The Known Secret

The Known Secret
Paige Young
Representation of the Other
March 4, 2017
Written from a non-profit college – images are cited for credit.

ABSTRACT

Over centuries women have been told to remain discreet regarding their menstrual cycle. Women had to discuss their cycles with other women in private to receive information. Medical professionals would not discuss this topic with women, and companies also did not acknowledge this completely natural cycle. Advertising companies were influenced by this ‘secrecy’ not only because of social taboo but also by actual laws restricting the topic. Throughout recent history two key strategies were employed for marketing hygiene products. First, gender identity was targeted through advertisements. These advertisements explained to women desired attributes and identity (being feminine, being attractive, being discreet about their cycle), but the advertisements never fully released practical information on these products. Secondly, the advertisements for feminine hygiene products secured to reinforce social norms and what was ‘deemed acceptable’ at the time. Examples of this are: remaining ‘quiet’ or attempting to be secretive about the time of the ‘cycle,’ watching hygiene closely, proving attractiveness to other people, or just being concerned with social interactions around other people to make sure no one is aware of their “time of the month.”

OUTLINE

  1. Introduction
    1. Shame
    2. Gender Identity (Construction) In Advertisements / Products
  2. Social Context of Menstrual Cycle Before 1900s
    1. Secrecy
    2. Cleanliness
  3. Social Context of Menstrual Cycle Beginning of 1900s
    1. Kimberly Clark Corp.
    2. Lack of Information
  4. Products Invention of Tampons and ‘Douching’ ; 1920
    1. Good Housekeeping
    2. Introduction of Hygiene
      1. Listerine Advertisements
        1. Fear Tactics
      2. Smell as ‘Attraction’
        1. Douching
      3. Introduction of Companies
        1. Kotex
        2. Tampax
        3. Uneducated Mothers / Fear Tactics
  5. Products of 1950 in Regards to the Menstrual Cycle and Social Anxiety
    1. Social Identity of ‘The Housewife”
      1. Do it all!
    2. Modess Because … Ads
    3. Douching
  6. Social Anxiety and Products of 1960-1970
    1. Kotex
      1. Advertising tactics
    2. Advertising Restrictions
    3. Douching
    4. Health Concerns
  7. Feminism Movement and Social Growth; 1980
    1. Advertising progression
      1. HIVS
      2. Birth Control
  8. Progress Yet Shame; 1990- Present
    1. Statistics and Demographics of Product Users in Western Society
    2. Can you still be a virgin?
    3. How much has Changed?
      1. Light Colored Clothing
      2. The Athlete
      3. Lack of Information on Actual Products
    4. Pop Culture; 50 Shades of Grey
  9. Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

Over centuries, women have been told to be discreet regarding their menstrual cycle. Nothing makes a woman more of a ‘woman’ than having a reproductive system, or as some advertisements phrased it, having ‘the most girl parts about you.’1 However, even though these claims have been made in some advertisements, other advertisements have used the idea of ‘being clean’ or promoted ‘secrecy’ regarding the menstrual cycle as a strategy for marketing to women. This act of keeping a secret was influenced by advertising agencies and widespread cultural and legal censorship. Certain topics were absolutely not allowed to be discussed on TV or Radio. By doing so, thus encouraging silence regarding the topic. Therefore, shaming women and causing embarrassment.

In regards to biology, any person with a female reproductive system will typically have a menstrual cycle. “Visibility of our individual personhood is fundamentally dependant on social norms”2 Judith Butler, in Undoing Gender, discusses how ‘social norms’ heavily influence who we are as people, or at least what we discuss and what is deemed ‘acceptable’ in the public eye. If no one is discussing or allowing information to flow freely, then how are companies supposed to represent the topic, how are people going to handle the topic, and how will that influence those who actually deal with the topic on a personal level?

“Commodities are characterized by their dual nature: material composition and symbolic meaning.”3 Shopping for specific items is a way to not only buy a traditional item but to buy into the idea supporting the item. When products are purchased, gender identity or identity in itself can be ‘created’ based on those products. Products for only men or only women help produce a gendered social identity. Advertisements have honed in on this idea of what a ‘real woman’ is based on what products she buys.

SOCIAL CONTEXT OF MENSTRUAL CYCLE BEFORE 1900s

“In the 1800s, disposable cloth towels to be worn during menstruation were introduced as a product category marketed to middle – and upper class women. Before then, even the wealthiest women had made their own menstrual supplies from yarn goods 4.” Because of this lack of invention or lack of access to something that is necessary, it would seem that menstrual cycles didn’t exist in the eyes of the public, and it also was a ‘privilege’ to be able to own sanitary items to ‘keep clean.’

“In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the practice of birth control [and hygiene cleanliness products] were rarely discussed publicly, being deemed beyond the bounds of good taste.”5 Even for medical advice, conversations regarding the menstrual cycle were avoided. “Most eighteenth century women relied on a network of folk wisdom passed through female neighbors, relatives, and local midwives… women supplemented these traditional sources with knowledge gleaned from lecture tours and health manuals.6 This lack of education would continue throughout the 1900’s, leaving women to depend on newspapers, friends, and magazines to educate them on their own bodies.

