Thursday, March 5, 2009

Women: Shameful and Unclean (part one)

I have been doing some preliminary readings in preparation for a feminist-type research project I hope to undertake at my college this summer. Many of the readings I have done have either gone into detail about, or at least briefly mentioned, the problem of shame and dirtiness surrounding women in our society when it comes to menstruation.

Shame sells menstrual products.

The idea of shame is widespread in advertisements for menstrual products. This 1992 ad describes how Kotex pads will keep girls from being embarrassed by their hot lab partner finding out she’s on he period. This buys into the idea that menstruation, a perfectly natural part of women’s lives, is something to be ashamed of and to hide from everyone, especially those cute boys in your life. This 1990 Tampax tampons ad plays into the idea that a girl’s virginity is tied to her worth, and that a girl who loses her virginity is shameful, by assuring potential buyers that “you can use them at any age and still be a virgin.”

Along those same lines, the following, more recent ad for Tampax Pearl Tampons also buys into the idea of shame. Notice how it doesn’t go into any detail about why this particular product is supposedly such an “upgrade.” All it says is that it’s their “best protection ever” from those possible leaks that are to be avoided at all costs if women want to avoid long-lasting humiliation and shame.



This trend does not only apply to advertising for menstrual products, but it is especially troubling in this case because menstruation is a very natural function, and one for the most part, cannot be controlled.

For more advertisements, check out the Museum of Menstruation website.

11 comments:

lindsay said...

I've always been amused by the ads that use blue liquid for showing urine or menstrual blood. God forbid we're reminded of why we're actually buying these products.

Anonymous said...

First, Lindsay, there's a reason for that. It's not because "Ew, girlblood icky!" or whatever you might come up with.

It's because it's a diluted solution of copper sulfate, because that's what they use to test the absorbency in the lab. There'd be no reason to switch up what already works.

Moving on,

This buys into the idea that menstruation, a perfectly natural part of women’s lives, is something to be ashamed of and to hide from everyone, especially those cute boys in your life.

Being constipated is a perfectly natural part of life that happens to everyone, but you don't go sharing it with your coworkers.

Yes, lots of biological things are "perfectly natural", but there's a sense of decorum to be applied with things that are appropriate to make public, and things that are not.

Menstruation is inappropriate for public discussion. Which is why you'd hide it from people. It's not so much "hiding", as it is not sharing. No one wants to hear about it, outside of some strange feminist hippie commune where periods are your "inner earth mother blood goddess" or somesuch.

All it says is that it’s their “best protection ever” from those possible leaks that are to be avoided at all costs if women want to avoid long-lasting humiliation and shame.

Dunno about you, but I try to avoid bleeding on my clothing, if I happen to be bleeding at any given time.

Blood is hard to get out of clothes even when it's a small cut. Some women have very large periods, which would result in more than a small stain, and would pretty much mandate a change of pants. That's embarrassing.

I don't get the "celebration of menstruation", I really don't. It's not magical, it's not special. It's relatively unappealing chunky blood.

Amelia said...

Anonymous:

First of all, I wonder if you're the same Anon who has commented here at length before?

You said:

Menstruation is inappropriate for public discussion...No one wants to hear about it, outside of some strange feminist hippie commune where periods are your "inner earth mother blood goddess" or somesuch.

Why is menstruation inappropriate for public discussion? I think that lack of public (and even private) discussion of menstruation is harmful to women because it is an unavoidable part of life, but most women start menstruating without proper knowledge of what it means both emotionally and physically. And how can you justify advertising for menstrual products if talking about menstruation is in your eyes, off limits? I guess that's a bad question, though, because your words make it clear that you are not someone who has or ever will experience menstruation.

Dunno about you, but I try to avoid bleeding on my clothing, if I happen to be bleeding at any given time.

Blood is hard to get out of clothes even when it's a small cut.


As someone who has had personal experience with this, no, it's not hard to get blood out of clothing. Especially menstrual blood. Especially if you don't let it sit for a long time.

I don't get the "celebration of menstruation", I really don't. It's not magical, it's not special. It's relatively unappealing chunky blood.

You cannot understand the "celebration of menstruation" because you (make it clear) that you do not menstruate, and therefore it is convenient for you to buy into this culture of shame and silence surrounding menstruation in this (and many other) societies.

Menstrual blood not magical? Ha. I'd like to see a biologically male person carry a baby for 9 months and give birth. Without menstrual blood, women do not have the capability to become pregnant. The presence of this blood marks the continuation of humankind. And hell, that's pretty magical right there.

Michael said...

Menstrual blood is about as magical as seminal fluid. That is to say, not magical at all (in my rather naturalistic opinion). I mean, sure, it's a biological "miracle" (that is to say it is a necessary component of reproduction along with dozens of other fluids and organs and cells and whatnot), if you must call it that, but that means that all our midsections are filled with thousands and thousands of little miracles. That might kind of devalue the word, though.

