Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

What does it really mean to be #LikeAGirl?

July 17th, 2014 by Elizabeth Kissling

As published June 2014, Marie Claire, US edition

Always™ and its corporate owner, Procter & Gamble, have been receiving a lot of praise around the interwebs these days for their #LikeAGirl campaign, launched June 26, 2014, with a video produced by Lauren Greenfield. The video has been viewed 37 million times and counting. Last week, HuffPo actually called it “a game changer in feminist movement”, which I suppose reveals how little Huffington Post knows about feminist movements, more than anything else.

But before you applaud the efforts of Always to raise girls’ self-esteem, remember that they’re also the people who bring you these ads. Because that stench of girl never goes away, and you can’t spend all day in the shower, use Always.

How do girls learn about periods?

May 1st, 2013 by Laura Wershler

How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?

Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.

Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”

Photo courtesy of Laura Wershler

Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask:  Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?

Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of periodwise.com, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.

“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”

Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.

“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”

A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at RookieRead the comments. Readers loved it.

She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to beinggirl.com for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!

Moms shouldn’t be waiting for their daughters to talk to them. They need to find their own period coaches. Other mothers like Suzan Hutchinson and the mom who started bepreparedperiod.com.

The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.

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.

Advertise Your Period Dot Com

February 15th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Today, in vintage femcare advertising, we bring you Tampax’s idea of menstrual shaming, 1990s style:

 

But Tampax doesn’t understand menstruation as well as they think they do. Sure, it might be a little tiresome to have a Mariachi band follow you around everywhere for most of a week, but as I’ve indicated before, I love the idea of a musical celebration of my monthly miracle.

Not Having A Happy Period

August 10th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Editor’s note, August 10, 2011: Procter & Gamble has responded that this video was NOT produced or commissioned by them, and is in fact a spoof. While it is still offensive and worthy of criticism as such and your comments are welcome here, please do not direct your ire toward Procter & Gamble.



Edited again, August 10, 2011: I’m beginning to doubt the veracity of the unsigned P&G claim that the company is unaffiliated with this video. The same anonymous quote, attributed only to “Procter & Gamble”, is starting to show up in nearly every online discussion of this ad — at least in discussion of how offensive and un-funny it is. I’ve traced the video back to the Ads of the World site, which provides the following credits:

Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, London, UK
Creative: Jim Thornton
Director: Ben Jones
Production Company: Helimax Films
DoP: George Steel
Producer: Sherry Collins

I note that P&G has not posted their denial at Ads of the World, or at Jezebel – two blogs with *considerably* larger audiences than re:Cycling. Color me suspicious. I’d like to hear what others think.

 


Final edit, August 11, 2011: Many thanks to blogger Jane Fae, who phoned both P&G office and Leo Burnett UK, and received the following statement from a senior representative at Leo Burnett:

“All creative agencies will look at different creative ideas to push boundaries and engage consumers. We will occasionally make test films to try and bring an idea to life without a request from the client. These films are for internal use only, for us to understand the power of an idea and are not for publication. This creative was never commissioned nor approved by P&G. We regret this has been made public without our approval or authorization and apologise for any offence caused.”

 


Procter & Gamble have finally responded to consumer complaints about their patronizing “Have a Happy Period” slogan, with a disturbing video showcasing what they term “some of East London’s finest transvestites”. This is so many kinds of wrong, starting with the conflation of transsexuality and drag performance. But instead of re-inventing the wheel and taking it apart myself, I’m going to re-direct re:Cycling readers to the excellent analysis Shakesville’s EastSideKate did yesterday.

I pulled this P&G contact information and sample letter from commenter “Teaspoon” over there:

Toll-free phone number in the U.S. (Always brand specific): (800) 888-3115
Web form for U.S. contact: http://pg.custhelp.com/app/ask

A sample letter that anyone may feel free to adopt or adapt as they like:

Dear P&G representative:

I was recently directed to a web video ad for your Always brand products intended for airing in England and possibly wider audiences, featuring London “drag queens” in tears over an ostensible inability to menstruate.  Quite aside from the errors inherent with conflating cross-dressing performance with transsexuality, this sort of advertising is cruel to transwomen who do feel incomplete, and it helps create a hostile situation for transsexual individuals.  These individuals already face a greater risk of violence simply for being who they are, and your advertising promotes further dehumanization of those who are different.

As a long-time loyal purchaser of Always brand products, I am dismayed by such mocking and harmful advertising.  Until the ad is pulled and a public apology that acknowledges the harmful nature of the ad is issued, I will no longer purchase Always brand products, and I will be reviewing my other purchases to avoid other Proctor and Gamble products as well.