Figure 1

Phantom Kotex ad, 1933, offering the puberty & menstruation booklet Marjorie May’s Twelfth Birthday –

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

SOCIAL CONTEXT OF MENSTRUAL CYCLE BEGINNING OF 1900s

“During World War 1, Kimberly-Clark Corp. developed cellucotton, a wood-based substitute for surgical cotton. Red Cross nurses stationed in France discovered that cellucotton worked extremely well as a sanitary napkin.”7 After the war was over, Kimberly Clark marketed Kotex as its first consumer product, but was still embarrassed of having the Clark name attached to women’s hygiene products, so Clark created a new subsidiary called the International Cellucotton Products Company to take on the name of the new product.8

Due to the lack of discussion on women’s health and reproductive systems’, women often “turned to popular women’s magazines as part of their weekly or monthly diet of housekeeping tips, child care strategies, fashion advice and medical information on health-care issues.”9 This information was not always accurate, and often turned to more mainstream ‘tips and tricks’ instead of answering key biological questions women had about their own bodies. “Strong cultural messages are sent to women that their bodies are unacceptable as they are, thus encouraging engagement in a variety of body-altering practices. It seems that one of the obligations that women have in a culture that sexually objectifies their bodies is to conceal their bodies’ more physical functions, such as menstruation.”10 As history moves through the 1920’s, 1950’s, and 1980’s, there are identifiable shifts in the presentation of femininity. Although the model of visual presentation changes, the secrecy surrounding the menstrual cycle remains.

PRODUCTS INVENTION OF TAMPONS AND ‘DOUCHING’;1920

Between 1920 and 1965, magazines that women depended on for information typically offered highly unreliable or even dangerous information.11 Good housekeeping was one of these magazines, and although the information was not valid, women often turned to such sources due to the lack of information coming from their medical professionals. “Good Housekeeping ranked third nationally in circulation among the genre of advisory women’s magazines. It’s readers were mostly women from small to mid-sized towns who were ‘generally a little better educated than the average.”12

At this time, advertisements about hygiene products (sanitary napkins) were not often seen within mainstream media, if such ads were situated within mainstream venues they were so vague they needed to be decoded. Therefore, if women had questions they had no choice but to turn to popular magazines or discuss these topics in secret with other women. “A number of health articles appeared in the 1920s and 1960s when feminism and women’s rights were prominent in the public’s mind,”13 so any information that Good Housekeeping put in their columns wasn’t necessarily deemed as immoral or vulgar for the fact it was very prominent during the particular women’s movements occurring at the time.14 “However, the magazine did choose to ignore less controversial subjects, sacrificing important women’s health issues like hysterectomy procedures and treatments for vaginal disease for articles on general health concerns, such as brain surgery and poison ivy (which accounted for 84 percent of health related articles).”15

At this time, those who didn’t seek out or didn’t have access to professional health care or private doctors, had to access information through popular [filtered] culture or magazines. These magazines didn’t cover even basic details of women’s menstrual cycles, and other detailed information was hard to find. “Even public clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, offered limited assistance in that they provided birth control information to only married clients for fear of promoting promiscuity among unmarried women.”16 Thus demonstrating that reproductive health was a very limited discussion, promoting its reluctance to engage directly with key biological issues with even more embarrassment.

The 1920s did bring mass media to a new point in history. “The advertising industry came into its own, and no longer confined themselves to announcing the availability of their merchandise but instead attempted to define their public’s wants and needs.”17 This point in time appears to be the moment when advertisements started to actually exploit or ‘discover’ the human body’s normal functions. “The 1920’s witnessed the birth of such concerns as halitosis and body odor, convincing consumers of the need for toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant.”18 In 1923, an advertisement for Listerine played on women’s social fears (and this pattern would continue to occur), by showing her failing to live up to new social standards. The headline read, “‘Why did he leave her?’ And then continued to explain that Margaret’s halitosis turned off her suitor, forcing him to leave the dance with ‘another girl much less attractive than she.’”19 This idea of odor and not being ‘attractive’ is a key point made in advertising that would recur throughout the future decades and continues as a subtle marketing strategy as well. Basically, if someone smells bad, they will not be desired, will not be loved, will not be chosen, and will not have sex. This type of marketing targeted the idea of gender as identity and placed into the minds of the consumer what their ‘role’ should be within society. If you are a real woman, you will smell good, look good, take care of the home, take care of your hygiene, and will make sure you are attractive.

Image result for advertisement in 1920s-1930s - why did he leave her? bad breath

Figure 2: image from smithsonianmag.com
Listerine advertisement – 1920-1940

In 1924 Lord and Thomas took over the Kotex account 20 and advertised the sanitary napkins as “a wonderful sanitary absorbent which science perfected for the use of our men and allied soldiers wounded in France.”21 Basically, the advertisements honed in the idea of the absorbent of blood by using scientific language which was endorsed by medical professionals.22 However, the words ‘blood,’ ‘period,’ or ‘menstrual cycle,’ were never used.

