is not a dirty word
  • Challenge society to think differently about what it means to be a woman
  • Talk openly and without embarrassment about periods and vaginal care with my friends and family
  • Take good care of myself and encourage my girlfriends to do the same

If you think this is a progressive step in the direction of menstrual activism, visit the U by Kotex website, where you will find a woman to show you, with the aid of a vulva pillow, how to insert a tampon. She mercifully doesn’t make any reference to freshness or boys; instead, she just gives you straight-forward tampon instructions using candid language and anatomy books (although the images she uses are depictions and not actual human genitalia). Also, the U by Kotex site makes the connection that women who are not ashamed about their periods are more likely to have a positive self-image. My own research has shown me that the more educated a woman is about the logistics of her menstrual cycle, the more likely she is to be assertive about safe sex practices and actually enjoy sex more. She is also less likely to fall for age-old myths like “you can’t get pregnant on your period”.

So, while there are some definite upsides to the Kotex campaign, (as Kissling put it, “it’s way better than ‘have a happy period”), there are some shortcomings that were not addressed in the earlier blog posts and subsequent comments. While Kotex may be taking several steps in the right direction, it does not take long to figure out who Kotex is marketing to once you visit their U by Kotex website. There, you can read answers to frequently-asked menstrual questions from more than 14 women who are part of Kotex’s “Real Answers Team”. You can interact with other girls by commenting on the posts by these women who fill the role of the “mom”, the “health expert”, the “peer”. The U by Kotex website also has an “Advocacy Panel” of three women who are dedicated to women’s issues and women’s rights. However, of the women from both the Advocacy Panel and The Real Answers Team (18 women total), NOT A SINGLE WOMAN IS A WOMAN OF COLOR, save for Mai Nguyen, the last woman featured in the “peer” column of the Real Answers Team (interestingly, she is also the only woman who appears embarrassed, with her modest, downward gaze). What sort of message is this sending to women of color who wish to be “empowered”?

Strawberries and Spinach: Menstrual Monday 2010

May 3rd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Geneva Kachman, MOLT: The Museum of the Menovulatory Lifetime

Back in 2000, when my Menstrual Monday journey began, an ever-reasonable friend had pointed out it took 13 years for Julia Ward Howe to establish Mother’s Day. Being a holidaymaker, and more on the creative side than reasonable, I poo-poo’d my friend’s caution. Seriously – Julia Ward Howe didn’t have the Internet! Thirteen years is two centuries in Internet time!

Eleven Menstrual Mondays later, I humbly look forward to the year 2012, and raising a glass (of tomato juice) to Julia Ward Howe, unmoved by any doomsday scenarios erroneously attributed to the Mayan calendar. Holidaymaking is just not as easy as it looks!

Display of Uterine Flying Objects (UFOs)

Display of Uterine Flying Objects (UFOs)

On the other hand, Menstrual Monday parties are rather easy to throw. Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Check out the official mission statement for Menstrual Monday – of note, the first goal is to create “a sense of fun around menstruation.” One benefit of “silly” party favors and decorations, such as the U.F.O. (Uterine Flying Object), PMS Blowt-Out, and Tampose (tampon + rose = tampose), is that women from all walks of life are put at ease, wondering “what is that?” rather than being focused on menstrual negativity (taboo and shame are such heavy words, aren’t they?).
  2. Ask everyone to bring something from the Five Menstrual Monday Food Groups: Green stuff, red stuff, chocolate, poppy seed, egg. Or serve a spinach salad with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and poppy seed dressing, with chocolate for dessert. Before sitting down to eat, why not chant “green stuff, red stuff, chocolate, poppy seed, egg” a few times, just for fun?
  3. To get the discussion going, you can download A Cuppa Questions from MOLT – the questions are printed on drawings of human ova. Cut the ova out, drop them into a cup, and let each guest select a question. Make sure to download the answer sheet as well. You can also cut out extra circles, for guests to write their own questions on.
  4. If you haven’t tried reusable menstrual pads or menstrual cups before, a Menstrual Monday party is a good time to learn about them. Two such companies are LunaPads and Glad Rags. You and your friends can decide to try these products yourselves – as well as donate pads to young women, who would otherwise be kept out of school.
  5. Display of MOLTwheels and red packaging.

    Display of MOLTwheels and FloFlags

    If you like working with fabric, check out Have a Hester at MOLT, and learn about scarlet letters and flow-dyeing. Right now I’m enamored of red shop rags – I add glitter glue, and use them to package MOLTwheels – the mini-frisbees in the photo. See what ideas you and your guests can come up with.

  6. Individuals can purchase a DVD copy of the documentary Period: The End of Menstruation? for $29.95. For more film suggestions for your party, see the FloFilm Index at MOLT.

I notice I’ve mentioned a couple of things that require spending money – the most intriguing question to me this Menstrual Monday is: Where is the intersection of feminism, menstruation, and entrepreneurship? I’m wondering: How can there be a transformation in attitudes toward the red stuff, without a corresponding transformation in where women’s green stuff (money) is being spent?

Strawberries and spinach: Food for thought, indeed.

Do we need more plastic objects shaped like female body parts?

