Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Depo Provera and menstrual management

April 8th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Melinda Gates speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning; Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks back I did an interview with Leslie Botha regarding the distribution of Depo Provera to women in developing countries. Recently Leslie shared with me an email she received from someone working in a family planning clinic in Karnataka, India. He described how he was providing the Depo Provera injection to women and finding that, after they stopped using it, they were not experiencing menstruation for up to nine months. He asked for advice – “what is the procedure to give them normal monthly menses….is there any medicine?”

I have written previously about one potential problem of providing women with Depo Provera – the possibility of continuous spotting and bleeding that would not only be distressing with no warning that this might happen and no medical support, but could also be difficult to navigate in a place with poor sanitation or with strong menstrual taboos. As women in developed countries are so very rarely counseled on side effects of hormonal methods of contraception, it seems unlikely women in developing countries receive such information. As we know, some women will instead experience their periods stopping entirely during use of the shot and, as we see from this email and from the comments on other posts written for this blog, long after use.

In this context I find it interesting that the Gates Foundation’s programs for contraception access have a very public focus on Depo Provera. The method was mentioned again by Melinda Gates in a recent TED interview and when she was interviewed as ‘Glamor magazine Woman of the Year’ the shot was front-and-center of the discussion of her work. Yet the Foundation also funds programs that provide support for menstrual management and sanitation.  Continuous bleeding from the shot, or cessation of bleeding altogether, would seem to be an important connecting factor between these two campaigns.

Much has been written on the menstrual taboo in India and how this holds women back. In the US we have come to embrace menstrual suppression as great for our health and our progress as women. We see menstruation as holding women back in a variety of ways. However, in India could lack of menstruation also be seen as a positive outcome? Instead of dealing with the menstrual taboo with expensive programs that provide sanitary products and education, might suppressing menstruation entirely be seen as a far more cost-effective solution? It may seem like a stretch, but I am surprised this has not been brought up during debates about the need for contraceptive access in developing countries. Yet of course, the menstrual taboo may well extend to absence of menstruation – a woman who does not experience her period might also be treated suspiciously or poorly.

When Melinda Gates says women “prefer” and “request” Depo Provera I always wonder whether that’s after they’ve been told how it works (perhaps described as a six-month invisible contraception) or after they’ve had their first shot or after they’ve been on it for two years and then, via FDA guidelines, must find an alternative? How much follow up is there? As the self-injectable version is released widely how will women be counseled? Gates argues that the invisibility of the method is part of the draw as women do not have to tell their partners they are using contraception, but what happens when they bleed continuously or stop entirely?

It seems to me like there might be a real lack of communication – both between medical practitioners and their patients, drug providers and the practitioners, and those who fund these programs with everyone involved. It is often argued that the risks of pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries justify almost any means to prevent pregnancy – including the use of birth control methods that cause health issues. How much feedback are groups like the Gates Foundation getting on women’s preferences if they seem to be so unaware of the potential problems, even those that would greatly impact their wider work?

Etiquette for menstruation

November 19th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Photo courtesy of sweeteningthepill.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Illustrating menstruation with something other than femcare products

May 29th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

Frances, a woman in her 50s, had never talked about menstruation with anyone before attending Scarlet Summer.

The woman who created this image brought her baby with her to the event.

Bleedy the Period Puppet was created by artist Bree Horel.

Andrea, 25, said this piece depicts the multiple emotions she feels around menstruation.

It was great to see the media attention garnered last week by Red Moon Howl, the menstrual poetry slam happening in New York City on Friday night, June 7, 2013, at Marymount Manhattan College. The event is part of the upcoming Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference – Making Menstruation Matter.

But as re:Cycling noted on our Facebook page, it was a shame the only way Jezebel, The Gloss, and The Frisky could think to illustrate their previews of the event was with stock photos of femcare products.

It made me realize the value of the archive I have of menstrual images created by women who attended the menstrual arts and crafts events we hosted when I was executive director of Sexual Health Access Alberta. At Scarlet Summer [pdf], an event held in August 2007, attendees watched Giovanna Chesler’s documentary Period: End of Menstruation, participated in a discussion, then created visual and tactile illustrations of what menstruation means to them.