“The term ‘feminine hygiene’ was created around 1924 by the marketers of Zonite and Lysol, two popular household disinfectants that were also used as contraceptive douches.”23 Up until this point, the menstrual cycle was seen as unclean, disgusting, and bed-binding. “Until the 1930s, Western doctors treated the female menstrual cycle as a disability and advised menstruating women to refrain from participating in rigorous physical activity.”24

Figure 3

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

There was an exception to this idea (of being useless and bedridden during the ‘menstrual cycle time’), and it came from advertisements by J. Walker Thompson Company, which depicted women wearing tennis togs, golfing outfits and other sports-like attire, which read “For extra comfort on an active summer days, demand Kotex.”25 Still these advertisements didn’t describe what they were really selling, but by social context, people knew Kotex was associated with ‘feminine hygiene.’ This ad was in regards to ‘pads’ or ‘feminine napkins.’ The first actual tampon ad did not appear until the early 1930s, by ‘Fax,’ and the ad showcased an illustration of a woman in her bathing suit with the headline, “A NEW freedom, comfort, convenience,” but did not go any further to specify what the ad was about.26

“In 1936, Tampax Inc. was formed and launched a series of ads beginning with a campaign in New York newspapers.”27 From 1920 until 1940, advertisers targeted adolescent girls. From 1925 – 1949 advertisements with headlines like these ran in the view of the public; “Every mother should tell her daughter this (1920),” and “My mom’s a modern (1930),” the latter ad showing a mom on a bobsled.28 In 1949, “Kotex sponsored a ‘public service’ ad in Ladies’ Home Journal asking mothers, “Do you scare her to death?” which told the mothers not to share ‘some of the bogey ideas you picked up when you were a teen-ager,’ but called to action moms to buy Kotex’ booklet or arrange with the local school to borrow a film made by Kotex explaining menarche to girls.”29 This was telling mothers that they were uneducated about their own bodies, and by extension their daughter’s as well, and moreover the company knows best. In a more literal sense, this advertisement headline is actually using a fear tactic by suggesting inadequate information is being shared. “Mary Robinson (lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist) argues that men keep women ignorant and oppressed so that women can fulfill one of three sexual roles for men.”30 Advertisements reinforced a level of silence regarding a normal bodily function for women, and because the topic was hushed or shamed from being presented in its entirety, people would also shy away from discussing such topics face to face. As time continues, complete secrecy will shift towards a hint of reality, however, it will still fall short of educating women to the full extent.

Along with scare tactics, the products were also associated with medical standards to create trust within society regarding the use of new ‘protective’ products. In 1928, an ad for Kotex explains, “Science has discovered a way to counteract this offense [of menstrual odors],” and an ad later on in 1940 for Holly-Pax tampons stated, “Holly-Pax is accepted for advertising in the Journal of the American Medical association.” By associating their products with a recognized expertise, the companies suggests their information is true and accurate and hence used it to establish legitimacy with the public.”31

‘Therefore, advertising agencies found themselves with rising power within the women’s health industry as commercialized products became sources of medical advice. Although feminine products were not the only source of this type of advertising (emotional or ‘educational’) they did possess an overwhelming amount of power to affect women’s physical well being.’ “In an age before strict government regulations and open sexuality, women had few allies against medical fraud outside of their own common sense…”32

PRODUCTS OF 1950 IN REGARDS TO THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE AND SOCIAL ANXIETY

In the 1950’s there is a shift in the idea of what a menstrual cycle really is. Although it was still not a publicly discussed topic, and in most cases still hindered of the truth, “ads from the 1950s suggested that American women could not use their periods as excuses for avoiding responsibilities such as tending the home, cooking, caring for children, playing hostess or attending to their working husbands; instead women were expected to carry on with appointed tasks while managing the inconveniences of menstruation.”33 The 50s was a time really focused on the role of the ‘housewife.’ “The housewife represents not the consumer, but the image of consumer decision-making, in her contradictory roles as buyer, worker, or unemployed.”34 At this time, the industrial revolution really put buying in a whole new perspective. People were beginning to buy ‘identities’ instead of just products to survive. “As consumers shop not just for goods but also for identities, capitalism continues to rethink how it produces goods.”35

From 1949 to 1956 the “Modess campaign featured a full-page color photo of serene models wearing stunning ball gowns. The tagline stated, “Modess because…” and left the unmentionable subject unmentioned.36 The advertisements still remained vague, secret, and shameful. These were beautiful women, in beautiful outfits, but something remained ugly about them and something deemed repulsive was still hidden. However, the advertisements impacted other areas of society as well, it created a representation of the ‘woman’ image. These ads provided a classy ‘woman’ appearance, visually showing women as ideal, while hinting at the idea that periods should remain hidden and not discussed, which could create self objectification or even an anxiety, and paranoid state of mind.. “A study was conducted to test the relationship between self-objectification and women’s menstrual self-evaluations. Results showed that women who internalize a more sexually objectified view of their physical selves have more negative attitudes and emotions, including disgust and shame, toward their own menstrual cycles.”37

