December 22, 2017

Tampon Shame: why are we so Ashamed of Periods?

Contrary to popular belief, periods aren’t fun.

They’re just not. 

However, according to a number of tampon advertising campaigns, women should welcome their menstrual cycle by donning tight, blue spandex before going rollerblading in the park.

I’ve tried it, and it’s rubbish.

But while these ads appear relatively benign on the surface, the subtext of their marketing message hints at something more sinister.

In the endless quest to create a point of difference, sanitary products are frequently touted as “smaller,” “thinner,” and “the most discreet ever!” According to one Tampax ad, they’re so small that when a student lends one to a friend during class, the teacher mistakes it for a sugary snack.

Good luck with that one.

The real question shouldn’t be how can we most efficiently hide our periods from the world, but why should we be so ashamed of them in the first place?

Tampon shame is something many women have unfortunately become accustomed to. Having your period is still viewed as a relatively taboo subject, and upon hearing the word, it’s not unheard of for people to run away with their hands over their ears shouting “laa laa laa, I can’t hear you.” It’s fair to say that most of us loathe talking about it.

Shhhh, you have to be discreet.

This rhetoric perpetuated by ill-conceived advertising campaigns could be damaging, particularly to young women and girls just entering into puberty. What they see on the media undoubtedly sets the tone for how they’ll view their body and their periods throughout the rest of their life. The reinforced ideal that you “must be discreet” is a slippery slope toward a long journey of silence and dread.

Women’s bodies are already under so much scrutiny that it seems Dickensian to worry about what the rest of the world thinks of our time of the month. But that’s precisely the way many women feel, and all because our bodies are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.

It seems counter-intuitive that we don’t have the same stigma with other bodily functions. When someone goes for a wee, coughs, sneezes, or has a little “moment” after eating too much broccoli, it’s never a big deal. But talk about periods and no one knows where to look or what to say—an unmentionable subject where women are expected—and indeed encouraged—to be as subtle as possible.

The turning of the tide.

It hasn’t always been this way. In ancient and matrilineal cultures, having your period was viewed as a mark of honour and power—a sacred time when women would rest and revive their bodies. In today’s modern world, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to pop in to a spa for a spot of period-induced rejuvenation. No, we simply carry on as normal amidst the stomach cramps, discomfort, inconvenience, and shame.

That’s not to say it’s always hardship born on weary shoulders—this isn’t a complaint—but surely it’s not rational to view it as an icky topic. Why should we perpetuate the surreptitious stuffing of tampons up our sleeves before we go to the bathroom (just in case anyone sees)?

Menstruation may have been cloaked in shame for centuries, but there are signs that things are changing. One of the more notable shifts in recent public perception owes its thanks to Dr. Edgar Berman. A member of the Democratic Party’s Committee on National Priorities in the United States, Dr. Berman suggested in 1970 that women could not hold office because of their “raging hormonal imbalances.”

He asked people to imagine a “menopausal woman president who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs,” or the president of a bank “making a loan under these raging hormonal influences.” The absurdity of his remarks rightly sparked a moment of solidarity, and periods had resounding public support. For the first time in modern history, menstruation was bathed in the positive rhetoric of equal rights.

A brave new world.

And then, apart from ad campaigns creating scenes of light blue liquids gently cascading onto fluffy white pads while women frolicked in fields, nothing happened for 40 years. It’s therefore intriguing and novel to see a new take on sanitary advertising.

Last year, a Canadian tampon delivery brand called Easy launched an advertising campaign titled “No Shame.” It consisted of a series of ads highlighting the reality of having a period, building on the menstrual activism that had been growing over the last year.

One ad shows a couple (who seem perfectly happy) stripping their period-stained bed sheets, while another image shows a woman going skinny-dipping with her friends with a tampon string hanging against her thigh. By openly addressing and talking about it, the hope is that it can reduce the stigma associated with it.

That’s not to say we should start discussing the topic at the dinner table, but quite simply that no one should be ashamed of menstruation. Yes, the reality is that for a few days every month, we may feel like a bloated, shiny-faced walrus that’s just consumed two litres of Sprite before being kicked in the abdomen—but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Without periods none of us would be here today—and rollerblading sales would be down by a good 50 percent.




Author: Jo Greene
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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