I'd like to see a biologically female person impregnate a biologically female person. Without DNA from a male counterpart, women do not have the capability to become pregnant (without some funky sciency stuff). The presence of semen marks the continuation of mankind. And that's pretty magical right there.

Amelia said...

Alright, Anon wrote another comment which I decided not to post because a) it is straying rather far from the original topic of this post which was the use of shame to sell menstrual products to women and b) it had a certain anti-woman tone that I did not appreciate and c) it said the same things as the first Anon comment.

@Michael: So...you and Anon, I think, are of the opinion that menstrual fluid and seminal fluid are of the same value to society. Fair enough. But the problem (and one that is actually relevant to my post! Go figure) is that women, from their first experience with menstruation, are taught that their periods are something that must be hidden at all costs, and if something happens that makes it known to others, we should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed.

That is how we are sold menstrual products. "It's our most absorbent tampon ever!" and "Our pads won't let you have any embarrassing leaks!" all translate to: If you buy our product, you won't have to deal with the shame of being a women who is menstruating.

There is no equivalent for men because men do not regularly require products to deal with their reproductive cycles. There is no culture of shame in this society when it comes to having a penis. Men are allowed to openly discuss their genitals, to touch them without caring how others perceive them, to actually know about them because they are easily seen. That is the male privilege in a society that favors being male of female. Especially over a menstruating female.

Michael said...

Oh, I agree with you that they way these things are marketed, in general, is irresponsible and only reinforces some very foolish ideas of shame. But is every claim they make somehow offensive? I mean, if I were purchasing a product whose specific purpose is to absorb a fluid, I would expect that part of the advertisement for that product be that it is extremely absorbent, and that competition ensures that all producers claim that theirs is the MOST absorbent. Plus, leaks of any kind, whether they be from menstruation or any other bodily function, are kind of embarassing. I sure don't like drooling, or excessive earwax, or what have you. Of course, I also would not appreciate some sort of anti-drooling product being advertised to me on the basis of avoiding embarassing myself in front of a hot chick. That's more than a little bit irresponsible and unnecessary.

zooey said...

This, a long time pet peeve of mine. There was a (UK) tampax compax advert where the girl's boyfriend mistook her tampon for a sweet because it was so ickle and the wrapper was so pretty! bleugh.

The notion that women should have to *hide* any evidence of menstruation -- including clean, unused, *wrapped* tampons, is so f'ing absurd. I keep a box of tampons in plain view in my bathroom...

lindsay said...

@Anon Menstruation is inappropriate for public discussion. Which is why you'd hide it from people. It's not so much "hiding", as it is not sharing. No one wants to hear about it, outside of some strange feminist hippie commune where periods are your "inner earth mother blood goddess" or somesuch.

I don't think we should rule out any topics for public conversation - it creates this stigma we're talking about. By not talking about menstruation, we're just perpetuating the problem. Also, what counts as "public"? Is public a group of people? What about a group of people in a home? Or a restaurant? The workplace? I could see where the concept of "public" could be very different for people.

Plus, the association of menstruation with hippie communes is ridiculous. 50% of the population menstruates and we have to talk about it at some point. It does a disservice to women if that association is made.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I'm not shy about my periods or my products (around our house, we call them "Chartreuse Flame throwers"...you know, feminine protection). My mother is horrified I leave bags of pads out where my sons can see.

"I'm a woman. I bleed. Get over it." has always been my attitude.

I don't complain about cramps any more than I complain about my arthritic ankles. Not anyone else's problem.

However, I don't like leaks. Just a nuisance to wash a whole pair of jeans, esp. when I've sat on them all day. Truck seats are a bigger nuisance.

Alyss said...

I agree... menstruation is an amazing feat of human biology just like erection is, but no one is ashamed to talk about boners. I think shedding light on the discrepency between public perception of female biology and public perception of male biology is a very important topic. Thank you!
I also think it is important to find ways to focus on positives. I am a reuseable cloth pad user and absolutely love it! The company I bought my pads from (glad rags, but there are LOTS of others around the country) is woman owned and focuses on promoting womens health and women's ability to do anything they want. If rinsing out cotton pads isn't your thing you can look into the couple different brands of cups and sea sponge tampons.
I don't have to give my money to the people who think my body is shameful. In fact, after my initial investment I don't have to give my money to anyone except the water company :)
Up with menstruation! :)

Anonymous said...

All it says is that it’s their “best protection ever” from those possible leaks that are to be avoided at all costs if women want to avoid long-lasting humiliation and shame.

I don't really care who knows if I'm bleeding, but I can do without the discomfort of having blood all over the place. If there's tampons which can offer better security against this, then hooray for them!

There's nothing wrong with promoting cleanliness, and letting girls incorporate their natural functions into their lives.