Figure 4

https://hiveminer.com/Tags/ad,sanitary

Throughout this time period advertisements were focused on “confidence building, and the second most common strategy was anxiety building.”38A key marketing strategy was to create discomfort and uncertainty within the buyers themselves about their own bodies.39 Examples of this are seen throughout the years of Lysol commercials that associate germs with disgust. From the invention of Lysol products around mid 1920s and into the 1930s “Advertisements of Lysol shifted from flu, to causes of the cold, to feminine hygiene. Lysol was listed as a safe and effective method for controlling germs in women as well as saying it could be used for a domestic cleaner.”40 Until the 1960s this idea of feminine hygiene was not widely practiced. However with the amount of Lysol’s advertisements (and a few others) the idea of douching becomes closely associated with proper hygiene.

Lysol and eventually Zonite would provide “a separate instructional book on each of their different uses…”41 “According to Palmer and Greenberg, the advice of these books contradicted hygienic measures and most recommending regular douching with commercially prepared solutions as a way to insure sanitation.”42 This method of ‘sanitation’ was highly disruptive in a human body, because it attacks the very germs people need to keep their immune system fighting other germs. Although tampons and douching seem to be a different topic, they go hand in hand. They were both very quiet in the media, but also were a way to ‘keep clean, fresh’ and socially acceptable in society’s eyes [then and now].

Before this specific time period, it was taboo to be seen as ‘sexual,’ and it was taboo to not fit into the mold of modest, or private. The ‘Modess because’ advertisements did portray a very nicely dressed woman ignoring her ‘secret.’ So why are women being told to be quite, shamed or secretive about something so natural (menstrual cycle)? The message is clearly that to be attractive you must meet special social norms. This means, to be desirable, women have to turn against or deny the very biological functioning of their bodies. Michel Foucault goes into detail about objectification and subjectification theory. “The third mode of objectification is really subjectification, that is, an analysis of how individuals turn themselves into subjects, for example, the sexual subject .”43 In seeking to find ourselves attractive to others, we turn ourselves into subjects to see as someone else may see us. Instead of seeing human characters we see unflattering flaws that may deem us as unattractive. The fear of rejection and denial is a common fear in men and women. Advertising agencies clearly have used these fears as marketing tools. Thus, since most men are unaware of the menstrual cycle, and advertising agencies avoid having the conversation, it seems inevitable that women would also try to hide it, shame it, and pretend their period doesn’t exist.

SOCIAL ANXIETY AND PRODUCTS OF 1960-1970

“By the 1960s, Kotex was advertising that it’s napkins were ‘proportioned,’ and the company offered a selection of four styles of pads.”44 The new product packaging also remained unlabeled enhance discreteness. “Kotex also included a smaller purse-size plastic container that held two tampons, marketing as, ‘A beautiful new way to keep a secret.’”45

At this time, most advertising models were shown in all white, to secure the idea of security and effectiveness.’46 An advertisement placed in 1963 “in an issue of Look Magazine created by Tampax demonstrated a woman sitting in a white dress and on the edge of a swimming pool. Given that light-colored clothing and athletic activity it would be unthought of that the woman would be wearing a pad. Tampax could get its message across with a minimum of verbiage and photos tame enough for a Sears catalog.”47 Thus symbolically this idea was hinted at, but never overtly stated. “If a woman used a pad [for these scenes], you’d have blood in the pool and this bulky thing in between their legs” says Harry Finley, creator and curator of the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.”48

By the 1970s, douches were a major feminine hygiene.49 Although this is not necessarily the same as a sanitary napkin, the fact that this product took off is an important key to understanding the shame that women have endured when going through reproductive cycles. Products marketed by ‘Zonite Products Corp. “capitalized on the knowledge that vaginal secretions were part of the normal functioning of women’s bodies to promote its product as an ‘internal; deodorizer’ for women to ‘combat the tiny period, that your body has every day.’”50

“After years of whispered conversations and covert drugstore purchases, everyone seemed to be talking about the female body – how it worked, who should provide health care for it, and what all of these new products could do for it.”51 Advertising agencies weren’t interested in what body parts women had in common with men, but honed in on the idea of what makes a woman a woman. As douching and deodorants for the female body became more popular advertisements began sending the message that merely ‘having a female body doesn’t make you feminine,” thus really was telling women, if you don’t use these products and take care of the most girl parts of you, then you in fact, weren’t a real woman.52 It is also important to note that “at this time, no woman sat on the Television Code Review Board of the National Association of Broadcasters as it considered whether to allow advertising of sanitary napkins, tampons and other products associated with female sex organs.”53

“Included in the advertising guidelines of the television code … was a personal products provision, a provision that covered such areas as hemorrhoid treatments, feminine hygiene products, body foot and mouth odor products, laxatives and toilet paper.”54 These products were deemed unacceptable publicly to air, although in the 1970s many such set rules would be challenged. Moreover lumping these varied products into one category, only furthered shame, and embarrassment associated with purchasing them. There is a strange cultural taboo placed around these products, yet they were developed in response to the most natural issues of the human body.