In anticipation of the upcoming conference and menstrual poetry slam, here are several menstrual images that may inspire your own periodic creativity.

Portnoy’s (Menstrual) Complaint

January 1st, 2013 by David Linton

One way of telling how comfortable a man is with the biological facts of women’s lives is how he responds to calls for him to go shopping for menstrual products or to have physical contact with a woman’s menses.

Depictions of this challenge have occasionally been a subject of humor on TV shows such as in the episode of King of the Hill titled “Aisle # 8″ in which the bumbling Hank Hill has to enter the fearful menstrual aisle of a supermarket or, for contrast, in an episode of Californication when the father of a daughter who has just had her first period heroically fends off other customers to get her the last package of pads on the shelf.

An early literary description of a menstrual product shopping moment, one that was deeply traumatic for the character, is in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel, Portnoy’s Complaint. Set in a psychoanalyst’s office during a single rambling session, Alex Portnoy relates a terrifying incident from his childhood when, at the age of eleven, his mother sent him out to buy a box of Kotex:

“It was years later that she called from the bathroom, Run to the drugstore! bring a box of Kotex! immediately! And the panic in her voice. Did I run! And then at home again, breathlessly handed the box to the white fingers that extended themselves at me through a narrow crack in the bathroom door. . . Though her menstrual troubles eventually had to be resolved by surgery, it is difficult nevertheless to forgive her for having sent me on that mission of mercy. Better she should have bled herself out on our cold bathroom floor, better that than to have sent an eleven-year-old boy in hot pursuit of sanitary napkins!” (43-44)

Whew! Now there’s a Freudian field day, and from a time when Freudian technique was in full fashion. More than 30 years later, in The Dying Animal (2001 ), another Roth character seems to have made some progress, at least on the surface. Perhaps his analysis has succeeded. A senior professor, the 62-year-old David Kepesh, plays out an erotic fantasy with a 24-year-old graduate student, Consuela Castillo. Kepesh, a serial womanizer who considers himself an erotic master, is stunned when she tells him that a former boyfriend liked to watch her take out her tampon, realizing that he has never done anything like that. His sexual competitiveness requires that he immediately enact the same scene. However, the act throws him into a state of Portnoy-like humiliation:

“Then came the night that Consuela pulled out her tampon and stood there in my bathroom, with one knee dipping toward the other and, like Mantegna’ Saint Sebastian, bleeding in a trickle down her thighs while I watched. Was it thrilling? Was I delighted? Was I mesmerized? Sure, but again I felt like a boy. I had set out to demand the most from her, and when she shamelessly obliged, I wound up again intimidating myself. There seemed nothing to be done – if I wished not to be humbled completely by her exotic matter-of-factness – except to fall to my knees to lick her clean. Which she allowed to happen without comment. Making me into a still smaller boy.” (71-72)

Though there are more scenes in this book and others by Roth that employ menstrual details to capture character and advance plots, these two embody deep-seated male confusion and anxiety about how to deal with menstrual encounters. The candor Roth exhibits, as is often the case with his writing, is admirable for its openness to exploring taboos, but one also wishes he was able to provide more nuanced treatments of women’s experiences as well. Perhaps we should turn to Joyce Carol Oates in search of such treatments. Perhaps in a future post.

The Smithsonian Menstrual Archive

November 6th, 2012 by David Linton

Down the Washington Mall from the popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art lies the sprawling National Museum of American History with its fascinating collections of the history of American material culture: early plows, bicycles, mail boxes, tobacco tins, thimbles, shoes, harnesses, tools, stoves, and every other imaginable artifact from every aspect of American life.  The collection spans domestic, economic, military, technological, media, educational, and virtually every other realm of human endeavor.

And, locked away in a climate-controlled room next to cabinets full of objects associated with medical, disability, reproductive and health concerns are drawers full of items that woman have used to manage their periods.

Photo by David Linton

I was given a private tour of the collection by Dr. Katherine Ott, a curator of Science, Medicine, and Society at this branch of the Smithsonian and lead editor of Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. Her knowledge of the collection, its content, sources, and significance was coupled with a generous enthusiasm in sharing it.  The item we both marveled at most was a package of sanitary napkins made of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is a substance commonly used today to line hanging pots of ferns and other plants to absorb and hold excess moisture.  It was also used by native American mothers who stuffed the moss into papoose back packs — early environmentally friendly disposable diapers. This menstrual management device consisted of a strip of moss wrapped in gauze and provided with safety pins to attach it inside an undergarment.

