When women get their periods they just want to frolic. On the beach. Wearing white. They also like to breeze around their high-ceilinged, hardwood-floor apartments looking fresh-faced and confident. Sometimes a woman will like to poke fun at her naive (but good-looking) boyfriend and his complete lack of awareness of all things related to feminine hygiene products.
Other women just want to go dancing in spandex mini-skirts with their modelling girlfriends. After all, with today's "streamline technology" and "comfort engineering" there is just so much to celebrate. And, of course, only women aged between 18 and 26 menstruate.
These are the insights I've gained having watched more than two decades of advertisements on the subject.
Of course television promotions for tampons and sanitary pads are notoriously ridiculous. In response to this stupidity, the brand Kotex has just released an advertisement that parodies the conventional ads. The Kotex ad starts off with a woman on a couch saying "How do I feel about my period? Ah, we are like this." (She then crosses her fingers indicating tight friendship).
She continues: "I love it. It makes me feel really pure. I like to twirl, maybe in slow motion. And usually by the third day, I just want to dance. The ads on TV are really helpful, because they use that blue liquid, and I'm like 'oh! That's what is supposed to happen!"
This satirical ad forms one part of a bitingly humorous campaign titled "break the cycle". The point is to challenge the ways in which traditional advertisements and discourses reinforce the stigma around "women's issues" by refusing to acknowledge or talk about real women's bodies.
It's a timely campaign given that only recently, a tampon advertisement was censored by three American networks for using that offensive and vulgar word; vagina.
When the ad was reshot using the second-grade euphemism, "down there", the ad was once again deemed too inappropriate for two of those networks. Apparently it is fine to mention things such as "erectile dysfunction" but any allusion to female genitalia is just too much for the censors to cope with.
I am reminded of a time in my final year of school in 2001. Our vice-principal (who was acting principal at the time) ordered the tampon dispensing machines to be removed from the girls' bathrooms. Her reason? They were "unladylike" and they "gave a poor impression to visitors of the school". After all, ladies don't menstruate — women do. In fact ladies don't even perspire — they simply glow.
The announcement was made before the entire high school assembly. My friends and I were furious. After all, almost all young women have at some point been caught out without a tampon. By providing a more discrete option, these machines allow women to side step the sometimes awkward task of asking another woman for a "spare".
As Year 12 students, we had already passed through those uncomfortable first years of puberty where physical development is considered a taboo and embarrassing topic, not least because it happens at different times for different individuals, and there is always the concern that one is not developing at a 'normal' rate.
But we knew the younger girls hadn't all passed through this stage, and we were aware of the message that this action sent to the girls; it told them that their bodily processes were inherently dirty and shameful.
At the time, I was a member of the school representative council. The issue was put to the SRC and we very quickly voted against the decision. When our principal proper returned, I had a very frank discussion with him. I have never seen a man so eager to sign off on something to conclude a conversation. The end result was that we got to keep our machines.
It's been almost 10 years since that fight and yet menstruation is clearly still a taboo subject. In Bodies: Exploring Fluid Boundaries, academic Robyn Longhurst argues that Western society holds a deep revulsion for almost all bodily fluids and for the processes through which they are emitted. From sneezing and spitting to lactation and breaking waters, as a collective, we tend to harbour a deep cultural anxiety over what Longhurst refers to as "the leaky body". So much so that we can barely even speak of, or write about such matters without producing intense discomfort or causing offence.
But according to Longhurst, this conservative disgust is born out of a deeper preoccupation and "guilty" fascination with sex and the associated transmission of fluids. Indeed our cultural preoccupation with the intersection of sex, violence and the exchange of bodily fluids is best reflected in the cult following of vampire themed texts such as Twilight, True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The point here is that we should move beyond ridiculous Victorian-era sensibilities and bodily panics. Instead of acting like schoolyard kids who croon about girl germs and cooties we should just all grow up a bit and get over what are, essentially, natural bodily processes. And we should stop treating the female body as a taboo site of shame or embarrassment. Period.
Nina Funnell is a media researcher at the University of New South Wales.
Crossposted to ontd_feminism