Followed by the hype of the douching movement, the benefits of freshness were promoted by a new tampon line by Playtex, that introduced deodorant tampons.55 Advertisers caught onto this idea, and companies like Johnson & Johnson introduced the Stayfree Mini-Pad, which suggested that women needed to wear their panty-liners every day as extra protection whether they are on or off their period.56 “Marketing in the name of ‘hygiene’ but with promises of increased sexual satisfaction lurking under the surface, the vaginal deodorant sprays generated $60 million in sales in 1971 alone.”57

“Spray manufacturers and advertising companies drew upon many of the same ideas about sex that had circulated in American culture since at least the Victorian era. Sex was something dirty, smelly, messy and unsightly (qualities that bespoke what many saw as its sinful nature), and these unpleasant qualities were located in the female body.”58 Without these products women were seen as ‘gross, dirty, smelly,’ so the tactics utilized by such advertisements really targeted these fears.

Shortly after the introduction of douching and deodorized tampons, tampons became heavily linked to toxic shock syndrome resulting in fatal infections caused by a common bacterium which is produced by poisonous toxins.59 “More than 50 women died from TSS who used Rely.”60 Rely was a deodorized tampon created by P&G and shortly after this unfortunate event, they were removed from the market.61

Prior to this time period, male voices dominated the discussion of female anatomy and reproductive health, but beginning in the 1970s, women’s voices began to be heard.62 Activists like Carol Downer and Lorraine Rothman began to education and ‘lead presentations titled, “Happiness is knowing your own cervix.”63 Their research began to show people the health issues that could arise from ‘douching’ and using feminine sprays.

The 70s marketing strategies brought a different type of fear into the discussion, suggesting you aren’t woman enough without these products. “In these ads and the regulatory discourses surrounding them, “having a female body doesn’t make you feminine.” The advertisements further stated that women can be made feminine by buying ‘certain products,’ products that go beyond the mere surface of lipsticks, hairpins and fashion and make the most girl parts of them socially legitimized and accepted.”64 The advertisements somewhat secretive about the actual subject, and although their context was picked up by viewers, the actual product was never shown. However, the packaging became the product reference moreover if wrappers were shown in marketing imagery, they were often drawings rather than photographs of the product.

Figure 5: 1974 Advertisement
“Many women are ashamed of the fact that they menstruate – the female director of a menstrual disorders clinic who visited this museum said that every patient who walked through the door felt that way – and many advertisers exploit this fact to sell their products. The bottom line – money – is what counts, not the reformation of the attitudes of people.” Museum of Menstruation – Harry Finley – Used with Permission

In regards to skewing perception, society or advertisements were really aimed at reinforcing feminine roles to get people to buy their products. Judith Butler argues that “sex is not simply what one has: it is one of the social norms by which [a subject] will become viable at all, that which qualifies for a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility.” Butler argues that gender is not a category attached to or built upon a sexed body. In other words, biological features do not determine a gender.65 However, society was (and still is) playing on the fears of women who identify with being women and hint at the idea they will lose that womanhood if they do not buy into the ideals of a product, because how could a man want them if they are not pleasing to his senses? “Gender norms work in tandem with normals of sex, norms that discursively form sexed bodies so as to qualify them as recognizable matter.”66

The other major trend in the feminine hygiene ads urged women to use these products to secure their femininity. Feminine Deodorant Sprays had campaigns warning that “having a female body doesn’t make you feminine,” others included you’re a woman everyday, but you needed to use this product every day because it was “essential to your cleanliness” as well as gives you peace of mind about being a girl, an attractive, nice-to-be-with girl.67

“By premising the achievement of socially valued femininity upon the functioning of female sex organs, these advertising discourses perpetuate the heterosexual matrix (Butler proposed the idea of the heterosexual matrix of which bodies are gendered masculine and certain others are gendered feminine) within which gender and sex are mutually constitutive.”68

“Those products that sold sex in the 1970s created a socially acceptable and desirable femininity upon the treatment of female body parts; their logic suggested that a real woman could be identified as someone who chose a spray to scent her vulva and a douche to freshen her vagina.”69 The entire store purchase could be anxiety producing. Thus, “in a world of do it yourself gynecology, women’s sexual and reproductive health and hygiene became major sites of social anxiety.”70

“The so-called feminine hygiene sprays promised completely to make oral sex better. They also promised to make women’s bodies cleaner, fresher, more appealing, and more socially acceptable.”71 Advertisements implied there was something wrong with these women’s bodies that needed attention or cosmetic improvement. They must buy hygiene products to not be ‘disgusting’ or not to ‘smell bad.’ If these products were aimed at aiding sex to be better, then how could women know that men would want to have sex with them if they didn’t buy these products? “Feminist critic Kate Kane argued, ‘if women are seen as ‘naturally’ more self-polluting [than men] feminine hygiene products represent a masculine/cultural intervention’.”72 Many feminist including Kate Kate were not pleased with the advertisements, as well as questioned the health risk for ‘douching’ and spraying products like Lysol (a household cleaner, deemed ‘safe’ for personal use) around sensitive organs.

