My period makes me a moody, pessimistic, food-craving, irrational, lazy, emotional, human-interaction averse, miserable, and angry version of myself. Or so this commercial would have you believe.
This ad by Australian company Unicharm personifies every stereotype people have ever projected upon women on their periods. Based on its “insights”, the only way I can be a functional member of human society is to use their menstrual pads. As this Buzzfeed article points out, this commercial somehow successfully period-shames AND fat-shames women, in an attempt to promote a more superior product.
In terms of its immensely offensive portrayal of the female body, this commercial does nothing new in the field of advertising. There is a long history of companies purporting the many supposed inadequacies of women in order to sell a product. The general exploitation of women in advertising has continued into the present day, as this Buzzfeed quiz illustrates.
What scares me about this particular campaign is that the creators seem to think that, for once, they’re the woman’s side. Debra Smith, senior brand manager at Unicharm, says, “(The Australian market) is a tough one to crack, so we needed a memorable brand proposition that would resonate with our audience” (http://www.campaignbrief.com/2015/08/unicharms-sofy-befresh-says-he.html). Well the campaign is memorable, I'll give her that. But really Debra, do you think this image resonates with women on their period?
While I would love to take the day off to watch shoddy T.V., eat copious amounts of pizza, oscillate between laughter and tears, and irrationally break up with my partner, all because I’m on my period, I can’t, because I have work to do, and a life to lead, beyond morphing into an emotional wreck. Also, attributing these unbecoming characteristics to a larger actor meant to play the menstruating version of the original actor attributes emotional and intellectual failings to one’s size, which is immensely problematic.
When I visualized the creative team behind this commercial, I imagined a scene from Mad Men—a room filled with men hypothesizing what women would want from a menstrual pad, based on their skewed notions of the female body. Instead, I found that there were at least four women involved on the team of ten tasked with this campaign (http://www.campaignbrief.com/2015/08/unicharms-sof...). Four talented, successful and independent women thought it made sense to depict a woman’s supposed spiral into her dysfunctional alter ego upon getting her period, in order to sell a product.
I’m not blaming these women for a campaign that was eventually a team effort. I’m just expressing my disappointment at the fact that, even with members of the target segment on the creative team, the resultant campaign still somehow belittled the female body. The whole point of better representation in the workforce, especially in segments that contribute to the media we consume, is to circumvent campaigns like these that achieve their end goal by way of mocking or otherwise victimizing identities of race, gender or socioeconomic background, among others.
Sure, I sometimes get moody or experience cramps when on my period. And I know women who feel some of the depicted physical or emotional effects of their periods to a great extent. But this in no way precludes us from being functional members of human society. This campaign fails even as a gross exaggeration of women on their periods because not everyone gets the joke.
There are still a LOT of people in the world who think menstruation makes women less emotionally, physically, and intellectually capable. This stigma is the reason women still have to fight for their right to an education, to work, and to vote. To propagate the idea that women on their periods become emotional wrecks, make irrational decisions, and are incapable of respectable human interaction fuels the notion that we can’t take on responsibility.
From chick-flicks to presidential nominee debates, our periods are used against us to explain away our seemingly irrational behavior. In this CNN interview (http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/08/politics/donald-trum...), Donald Trump, on being grilled by debate moderator Megyn Kelly, literally says, “She starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions and, you know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”. It was rather ironic that Trump targeted Kelly’s menstruation, when her “ridiculous questions” targeted his misogynistic perspective on women. Trump isn’t alone— American politics in recent years has often turned to menstruation to debate the aptitude of women in various fields (http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/donald-trump-draws-long-history-period-stigma).
A world in which a leading nominee (as of 24 August 2015) for the Presidency of the United States of America uses menstruation to call into question a journalist’s competence is nowhere near ready for a campaign that appropriates the physical and emotional effects of menstruation in order to sell a product. Admittedly, I’m pitting American politics against an Australian campaign, but stigma towards menstruation is a global problem. These examples are symptomatic of a greater trend rooted in history to belittle womanhood by way of the female body.
Stigma aimed at menstruating girls and women has deep economic and social effects. A UNESCO report estimated that more than 50% of girls in Ethiopia miss numerous days of school while on their periods. A lack of necessary facilities in the developing world for girls and women on their periods, like trash disposal, coupled with the shame that comes with revealing that they’re on their period, precludes their participation in school and at work. These social barriers to entry eventually lead to high levels of school dropouts, and decreased female participation in the workforce.
Superstition surrounding menstruation bleeds into (pun intended) contemporary perceptions of female bodies, as identified by this report, published by the Society for the Psychology of Women. The report addresses the period-shaming approach employed by nearly all ad campaigns, and the employment of these taboos in grocery stores, where menstrual products are always in the rear, only visible to those who seek them. Instagram recently censored a photo from a project aiming to raise awareness about the stigma surrounding menstruation, citing a violation of its Community Guidelines.
So what does this all mean? We aren’t having enough healthy conversations about menstruation. By “healthy”, I refer to conversations that don’t attribute shame, disgust, or other negative emotions to a completely natural process. This lack of healthy conversation, coupled with the stigmatized representations of menstruation on mass media, through menstrual product advertisements, comments by prominent sociopolitical figures, depictions on T.V. shows and movies, etc., purport a skewed (and incorrect) representation of a completely natural cycle. For people who don’t experience menstrual cycles, these skewed representations constitute some of their only exposure to menstruation, and their subsequent impressions contribute to a greater trend of questioning the capabilities of women because of their bodies.
As a woman, the numerous ways in which my body is not my own bewilders me. Societal pressures, political debates, and mass media are constantly telling me what to wear, how to conduct myself, whom to date, and when to marry. It’s time to take a stand, because telling me how I should feel about something as natural as the monthly shedding of my uterine wall is the absolute limit. Women like Rupi Kaur, creator of the aforementioned Instagram photo project, and Kiran Gandhi, who recently ran the London marathon on her period and without her tampon (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kiran-gandhi-m...), are two examples of numerous women who are protesting the stigmatization of menstruation. Their actions are starting a conversation, and it’s our job, whether or not we menstruate, to continue it. Period.