I am an adult. I know other adults. I know adult women who are still afraid to talk about their periods. O RLY? I always say that if someone doesn’t realize that you, a grown ass, pre-menopausal woman, sheds her uterine lining every 28 days, well then there’s something wrong with THEM. What is the big freaking deal?
Of course when I was younger I tried to hide the fact that I was on my period. As mentioned in Part I, I didn’t really have anyone sit down and talk to me about my period. I certainly didn’t have any empowering messages related to me. Everything we saw and heard told us that it was imperative we conceal our menses or else risk alienating every man around us and opening ourselves up to ridicule. You can’t deny that women (including young girls) are expected to uphold a sexualized ideal for men, which includes hiding the most boring, ordinary and non-sexual facts of life, i.e. using the bathroom, farting, body hair removal, applying or removing make-up. On top of all of that, you’ve got to conceal your period because since many folks do not have sex when a woman is menstruating, that time directly contradicts a sexualized ideal for men. Oh boy, not only has the feminine products industry done a number on us, but we’ve got the overarching patriarchal society imposing shame on women. Great!
You walk into any drug store, WalMart, or supermarket (which today is all the same place) and you can walk into an entire aisle full of sanitary napkins/pads and tampons. Rows of pink, blue and green packages all promising to keep you clean and dry. Most of us welcome the convenience of disposable ways to manage our menstrual blood. What many of us do not appreciate is having to walk that plastic package up to the counter and purchase it. I bet if they did a study, you’d notice an overwhelming amount of feminine products purchases going down at the self-checkout lines. In 1928, an ad for Johnson & Johnson’s Modess pads included a “silent purchase coupon” for women to hand to clerks. It read, “To Sales Person — one box of Modess, please.” The salesperson would then do your dirty work and stash a box of Modess in a bag for you. Nowadays, women just take a bunch of other items up to the counter, like buying the pads were an afterthought or even a mistake. Clearly you only came to the store for duct tape, charcoal and two Hallmark cards! Click here for another Modess ad pushing concealment.
There was a little local drugstore a block away from my house and I bought a lot of my products from there growing up. There was a nice couple who worked there and they always seemed really nice when I brought my Tampax up front. The woman would even ask if I needed help when I looked puzzled about what to buy. Outside of that, my grandfather would often buy them for me. Yep. See, before I finished middle school, my grandmother died. My mom didn’t live with me and it was usually just my grandpa and I. I think the first time I broached the subject of my period with my grandpa was right after I’d had an accident. In the early days, the period was unpredictable and I wasn’t yet used to how heavy the flow would be on which days and which products best served my needs. So I was in the bathroom, trying to wash blood from my sheets and my grandfather came in. I was pretty embarrased but he didn’t care. He told me that he grew up with a sister, married my grandmother and raised four girls of his own. “There’s nothing new here I haven’t seen.” I thought about that and realized that he must be well-versed in these things with a house full of women. Then my grandfather told me to go sit down and he finished cleaning out my sheet. After that, I felt comfortable asking him to pick me up from school because of my period (I had severe symptoms that warranted leaving school). I felt comfortable leaving my products in the bathroom even if they were in a place he’d see. I think that my grandfather’s understanding helped to shape how I felt about myself and my body. Instead of shaming me or being completely disinterested, he treated it like it was nothing special. Just a thing that happens. That was great. I don’t think he realized the impact of his actions back then.
School was a different place than home. My friends’ opinions were the major driving factor at that age. Girls didn’t know much about our bodies and boys knew less. Since boys were do stupid, they would just tease you and resort to ridiculing what they did not understand. I can’t say it’s totally their fault, though. We were all acting out what we’d been taught and socialized to do. My point is that it was very important to us to hide our periods from boys. The message we received loud and clear was that guys did not need to know, nor did they want to know about that stuff. It was our secret with which to suffer. I swear, I just rolled my eyes as I typed that.
It’s important to the manufacturers of feminine products that we feel that way. Then, they can sell us items like tampon cases (because you cannot be expected to just carry that thing out in the open!) and silent-wrapper pads/tampons (you don’t even want the girl in the next stall to hear you open your Kotex).
So there’s the shame you ought to feel because your vagina is disgusting and unclean so they can sell you sprays, douches and wipes. There’s the shame you ought to feel simply because you are bleeding so they can sell you products in special wrappers and boxes with pretty flowers on them. Finally, there’s the shame you ought to feel because you go through hormonal changes so they can sell you pills.
Midol and Pamprin. I used to have those in my room as a teenager. These products sell for two reasons: First, people don’t want to be overcome by so-called PMS and secondly, teenaged girls like to buy things specifically marketed to them. I felt like I HAD TO HAVE Midol because it was for girls on their periods. Well, wasn’t I a girl on her period? Truth be told, you can get the same relief if you pop an ibuprofen or whatever you use for normal head and body aches. Midol promises to do what regular pain relievers cannot: relieve bloating and fight fatigue. (FYI, Midol uses caffeine to fight fatigue and it is widely noted that caffeine can aggravate cramping). How strange, then, that Midol was initially sold as an ordinary pain reliever like Tylenol or Advil. Advertisements featured a man holding the bottle. Midol wasn’t advertised as a menstrual product until the 1930s, when it was re-branded to compete with Kotex’s menstrual pain reliever. Isn’t that a classic marketing strategy? Take the same exact product, dress it differently and give it another name, then sell it to another demographic.
I could go on and on about PMS but I’ve already gone on and on as it is. I will say that yes, there are hormonal changes that affect women differently but include mood swings, anxiety and other symptoms. The problem is that a woman’s real and valid feelings are often disregarded and discounted as mere symptoms of PMS. But as long as we are afraid of being branded PMS bitches, we’ll go purchase products that purport to cure us, therefore making the feminine product manufacturers rich and keeping women down.
I could possibly expand on this series at a later date. Be on the lookout.
Sources: Katie Vance, "The Real Girl Culture"; gURL.com