Why did douching take off in the first place? Why does it seem that women are easily convinced to be disgusted with themselves? An article written by Jo-ann Wallace in the Resource of Feminist Research states, “The sex organ of a man is simple and neat as a finger; it is readily visible and often exhibited to comrades with proud rivalry; but the feminine sex organ is mysterious even to the woman herself, concealed, mucous, and humid, as it is; it bleeds each month, it is often sullied with body fluids, it has a secret and perilous life of its own. Woman does not recognize herself in it, and this explains in large part why she does not recognize its desires as hers.”73 In her article she discusses the ideas of Susan Bordo and Judith Butler that elaborate on the ideas of being undesirable in regards to bodily shame and secrecy that also heavily rely on the betrayl of the body when becoming pregnant. In a way, women’s bodies almost become an Other to themselves, that create an ambition to hide all of the flaws or unattractive aspects of their own bodies.74

“In regards to hemorrhoid cream, product manufacturers had been lobbying the Code Board for awhile, and was finally permitted in January 1972.”75 Although such information still only hinted at the topic rather than covering it thoroughly. At the end of the 70’s it was proven that ‘the sprays were at best useless and at worst dangerous … “these aerosols don’t belong in a vagina, says Dr. Naomi Kanof, past chairperson of the American Medical Association’s committee on Cutaneous Health and Cosmetics.”76

FEMINISM MOVEMENT AND SOCIAL GROWTH; 1980

“During the 1980s, manufactures introduced a number of products to sanitary napkins… these innovations included panty liners, with shapes that were altered [to provide more protection.”77 Print ads and TV campaigns began to actually show the napkins, and began to use colored water to show the absorbency,78 however now the selling point was about making tampons smaller, absorbing just enough to keep a secret.

Image result for 1988 american tampon ads

Figure 6

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

The 1980’s has been known as the time that women began to see equality rise and feminism begin to point out the flaws in western society, however, advertisements for tampons still portrayed the same old ideas. When originally created Fax tampons used marketing images of female models wearing tight fitting, white, or light colored clothing to underscore the idea of protection. In 1980, Rely, produced the same type of marketing (see Figure 7).

rely ad

Figure 7

Image From: Welcome This New Day For Womanhood

Tampons in American History

Sarah Kowalski, December 1999
“Not only is she representing the same attire as the illustration, but her boyfriend is behind her in direct sight of where there would be a stain.”

PROGRESS YET STILL SHAME; 1990- Present

Figure 8

1992 advertisement in American Magazine

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

Advertisement depicts women’s roles and social norms of what to do when ‘your lab partner is really hot’ but you don’t want him to know that you are on your period. This places ideas onto young girls that they need to be bashful, ashamed, or quiet about a very natural state of being.

MARKETING DEMOGRAPHICS

“In the 1990’s, sanitary product sales in the U.S. was marked steady; in 1991, the market was approximately $2.4 billion, up from $1.3 billion in 1985.”80 Companies started to produce more products that included ‘wings’ or ‘flaps’ to help women protect themselves against leaks, thus marketers encouraged wearing panty-liners along with tampons to help solidify security and protection.81 Such marketing clearly encouraged women to buy more, to protect themselves from ‘leakage’ or embarrassing situations. Obviously, this strategy also produced more revenue for the companies themselves.

Despite growth in the industry, demographics show pads, tampons and panty-liners were still only being used by a certain social class, meaning it was a privilege to have these items. “Tambrands data in 1997 suggested that with 1.8 billion menstruating women in the world, only 400 million of them used commercial sanitary protection products. By 1998, Tampax tampons were being sold in more than 150 countries around the world… but 90% of Tampax sales in the late 1990s came from countries with just 13% of the world’s population.”82

Demographics is a key point in discussing all of the advertisements leading up until the late 20th century and beginning of 21st century. “It has been shown that oppression and differential treatment as experienced by these women differ considerably from that of, for example, white, middle class heterosexual women. This recognition has created problems for generalizing and theorizing the condition of women in American society.”83 Most of the women in the advertisements representing feminine hygiene (or lack of), have been caucasian middle class women. Today (2017), tampons and feminine hygiene products are still taxed. Moreover, racial diversity within advertising is still quite minimal, and as demographics show most women in developing parts of the world may not be able to actually afford these products.

Most of the advertisements for feminine hygiene have not only lacked information, but a sense of reality in western culture. The advertisements also represent only a small demographic. Almost all of the advertisements from 1920 – 1990 also address gender identity as performing a very narrow notion of femininity motivated by fear hopefully leading to more products purchased. Finally, most and if not all of the advertisements boundaries reinforce social, overtly discouraging open discussion.

