Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Netflix of Menstruation

January 29th, 2013 by David Linton

It was probably inevitable that the success of Amazon, I-Tunes, Domino’s Pizza, and a plethora of home delivery and on-demand food services would spawn a menstrual product service industry. And here it is, the NetFlix of menstruation: Le Parcel.

Le Parcel acts as a clearing house for the home delivery of three major brands of pads, panty liners, and tampons, Playtex, Kotex, and Tampax, which the web site states are “only the best and most trusted brands,” a claim that users of other products would surely be outraged by. It is peculiar that the enterprise does not include an option of purchasing any of the growing number of eco-friendly products nor items like the disposable cup, Softcup.

The packaging idea is a clever one. Buyers can custom design a mix from 30 types of tampons, panty liners, and pads from those produced by the three companies to suit one’s pattern of needs including variations in flow, preference of fit, etc., and a delivery schedule can be set up so that the parcel arrives in time for one’s expected period. Furthermore, adhering to stereotypes of the impact of hormonal changes on attitude and dietary cravings, the parcel includes a chocolate treat of some kind and “a monthly gift” to help one feel special this special time of the month. The gift depicted in the video accompanying the web site looks like a wrist watch but that seems a bit farfetched. The service promises to “make your cycle easy and dare we say, fun!” and the buyer is assured that “each parcel is packaged with love and care.”

Unfortunately, the text accompanying the description of the system reinforces some of the most retro and even ugly negative beliefs about the menstrual cycle, including the misery of having to ask your partner to go to the store: “Gone are the dreadful days of having your significant other ‘pick up’ a box of pads at the store on the way home.” The assumption that the menstruator is stranded at home awaiting the return of her embarrassed mate is quite a throw back. Other casually mentioned descriptions of the period include:

  • “Nature’s gift stinks so we give you a better one.”
  • “PMS – Not so hard when chocolate covered.”
  • “Periods are hard.”
  • “Crap happens” – In this case the word “shit” is crossed out and replaced by “crap.”

The notions that menstruation “stinks” and the period’s arrival is “shit” or “crap” speak for themselves. Not only does Le Parcel deliver the menstrual goods, it delivers a package full of nasty attitudes as well.

Cosmo’s Menstrual Politics

August 14th, 2012 by David Linton

Saniya Ghanoui and David Linton

How peculiar are the sexual politics of Cosmopolitan magazine?!?! We previously noted the editorial avoidance of menstrual sex, but let’s take a look at their most recent ride on the menstrual cycle.

On one hand, Cosmo aspires to liberate women from sexual repression into a world of ever better orgasms and perpetual youth and beauty. On the other hand, it ceaselessly stokes anxiety and insecurity with its constant twin emphasis on pleasing “him” and urging the purchase of the latest Big Thing. Occasionally, in an effort to demonstrate concern for women’s health there appears a reference to some aspect of the menstrual cycle.

The most recent example occurs in the June 2012 issue whose cover, under a hot photo of the rock star Pink, announces that inside you can learn, “Why your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”. Off the bat, the cover recirculates the tired notion that the period is responsible for some kind of transformation, turning a woman into a crazy person. The use of an extra “a” emphasizes the word in a way that enhances its meaning, thus the period causes almost an abnormal form of craziness. There’s also a lovely irony to this cover. Pink is dressed in a vibrant solid-red dress that counters her pale skin and hair. She pulls up one side of outfit as she claws her dress and her expression is meant to show a “tough girl” side to her personality. It’s as if the cover alludes to notions of craziness, as caused by the period, via the image of Pink.

The article does seem to contain practical advice for those who experience some level of discomfort prior to getting their period. The five suggestions include topics such as diet, exercise, orgasms, coffee, and laughter. Unfortunately, embedded in the nuggets of advice one finds relentless reinforcements of age-old prejudices, stereotypes, and negative perspectives. Even the opening page, which sets up the piece, is titled “Beat the PMS Brain Haze” and shows a woman whose head is slightly out of focus and fading into a cloud. In case you miss the point, a sentence beside her head states, “It’s hard to function when your head is in the clouds”. In larger type under the title the message is reinforced, “It’s when you feel so foggy, you can barely choose between a lemon and a lime for your diet soda”.

The next two pages of suggestions comprise a litany of ways to cope with the “annoying symptom”, “hormonal cloud”, “haze”, and “PMS coma” that leave women “easily overwhelmed, stressed out, forgetful and indecisive”, Women are told to “cancel everything that’s optional”, “snack on yummy oatmeal” to “make up for the PMS brain drain”, “ask your guy to rub your back”, and have “a dose of caffeine”.

As published in June 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan

What is obvious about the article and the tips that are meant to keep women “sane”, insinuating that one may be insane while PMSing, is the way in which each bit of advice is meant to fix some frustrating characteristic that is either caused or heightened by PMS. Thus, the message is that women have an extra hindrance they must overcome in order to have a peaceful week leading up to their period. In order to solve the problem Cosmo advises some simple changes, such as having a cup of coffee, to more radical ones like changing or canceling items on your schedule. What the latter puts forward is the idea that PMS is such a hindrance that one must change one’s weekly agenda in order to function normally. While it is true that some may have discomfort during PMS and desire extra time to relax, to completely cancel or modify a weekly schedule suggests a level of wealth or leisure that is in the realm of fantasy.