The packaging itself contained several details that revealed much about the menstrual ecology of the times. The demure picture of the “Sphagnum Moss Girl” dressed in a uniform echoing Clara Barton’s Red Cross nurses was coupled with a line that reinforced the picture, “Sphagnum Moss was used by the American Red Cross in the manufacture of surgical dressings for war time use”. This is strikingly similar to the descriptions used in the earliest advertisements for Kotex, which the company claimed was originally produced for use in front-line hospitals during World War I (or “the World War”, as it was described at the time before a second came along).

Photo by David Linton

And, in true ad-speak fashion, the product was given a catchy name: “SFAG-NA-KINS”. The package included a folded page titled, “A Short History About Sphagnum Moss From Which Sfag-na-kins Are Made”. The pamphlet includes details about how the substance was used by the Japanese army during their war with Russia and how it was perfected by various doctors and medical researchers, including one Dr. J.B. Porter of McGill University. Apparently competition from wood pulp-based products such as Kotex was already starting to take shape, as the pamphlet goes on to claim, “The SFAG-NA-KINS will be found to be greatly superior to anything else now on the market, and one of them should be equvilent to three or more of the Cotton Sanitary Napkins. The complete elimination of any stain to garments is only one of the many superior features of the SFAG-NA-KINS”. The fact that pulp products won out in the market may be due to the fact that “Kotex”, with its resonance to “cotton”, a substance more familiar and acceptable than moss, is a catchier name than the hard-to-pronounce and “sfag-na-kins,” not to mention the unsavory image of walking around with a wad of moss between one’s legs.

In addition to this rare mass marketed moss product, the collection contains every imaginable brand of pad, tampon, cup, and belt as well as drawers full of cycle management drug products including one of the original circular birth control pill dispensers. Adjacent cabinets were filled with hundreds of condom packages, pessaries, IUD’s, cervical caps, devices for containing a prolapsed uterus, and related marketing and educational posters, flyers, and brochures.

My tour of the Smithsonian collection and Dr. Ott’s insightful narration of its history enhanced my understanding of the complex connection between the biological characristics of the menstrual cycle and the social and economic context in which it exists.

How to menstruate while camping?

October 30th, 2012 by Alexandra Jacoby

A friend of mine is going camping soon, and getting her period then is the last thing she wants to think about!

Photo by Beth and Christian Bell // CC 2.0

Camping and menstruation…That reminded me about the bears-being-attracted-to-menstrual-blood question, and, in case she didn’t know,** I let her know that there is no evidence that bears are more attracted to menstrual smells more than any other smells…

That put a little space between me and her question of how to deal with it while camping.
I didn’t know what to tell her.

No, she didn’t know that about the bears.
That’s good to know.

Back to what to do about her period: what’s the ecologically-respectful way to handle it? I didn’t know what to tell her—other than ziploc bags. [my answer for most travel/packing questions].

I told her I’d look into it, and found my way back to the article on bears and menstruation, and forwarded it to her.

It’s not exactly en pointe, but I thought this part from the Precautions section — “Do not bury tampons or pads (pack it in – pack it out).” — the pack it in/pack it out part was useful.

It goes on with: “Place all used tampons, pads, and towelettes in double zip-loc baggies and store them unavailable to bears, just as you would store food.” [Ziplocs: I knew it!]

So, leaving nothing behind is good, but all that used product is still heading for landfill, right?
So maybe then: the cup?

She made a face.

I know. It’s sticky, wet. And you’re in the woods. Blood feels like more to deal with than pee…

But wait, is it ? –

If you’re staying put, you’ll be washing somewhere, right? Is this designated space actually different than using any shared bath”room”?

I realize you’ll be outdoors, but still it’s not much different than a public bathroom—that may or may not be in working order, and that will or won’t have products and plumbing organized for easily, privately and completely dealing with menstrual blood.

If you know where you’ll be washing up, then you’ll know if there’s going to be a water available for washing, or not. What you don’t expect to be provided there, you’ll have to bring with you. Just as you do with public bathrooms.