A 2012 article appearing in the Feminist Forum discusses the alarming idea that today, in other countries as well as in western culture, advertising agencies are using secrecy, shame, and gender identity to play on companies ability to gain revenue. “Hurtling through time and space we find ourselves in the 21st century. Even in our remote corner of the world, progress and time are catching up with us … every part of our collective anatomy has been laid bare, deconstructed, analyzed, examined, sold and bartered. Yet one aspect still remains cloaked in silence, secrecy, yes even shame. At the same time, this one, most secret aspect – on at least a monthly basis – affects over half of the world’s population and has a multi-billion dollar industry and business behind it.”88 The article continues recalling the nicknames given to this monthly appearance, (yet direct reference still remains largely taboo) including:. “Aunty from Reading, Aunt Flo, Big Red, the red tent, red dress, a visitor, the BUS (bleeding uterus syndrome), Carrie, Cousin TOM (time of month), trip to the mood, Gs in the hood, the crimson tide, but the reader must realize I have refrained from naming the ‘thing’.”89 The writer, Laura Sasman, then points out that advertisers have been factoring shame in their tactics, even in 2012. The shame of “spotting or leakage, even using slogans like “WikiLeaks… Butterfly Doesn’t!” in their advertisements (Butterfly is a South African brand).”90 Sasman also points out the demographic, as if shame and taboo wasn’t enough for younger girls in particular, especially in areas that cannot afford expensive pads, so instead of being embarrassed that they cannot afford the product, they now have to feel shamed if they do leak, so most of them stay home during the ‘time of the month’.91


Figure 9

Tampax Advertisement 1988- 1990

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

Although the industry was growing as a whole, one small aspect of societys construct remained, “as recent as 1990, a Tampax ad included the assurance: “You can use them at any age and still be a virgin (Figure 9).”84 How can girls stick items up their vagina but still be a virgin? Tampax reassures women that both can be done! Thus, reinforcing the value placed on purity by masculinist culture.

THE ACTIVE WOMAN

Some advertisements do focus on the athlete, shown wearing light clothing to showcase the ‘safety’ in their product (from leakage and social embarrassment, not from actual safety issues like toxic shock syndrome). This marketing tactic focusing on the athlete does not alter throughout history and continues to inform current feminine hygiene product marketing today.85

Figure 10

1940’s advertisement for Stayfree.

Used with permission from Harry Finley – Museum of Menstruation – Mum.org

Image result for playtex advertisements 2015Image result for playtex advertisements 2015

Figure 11 / 12

www.playtexplayon.com
2015 Advertisement – Playtex

Today, advertisements show women running in flowers, or hint at color spectrums that only a younger teenager or mid-aged woman would understand. “But this bit about rainbow colors is clearly a counter punch to rival brand by Kotex, a pastel-colored, pop-art line of tampons and pads and liners designed by fashionista Patricia Field and introduced in April 2011,”86 the topic of bleeding once a month (what is really what the products are for) has still not made its way into ads.

“In the recent shift from production-led to demand-led capitalism, as identified by Daniel Miller, goods are no longer produced in order to persuade people to purchase them, but the scale and speed of retailing is constantly changing in response to consumer taste. (Consumers can choose to sign up for “loyalty cards” that reduce the price on purchases and also provide the stores with instant information about what people are buying to let producers know what new products to make available).”87

The film Fifty Shades of Grey produced in 2015 serves as yet another example of the ongoing suppression of basic human biology. The entire film is based off of a novel that focuses on erotica and BDSM (suppression but consent of sexual activity). However, while the entire movie was accepted by the public and producers, the film could not adapt one part included in the novel, a scene showing the removal of a tampon prior to sexual intercourse. “The tampon is still taboo enough to be the central prop in one of the only Fifty Shades of Grey scenes deemed too risqué for movie adaptation.”92 Even in 2015, with all of the progress that advertisements have made, and the recognition of doctors and the news, there is still an element of embarrassment or shame. “The average American woman is estimated to use more than 16,000 tampons in her lifetime—and yet, as that daylong American Medical Association suggests, they remain surprisingly mystifying.”93

As a mode of anecdotal research I asked eight random women what they would want to see in a tampon ad, or what they would want in a tampon product. Most women said they would desire something small enough to be able to hide it when they go to the bathroom. Although eight women is not a significant amount to report on, all of them said the same thing, and this was not a surprising result to hear. However, if the question “why” is asked, there could be some interesting information discovered. I could not find a study done on this, but going further, it would be interested to research the links between discreteness, feelings of shame, and tampon advertising. Why are women shamed from revealing when they are on their menstrual cycle? Although women are less oppressed in 2017 than in 1950 or 1960, there are still elements of shame, secrecy connected to gender identity.

CONCLUSION

Throughout the course of history hygiene products for women have either not been discussed, have remained secretive, or have been exploited for commerce. Advertising has used gender identity as a strategy to produce more money for companies. In western culture, advertising for women’s hygiene products was extremely secretive and even banned from television or printed advertisements in the beginning of the 20th century, and although in the recent years it has become more discussed and talked about, there is still an element of secrecy that exists in advertisements that also impacts society. If businesses and advertisements cannot go into detail about what is actually being sold, how could this impact those purchasing these items? The majority of women most likely deem the topic of the menstrual cycle off limits because society still has a hard time talking about it on television, in classrooms, or sometimes even at home. Women’s movements did effect progress allowing some of these issues to be discussed with medical professionals and loosening guidelines regarding the marketing of such products. However, Western culture has a long way to go before this conversation can be had at ease.