Despite the appearance that the article is simply a pleasant set of suggestions, it turns out that the three pages are actually a lead into a fourth page on the right side so the connection can’t be missed, consisting of the latest ad for Tampax Radiant tampons. In design and placement the ad blends perfectly with the article so as to flow, as it were, directly from the pre-menstrual days into the period itself with Tampax waiting there to fill the need.

There has been a lot written in recent years about the blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising but the only blurring in this case is the unintentional design of the first page of the piece which is purposely shot out of focus to visually illustrate how women must feel as their hormones debilitate them.

Furthermore, the ad purposely counters all the frustrations exhibited in the previous three pages. The ad promotes the “invisible” period, thanks to this specific tampon, that has “leakguard technology” and a “discreet resealable wrapper.” All of these characteristics are meant to ease irritations associated with the period. And why wouldn’t a woman want to have her aggravations eliminated, especially after reading three pages of problems associated with PMS? It seems the message is that since there isn’t a menstrual product (outside of drugs) that can ease PMS, at least the period can be eased by this tampon.

PMS Is Not Universal

December 14th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

images(3)Not only does PMS not turn women into Vikings, heavyweight boxers, or Mexican wrestlers (see yesterday’s post about ads for Kitadol), it does not affect every woman who menstruates. Research using daily surveys to examine patterns of depression and anxiety symptoms in young women found that some women experience symptoms mid-cycle, others pre-menstrually, and still others do not experience mood changes in association with their menstrual cycle.

PMS, Chocolate, and Other Stereotypes

November 12th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Screen_Shot_of_PSM-SOSThere’s already more than 60 apps on the market for tracking PMS and other aspects of the menstrual cycle, but there always room for one more: Betty Crocker introduced the PMS SOS app this week. In addition to sad stereotypes about gender and how women are ruled by their hormones, this app gives you coupons for discounts on General Mills baking products.

PMS SOS is so over-the-top it’s this week’s deserving prize winner of Bitch magazine’s Douchebag Decree. I really can’t add anything to their remarks but applause.

Menstruation Can Lead to Shopping Sprees

October 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Kitty Holman

Yves Saint Laurent Satin Peep-Toe Shoes

Yves Saint Laurent Satin Peep-Toe Shoes

Make no mistake, there are some women who absolutely love to shop. And why not? Shopping has long been described as being a therapeutic activity because it has the uncanny ability to lift the spirit. After all, bringing home a new pair of sassy shoes can do wonders for a foul mood. But shopping can also be a detrimental hobby for women who are carefully monitoring their funds. This is especially true during the week right before menstruation. New research by Karen J. Pine and Ben C. Fletcher at the University of Hertfordshrine’s School of Psychology has shown that women tend to spend more money when they are later into their menstruation cycle than during any other time of the month. Their paper, “Women’s spending behaviour is menstrual-cycle sensitive,” appears in the January, 2011, issue of Personality and Individual Differences.

Menstruation affects women in an almost primal way. At peak ovulation, which is when the female body is the most fertile and therefore the most likely to become pregnant, women may find themselves unconsciously adapting their behavior to attract men, or potential mates. Many women change their dress style during this time in an effort to impress potential partners, which has been dubbed the “ornamentation effect,” according to researchers . The ornamentation effect typically occurs a week before menstruation, coinciding with Pine and Fletcher’s findings that women tend to make more indulgent and reckless expenditures during this time than any other time of the month. The research suggests that the two are connected, as women may make more self-indulgent purchases, typically of clothing or other “preening” items, because they are unconsciously driven to adapt their physical appearance to attract a mate. In fact, the researchers surveyed 443 women, all menstruating and between the ages of 18 and 50, and found that 48 percent of the women who admitted to impulsive and excessive spending did so when they were premenstrual, as opposed to the 34 percent who were menstrual or post-menstrual and the mere 18 percent who were in mid-cycle.

Another factor driving women to overspend a week before menstruation can be attributed to hormones. Immediately before menstruation, the female body is barraged with different signals in addition to the desire to attract a potential partner. Hormonal triggers can bring on mood swings and other irritability symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. These symptoms and the stress that they bring on can dampen a woman’s capacity for self-control, which can further explain why women tend to spend more during the luteal phase, the only time during the menstrual cycle when PMS occurs. If the unawareness of self-control is not one of the driving causes behind overspending during the luteal phase, then it is likely that justification is. Women may feel that they deserve to spend more during this time of the month as they are generally feeling uncomfortable and irritable, even if they understand that the expenditure is extravagant.

Whether excessive spending is caused by an unconscious need to preen, a lack of self-control in the face of PMS-related stress, or a simple license to indulge in shopping caused by luteal phase anxiety, otherwise money-smart women can find themselves more susceptible to making impulse purchases the later they are into their menstrual cycle. Those who wish to watch their spending and protect their funds from reckless behavior can simply avoid the mall during that particular time of the month.

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing schools.  She welcomes your comments at her email address kitty.holman20@gmail.com

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.