If you’re on the move, then it’s harder. There may or may not be water or privacy when you want it. And, the whatever that you’ll be taking with you, you’ll have to carry it.  And, water is heavy.

Again, come to think of it: this is the same situation as city travel.

I’m not saying that it won’t be harder, stickier, in the woods than in Manhattan, just that this camping story is highlighting the fact that we still need to figure this out for city life.

Bidets. I haven’t seen one in years, and never in the U.S.
Is that what we need? 

How did we do this before (our ill-equipped modern times)? she asked, still looking for what could work in the woods. — Again: I don’t know. Though, I’m reminded of the red tent. Logistically speaking — was that it? How it got addressed — menstrual hygiene?

Does it have to be like that? 

Can this be done without the isolation piece? 

Can the fact that we menstruate be included in a society where living goes on, where work continues, relationships, commitments, projects, gardening, raising children, caring for those who are ill or need help, first dates, parties and camping trips, it all keeps going.

And so do we. We, menstruators, keep going.

With varying experiences of bloating, pain, etc., living goes on. Varying experiences. I am not representing a group here, just myself—and thinking about others: wondering about your experiences and whether/how your needs are met.

Me — I would like it to be easy and normal to bleed. I also don’t want the world involved in when and how I do, so I don’t want to step off, and I don’t see a reason to stand out: it’s a normal experience, right? Our facilities should match that.

Applauding the “Second Talk”

October 11th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

In an effort to continue positive conversations about menopause, this blog entry is about Poise’s new “2nd talk” campaign. I was watching TV the other night and an advertisement for Poise’s menstrual pad came on. For once, I was actually happy to see a TV ad on menopause. The ad featured a video of a woman talking about how confusing menopausal symptoms are and what menopausal symptoms can be like, and how women need to talk about them. Menopause talk, then, is the “2nd talk” to which Poise ads are referring. Poise has developed an entire collection of “unscripted” stories from women experiences perimenopause, and it is well worth watching them. Visit the website! The premise is that while we do talk about menstruation (apparently the “1st talk”), we do not talk about menopause and we should. We should share, and we should inform, and this will make women feel better at menopause. Poise is trying to fill the gap by creating a forum for “2nd talk” on their website and in TV ads.

What a wonderful idea. Research has already shown that talking and sharing makes menopause (and any other reproductive health experience for that matter) better, and I’ve blogged about this before. We could debate Poise’s stance that the “1st talk” (menstrual talk) actually happens, but I think we do need to praise the writers of this ad campaign for prioritizing “2nd talk.” It reminds me somewhat of the Dove campaign on what women like about their bodies and while we can find plenty of ways to critique the writers of these campaigns, we can’t deny that they are moving in the right direction.

I hope we see more of this Poise ad campaign! Perhaps we ourselves can also all try to encourage “1st talk” and “2nd talk.” Lately it seems like a lot of the entries on re:Cycling are about opening doors for talking and sharing, and Poise may not be that far behind us.

Breaking News: Men Discover Tampons Can Absorb Blood

June 13th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo by henteaser // CC 2.0

Last week at The Art of Manliness, a contributor wrote a post about numerous possible wilderness survival uses of tampons. The post was picked up by the popular site, Boing Boing, and the commenters in both sites added more uses, as well uses for disposable maxi pads (although some contributors seem uncertain of the difference). Many creative uses for disposable femcare products were suggested, and while I can’t personally vouch for (or against) any of them, I offer this post as Public Service Announcement to correct some of the misinformation about tampons and pads that those uses presume.

The use of an opened tampon or a maxi pad for a bandage probably seems obvious to re:Cycling readers, as many are familiar with the history of Kotex, developed when World War I nurses discovered that the cotton cellulose they were using on wounded soldiers was highly absorbent. (The phrase ko-tex stands for cotton texture.) But as a few sharp readers of The Art of Manliness are aware, it has been decades since maxi-pads or tampons of any brand were made of cotton (except, obviously, the all-cotton types sold in health food stores). Pads are made from mostly from wood cellulose fibers, with plastic outer layers made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Some of the newer, improved maxi-pads feature synthetic gels designed to draw blood away from the body — not exactly a feature you’d want in a bandage, when you’re trying to stanch the flow of blood and promote clotting. If you’re bleeding heavily, you’re probably better off tearing off your t-shirt and pressing it against the wound. Tampons are also made of wood cellulose, often with a core of viscose fiber. Viscose fiber is rayon, created by treating cellulose with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide.

