Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

“The Tampon that’s Right Even for Single Girls”

November 21st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s Throwback Thursday on social media, and we’re joining in with this ad for Pursettes tampons that ran in Cosmpolitan (U.S.) magazine in 1966. Nearly 50 years on, little has changed in femcare marketing: Look at the familiar themes of medicalization of menstruation, secrecy, fearmongering, and the dreaded scourge of odor problems.

The idea that tampons can steal virginity isn’t quite as pervasive today, but one can still find it in tampon ads as recently as 1990 in teen magazines.

Death to the Menstruators!…by Dragon!

January 17th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

During my more rugged travel experiences, I have often found myself confronted with the formidable task of facing the limitations and boundaries of my physical self. While in India, for example, I often had to contemplate the dilemmas of drinking water (and therefore needing to pee in places where “clean restrooms” did not exist) or becoming dehydrated. (This problem kills malnourished children in developing countries while it merely poses an embarrassing inconvenience for those with generally good health.) On another trip, I had become ill and had vomited violently for two days, leaving my body empty of calories and unable to climb up a sizeable hill to see a grand historical fort. Halfway up that hill, my normally spunky and determined self had a revelation about my newly reimagined relationship between food and energy.

photo taken by Breanne Fahs

On a trip to Indonesia, I had the opportunity to visit Komodo Island, home to the infamous Komodo dragons. My six-year-old nephew informed me (gleefully) that these creatures are extremely dangerous and kill people and animals by biting them, allowing multitudes of mouth bacteria to infect the body, and watching them slowly die. The dragons can then follow around the dying animal and consume their corpses them once their prey is left defenseless and paralyzed with bacterial infection. Before arriving on the island, our guide told us similar stories about the dangers of the Komodo dragon: There is no “anti-venom” equivalent for Komodo dragons and, as such, people die every year by accidentally trekking alone or mistaking Komodo for another Indonesian island. The death of unsuspecting tourists happened often enough that park rangers must now escort guests on the island as a mandatory safety measure. Precautions of every sort must be taken.

Just prior to arrival, excited for the chance to see Komodo dragons in their natural habitat, I received a notice in my room saying that menstruating women could not step foot on the island of Komodo and that only non-menstruating women could enter the island. The notice also informed visitors that people with wounds could not visit the island (though it did not specify the type and size of wound it was referring to), and visitors could not wear any red coloring on their clothing or backpacks. Komodo dragons have a particular combination of aggression, keen smell, bad eyesight, and bloodlust.

As a critical feminist, I initially refused to believe the reality of the caution against menstruating women, imagining that it must be yet another method of excluding women from “men’s” activities like trekking, hiking, and exploring the island. Did these cautions simply represent a repackaging of the “menstrual hut” idea? Would menstruating women actually inspire attacks? Did menstrual blood have a particular “scent” that differentiated it from other kinds of blood? What about women who lived on Komodo Island? How could resident Komodo women protect themselves? Was the ban yet another sexist maneuver to control women and their bodies? Inquiring about this “menstrual ban”, I learned that the dragons can smell blood for up to five miles, and, lacking the ability to discern their “dying” prey from menstruating women, could mistake menstruating women for dying animals and kill them. A series of attacks on menstruating women have been documented on the island, leading the rangers to warn menstruating women that they must not come near Komodo dragons under any circumstance.

My next thoughts focused on the actual disclosure of women’s menstrual status. Typically, few strangers in the U.S. feel entitled to ask women about menstrual status. Would the park rangers actually ask women about their menstrual status? Could a menstruating woman who lied about her status put the group at risk? When I started inquiring about this further, I found that discussions about Komodo Island presented one of the only contexts I can remember when menstrual status could be discussed across genders, ages, races, and cultures, as the notice of warning inspired the group to discuss menstruation openly in ways I had never personally witnessed before. Over dinner the night before our arrival in Komodo, the group I was traveling with discussed menstruation critically, frankly, and in unusual detail. Even though the discourse included (somewhat traditional) notions of “protecting women”, it also provoked the group to consider some of the questions I had asked about the cultural and gendered aspects of menstrual disclosure. Getting “comfortable” with the topic was not an option for women young enough to menstruate, as they had to openly disclose their status regardless of whether they would prefer to keep it secret. Never before had any of us confronted the idea of “security personnel” who would confirm whether we were currently menstruating (a subject that provoked more serious consideration of TSA intrusions on people’s personal lives as well).

Photo by Scott Ellis // Creative Commons NC-SA 2.0

Once on the island, walking among the trees and dusty landscape behind our ranger who carried only a large stick with a forked end, my childlike glee at the Indiana Jones-like qualities of the adventure superseded my fear of Komodo dragon attack. When we finally found the dragons, lazing about in clusters near a spot in the late afternoon shade, I felt a twinge of gratitude that my body had decided not to bleed that day. In my “normal” life, battling the stereotypes and secrecy that surround menstruation, confronting the shame and silence women face about their menstrual cycles, this newfound idea of menstruation as a kind of animal communication felt like a welcome diversion. Menstruation as danger, as physical threat, as something that could put oneself or one’s travel mates in jeopardy seemed unusually exotic, bizarre, and informative. Even more interestingly, the ability to discuss menstruation so openly with such a unique mix of people, under such strange circumstances, provided the opportunity to attach menstrual status to adventure and to remind myself that the narratives we as Americans have about menstruation do not yet reach around the globe.

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.

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.