Sincerely,
A former customer

Advertising Wars: Tampax vs. Kotex

February 22nd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

It looks like Kotex is winning. Explicit comparison to the competitor’s product is an advertising strategy of 30-40 years ago. Under the new rules, the competitor’s product doesn’t even exist, and certainly isn’t deserving of mention in a promotion for your own.

Tampax02-2011

This ad for Tampax appeared in the March, 2011, issue of Marie Claire


But I Thought Lightning Never Strikes Twice

August 16th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

June 2010 magazine ad for Always maxi pads Procter & Gamble femcare ads are such an easy target. It’s shooting fish in a barrel.

Periods = lightning? Really? And the classic deictic euphemism, “it”, well, that just makes me tired.

At least there’s no blue liquid.


Is Mother Nature Winning?

June 8th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Is it just me, or is Tampax’s “Outsmart Mother Nature” campaign wearing a little thin?


These two ads, from the June, 2010, edition of a ladymag, seem lackluster. Visually, they’re just not easy to read.

Serena delivers smackdown to Mother Nature

Serena burns a hole into Mother Nature’s monthly gift? She damages menstruation? How are we to interpret this image?


Cut "Mother Nature" down to size

This one is also a little strange. Cut Mother Nature down to size? Doesn’t this imply reducing one’s period, which is more consistent with the advertising slogans of cycle-stopping contraceptives (e.g., Re-punctuate your life with Seasonique)?

When did the wheels fall off this one, Tampax?


And 58.4% of statistics are made up on the spot

April 18th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

April 2010 magazine ad for Always Infinity maxi-padsThe latest magazine ad for Always pads (pictured at right) reads, “97% of women who tried Always Infinity said they’d recommend it to their friends.” Smaller print notes that these data are from a survey at Always.com — suggesting a self-selected population of women who like Always. Respondents who won’t recommend the product are dismissed as women who never like anything.

Sounds like someone’s been reading Darrell Huff’s classic book, How to Lie with Statistics!

In fairness, in freshness: Why Men Love Whisper

February 11th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s not news that menstrual products are marketed with claims of how well they conceal menstruation. But usually from whom must it be concealed is implied, rather than made explicit. Not so in this new campaign for Whisper in southeast Asia. (Whisper maxi pads are known as Always in the U.S.)

The commercials and associated web sites are all about “Why Men Love Whipser.” Of course, this isn’t the first time men have been shown in menstrual product ads. Readers who grew up in the U.S. in 1970s (as I did) may remember the Midol ad that appears after the cut from teen magazines of the era. And our friend, colleague, and frequent guest contributor David Linton published a study of men in menstrual advertising from 1920-1949.

This ad series does seem a little more explicit than those examples, with the men speaking directly to the camera, and the image of the woman wearing the Whisper pad sitting on the man’s shoulders. Can anyone provide a translation of what is being said? The ad is only partially in English.

Always Maxi Pads are MAGIC!

January 21st, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Magazine ad for Always brand maxi pads from Marie Claire,  January 2010The latest magazine ads for Always “Infinity” maxi pads remind me of this old joke:

Two young boys walk into a pharmacy one day, pick out a box of Tampax and proceed to the checkout counter.

The man at the counter asks the older boy, “Son, how old are you?”

“Eight,” the boy replies.

The man continues, “Do you know what these are used for?”

“Not exactly,” the boy says. “But they aren’t for me. They’re for him. He’s my brother. He’s four. We saw on TV that if you use these you would be able to swim and ride a bike. Right now he can’t do either one.”

So if I use Always, will I be able to be a contortionist like the acrobat in the picture? Because right now, I’m pretty sure I can’t do that.

Mother Nature Doesn’t Menstruate – At Least She Doesn’t Say So

January 10th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Tampax ad featuring tennis star Serena Williams.This advert for Tampax appears in the February 2010 issue of Marie Claire, and probably other ladymags as well. It shows tennis star Serena Williams posing in a victory stance with clenched fist in the foreground, while security guards cart off Mother Nature, who is bearing a red-wrapped gift for Serena. The legend printed across the picture reads, “Serena shuts out Mother Nature’s monthly gift”.

As I said previously, I have some ambivalence about these ads. In today’s period-hating cultural climate, it takes some courage for a celebrity to appear in advertisement for a menstrual product. And it’s great to see acknowledgement that an athlete can win contests at any phase of her menstrual cycle (even the Boston Marathon).

But look closely at this ad, and read the copy. What’s missing?

That’s right – there’s no mention of blood or menstruation. The word period, itself a euphemism, isn’t even used. Only the flowery, secretive euphemism “Mother Nature’s monthly gift” represents menses.

And Mother Nature is reduced from the clever, wise-cracking Aunt Flo portrayed here to a kooky sitcom aunt reminiscent of Gladys Kravitz. Who wants to receive her gift?

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.