And although most brands are individually wrapped these days, neither tampons nor pads are sterile. Nor are they produced in sterile conditions. I’d be very leery of using a tampon as a water filter. Surely there are safer, equally portable, emergency filters one could pack in a wilderness survival kit.

Many of the other emergency uses of tampons involved using the fluffy wood pulp as kindling, or otherwise setting them on fire. Now there’s a use I can get behind!

Menstrual Marketing Around the Globe — Israel

May 22nd, 2012 by David Linton

Scary Little Menstruating Girl

[note: Although re:Cycling has an international audience, the following post is written from the perspective of an North American consumer.]

As is well known, cultural practices and attitudes regarding menstruation vary widely from place to place and time to time. re:Cycling has commented on the variety frequently in the past.  Differences also make themselves felt even in advertising and packaging of menstrual products, as the notorious Kotex Beaver ads from Australia demonstrate, despite the fact that the products are manufactured by global, trans-national corporations. Though the fact that the menstrual cycle itself is a world-wide biological phenomenon might suggest that views of its meaning and management would be universal as well, nothing could be further from the truth.

Kita and package of Kotex YoungConsider an ongoing marketing campaign that originated in Israel that features a cartoon character named Kita. To the best of my knowledge this campaign has not been adapted for use in the United States, nor, in my opinion, is it likely to find a place in American advertising nor on American market shelves. The spookiness of the cartoon girl who resembles a Japanese anime character seems strangely unlike the way that American consumers commonly depict young teens in a menstrual context. Even the lettering of “Young” and the way the term is used are unfamiliar to American eyes. Of course, the term “Normal Plus” is meaningless but that’s not unusual in advertising everywhere. And all the shades of red and the display of hearts across the bottom of the package are unfamiliar to American consumers as well. In fact, the menstrual taboos in America have resulted (with few exceptions) in a near absence of red, other than in carefully planted touches such as the ribbon on Mother Nature’s menstrual gift box in Tampax Pearl ads, the hair and lipstick of the magician in the Always pad ads, and the big red dot in many Kotex ads.

The Kita campaign began with careful planning and design. As this promotional video from McCann-Erickson, the Tel Aviv ad agency behind the campaign, explains, it began with the creation of a character and an internet world based on notions of what the target consumers – 10 to 13 year old girls – are thought to love most: shopping, the Internet, shopping, clothing, and, of course, in addition to shopping, more shopping. The character of Kita (“the coolest friend any girl could want”), who narrates her own creation and success story, speaks in a voice that is derived from the American “Valley girl” model, complete with plenty of “like” phrases, a few “awesomes,” an “as if” and a “duh” or two. How Kita immigrated from the San Fernando Valley to Tel Aviv is a mystery, although her native voice does come through a few times via some non-Valley pronunciations. (She pronounces “Kotex” as though it were spelled “Kodex.”) According to the boastful promotional video clip, Kita has achieved remarkably high market saturation. It claims that, “95% of Israeli girls know me and love me” and that “1 of every 2 Israeli girls (12-15) has a profile in Kita City.” Furthermore, since the launch in 2007, the “Kotex market share grew by 56%.” If this is what it takes — a menstrual role model who babbles in clichés, is consumed with consuming, wallows in the trivial, yet does so with seeming self-confidence and menstrual cycle savoir faire — to break down even an iota of menstrual shame and insecurity, who are we to object? And the fact that Kita has become a transnational, widely identified cultural meme, as the agency seems to claim, then maybe her next assignment should be to promote world peace. Ya never know!

KOTEX IS IN THE HOUSE! (or, Is the House?)

April 27th, 2012 by David Linton

Despite occasional efforts by manufacturers of menstrual pads and tampons (the giants of the menstrual-industrial complex – thanks, President Eisenhower) to present period-positive images, they still seem unable to resist representing menstruation as an undesirable, embarrassing phenomenon. Women, particularly teens, are expected to grin and bear it as best they can while enduring their monthly misery.  Consider a recent example.