February 12th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Computer mouse designed to resemble human vulvaAndy Kurovets, the designer who brought us those lovely maxi-pad shelves is displaying a new item: The G-spot computer mouse. When you find the secret spot, the computer automatically goes to your favorite thing online, whether it’s your email application or your favorite feminist blog (that would be us, right?).

No. Just no. As Melissa at Geek Feminism says, this could reinforce some wrong ideas.

[via Geek Feminism]

Introducing the iPad

January 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling




Word on the street is that Apple is introducing their first tablet computer today. With their usual flourish, they’ve named it . . . wait for it . . . the iPad.

ETA: The ladies at Jezebel have published more than one compilation of period-related iPad jokes. A sample:

Are you there, God? It’s me, Marketing.

Don’t make fun. The iPad is the technology of the future. Period.

Can I get a scented iPad for when my data feels not-so-fresh?

Edited again to add: The Week has an interesting comparison of historical femcare slogans and Apple slogans – more similar than one might expect.

[Video via Lunapads]

No more Target: Women

January 25th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

We’re sad to learn that brilliant funnywoman Sarah Haskins is leaving Target: Women (and especially sad that she’s leaving before creating a TW about femcare products). But we still have her fine piece about how birth control is sold to us as period control.

Fortunately, the rest of her archive lives on, on the internet.

Celebrities! They’re Just Like Us!

January 15th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Screen shot of Katy Perry's Twitter message announcing that she is menstruating.Since I am both far too old to follow Katy Perry on Twitter and too completely uninterested in celebrities’ personal lives to read The Huffington Post (WTF? Didn’t HP used to be a political blog?), a friend had to tip me off to the big news that Katy Perry is menstruating and presumably not pregnant.

The image at right is of one of Ms. Perry’s Twitter messages from Wednesday, which reads, “ur gonna make me cry, maybe that’s my period tho. THAT’S RIGHT I’M BLEEDING. Face. Better luck next month peepz”.

As far as I’m concerned, Katy Perry can tweet about her period until the cows come home – hell, that’s what Twitter is for. And in general, the more open acknowledgment that Menstruation Exists, the better for all menstruators. But the comments on the Huffington Post article provide another fascinating study in communication about menstruation. I don’t have enough Sanity Watchers points to read all six pages (and still accumulating) of comments, but I did scan a couple of pages. Most of the comments are along the lines of “TMI” and “It’s gross to discuss that kind of stuff.” One Perry fan posted this remark:  “Katy, get pregnant fast so that you can talk about that instead of this.”

Apparently it’s acceptable to talk about the contents of one’s uterus only when it’s full.

[via my buddy genehack]



There’s an app for that

January 14th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Screen shot from iPhone app to remind user to take birth control pill.There are a number of web sites and mobile applications for tracking one’s cycle (such as MyMonthlyCycles.com) and for tracking PMS – either one’s own or someone else’s, as frequent guest contributor David Linton pointed out a few months ago. Is anyone surprised that there is also an app to remind you to take your birth control pill every day?

Of course, if you’re going to take oral contraceptives, taking it consistently is important. With a short half-life and low dosage in many of today’s pills, ideally they should be taken at the same time each day for maximum effectiveness. (This also may reduce breakthrough bleeding.) Research indicates that the average birth control pill user misses three pills each month, which changes the failure rate from 0.3% to 8%.

The commonly used Dialpak® dispenser, introduced in 1965, was designed to make it easy to remember to take the pill every day, long before iPhones or internet access. Legend has it that it was invented by a fellow who frequently argued with his wife over whether or not she had taken her pill. The Dialpak® is iconic in American culture; it has made the birth control pill the only prescription drug identifiable at a distance simply by its container. It is even evoked in the perfectly circular swimming pool and costumed synchronized swimmers of the NuvaRing® advertisement frequently seen on American television.


These ads (“Break Away from the Pack”) promote NuvaRing® for those who can’t be arsed to take a pill every day, rather than any claims of its effectiveness as birth control. (Needless to say, the ads neglect to mention that the ring can be accidentally expelled surprisingly easily. That’s got to impact its effectiveness rate.)


Physicians refer to failure to take one’s medication as “non compliance”, as though patients – especially female patients – are deliberately defiant rather than forgetful. But wouldn’t a real rebel be more likely to reject hormonal contraception completely in favor of Fertility Awareness and/or barrier methods? And she’d employ reusable menstrual products, too.

[via Holly Grigg-Spall]

Win a Free Copy of Greenblooded!

January 12th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Sample panel from Greenblooded zine.Ariel of Cephaloblog is giving away five copies of Cathy Leamy’s “totally cute, funny and informative comic on eco-friendly solutions for that time of the month“. To win, you just need to add a comment to her blog post (first link above) explaining why you’re making the switch (or have already switched) to reusable menstrual products. She’ll select and post the winners on January 24.

You’ll also be helping with science: Ariel intends to post the top ten reasons given by age range, so we can see why women of all ages support reusable options during their periods.

I don’t want to horn in on re:Cycling readers’ chance to win, so I just zipped over to Metrokitty’s site and shelled out $2 for a copy.

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.