A few weeks ago, the small college where I work received 12 large cartons from a firm called Brand Connections, which apparently specializes in managing promotional campaigns that involve providing free samples of products.  Each carton contained 72 box-like items made up to look like thick text books but with a cover that closely resembled a copy of Teen or Seventeen magazine.  In large letters on the spine and front are the words, “GET REAL.”  The instruction sheet in each carton included warnings that the contents “may not be suitable for children” and that selling the items rather than giving them away “may result in civil and/or criminal prosecution.”  And, in bold type, the page states, “This box contains FREE House of Kotex samples!”  The college authorities were directed to, “Please hand out the House of Kotex samples to your Universities [sic] female students for their enjoyment.”

 

However, the contents of the package itself were a bit more ambivalent about any connection between menstrual products and enjoyment.

The box opens to disclose, on the right side, two plastic pouches, one white containing a pad and a panty liner, and one black containing a pad, a wipe and a tampon.  On the left, emulating a feature popular in teen girl magazines, is a six item quiz in which girls are asked to choose favorite shoes, lip gloss colors, eye shade, date wear and weekend entertainment.  The sixth item, “Being on your period is. . .” provides the following choices:

  1. the worst
  2. not so bad
  3. part of life
  4. super annoying

If one picks 1. or 4., one is directed to the black pouch; if one chooses 2. or 3., the white pouch is for you.

The cartons were placed around the campus at strategic locations for young women (or curious young men) to pick up the packets.  One enterprising student rifled a few dozen of the tampon packs to store up a stash of her preferred product for the next few months.

Though the cover photo of two smiling young women and the slangy headline references to bonding, fun, and sharing, as well as the playful references to popular items inside created a sense of happy girlhood, the non-so-subtle way the period was described unfortunately reinforced the nuisance trope that is so deeply engraved in young women already.

Readers are invited to propose alternative options to the last question in the menstrual quiz.

All Wrapped Up

February 20th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui

Photo by Jennifer Gaillard // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I always felt that airline travel involves building many short-lasting friendships where people bond over delayed flights, weather problems and luggage issues. Recently I was traveling and had to make a connection in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I was using the restroom and I could hear the lady in the stall next to me change her sanitary napkin. She dropped the plastic wrapping from the new pad and it floated into my stall. Without hesitation, I picked up the wrapper and disposed of it. We both exited our stalls around the same time and as we approached the sinks she turned to me and said quickly but firmly, “Thank you so much for doing that.” I was a bit taken aback but responded “Oh, no problem,” we washed our hands and we bid each other farewell as we left the restroom.

The reason I was taken aback was because I felt she had nothing to thank me for. I simply picked up a piece of wrapping and threw it away. However, the serious tone of her voice told me that she was grateful for what I did. Perhaps it saved her what she deemed the embarrassment of picking it up herself? Or maybe she was just thanking me for a kind gesture. It wasn’t as if I gave her something (like a pad or tampon) that she could thank me for and the act in no way inconvenienced me. I wonder if she would have felt inclined to thank me if she had dropped a candy wrapper or tissue instead.

While there has always been this overall social need to conceal the period, it seems lately that there has been a surge in the desire to conceal menstrual products. Procter and Gamble has a site, Being Girl, that gives the Dos and Don’ts of tampon usage, including practicing at home to “see how quiet you can be when making a quick change.” And silence is one aspect that P&G tends to advertise, especially with its Tampax Pearl product. The wrapper becomes a selling point for Tampax Pearl because of its quiet and easy-to-open tabs that allow for utmost discretion.

I’m sure most re:Cycling readers have seen the U by Kotex line of menstrual products. This line is aimed at a younger crowd, the website has a section for tweens, and takes the idea of concealing in a different direction. Instead of making the products discreet and quiet the company advertises “hot new colors and wrappers.” However, changing the color or design of a tampon wrapper is still missing the point and is just as damaging as advertising products with quiet wrappers. The period is still being hidden. If a woman drops a bright green tampon wrapper on the floor is she now going to be less embarrassed because of the color? It doesn’t matter if the wrapper is white, pastel or a bright color, she shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. That is what needs to change — the embarrassment factor women have about their periods, not the colors of the products used.

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.