NOTES:

  1. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  2. Butler, Judith. Undoing gender. New York, NY, Routledge, 2009.
  3. Herrmann, Anne. “Shopping for identities: gender and consumer culture.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 539+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.
  4. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  5. IBID
  6. Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  7. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  8. IBID
  9. Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  10. Roberts, Tomi-Ann. “Female trouble: the menstrual self-evaluation scale and women’s self-objectification.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 1, 2004, p. 22+. General OneFile, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
  11. Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  12. IBID
  13. IBID
  14. IBID
  15. IBID
  16. IBID
  17. IBID
  18. IBID
  19. IBID
  20. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  21. IBID
  22. IBID
  23. IBID
  24. IBID
  25. IBID
  26. Kiara, Robert. “The Lady Problem: when tampons came to market, they were treated as a squeamish topic. Half a century of social progress later, little has changed.” ADWEEK, 9. Jan. 2012. P. 32+ General OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  27. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  28. IBID
  29. IBID
  30. Binhammer, Katherine. “Thinking gender with sexuality in 1790s’ feminist thought.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 667+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.
  31. Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  32. T. J. Jackson Lears, “From Salvation to Self Realization,” The Culture of Consumption, 17.
  33. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  34. Herrmann, Anne. “Shopping for identities: gender and consumer culture.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 539+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.
  35. IBID
  36. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  37. Kiara, Robert. “The Lady Problem: when tampons came to market, they were treated as a squeamish topic. Half a century of social progress later, little has changed.” ADWEEK, 9. Jan. 2012. P. 32+ General OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  38. Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  39. IBID
  40. IBID
  41. IBID
  42. Palmer and Greenberg, Facts and Frauds in Woman’s Hygiene, 20-28; “Tested and Not Approved,” Time, 2 June 1941, 50
  43. McLaren, Margaret A. “Foucault and the subject of feminism.” Social Theory and Practice, vol. 23, no. 1, 1997, p. 109+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=lom_ferrissu&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA19532594&it=r&asid=ef173379b5f9df1dba88cadddade2166. Accessed 31 Mar. 2017.
  44. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  45. IBID
  46. IBID
  47. Kiara, Robert. “The Lady Problem: when tampons came to market, they were treated as a squeamish topic. Half a century of social progress later, little has changed.” ADWEEK, 9. Jan. 2012. P. 32+ General OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  48. IBID
  49. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  50. IBID
  51. Levine, Elana. “‘Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine’: feminine hygiene advertising and 1970s television.” Velvet Light Trap, 2002, p. 36+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
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  55. IBID
  56. IBID
  57. Levine, Elana. “‘Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine’: feminine hygiene advertising and 1970s television.” Velvet Light Trap, 2002, p. 36+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  58. IBID
  59. “Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
  60. IBID
  61. IBID
  62. Levine, Elana. “‘Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine’: feminine hygiene advertising and 1970s television.” Velvet Light Trap, 2002, p. 36+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  63. IBID
  64. IBID
  65. Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London: Routledge. 1993
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  73. Wallace, Jo-Ann. “Where the Body is a Battleground: materializing gender in the humanities (1). (Articles).” Resources for Feminist Research, 2001, p. 21+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=lom_ferrissu&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA90445821&it=r&asid=51bf3ecd1ab25aff568f88a21b6778da. Accessed 29 Mar. 2017.
  74. IBID
  75. Levine, Elana. “‘Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine’: feminine hygiene advertising and 1970s television.” Velvet Light Trap, 2002, p. 36+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
  76. Cosmetic safety act of 1974 368, 265
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  83. Cacoullos, Ann R. “American Feminist Theory.” American Studies International, vol. 39, no. 1, 2001, p. 72. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com. Accessed 29 Mar. 2017.
  84. Kiara, Robert. “The Lady Problem: when tampons came to market, they were treated as a squeamish topic. Half a century of social progress later, little has changed.” ADWEEK, 9. Jan. 2012. P. 32+ General OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
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  87. Herrmann, Anne. “Shopping for identities: gender and consumer culture.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 539+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Binhammer, Katherine. “Thinking gender with sexuality in 1790s’ feminist thought.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 667+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London: Routledge. 1993

Butler, Judith. Undoing gender. New York, NY, Routledge, 2009.

Cacoullos, Ann R. “American Feminist Theory.” American Studies International, vol. 39, no. 1, 2001, p. 72. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com Accessed 29 Mar. 2017.

Chuppa-Cornell, Kim. “Filling a vacuum: women’s health information in Good Housekeeping’s articles and advertisements, 1920-1965.” The Historian, vol. 67, no. 3, 2005, p. 454+.Academic OneFile, Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.

Cosmetic safety act of 1974 368, 265

Herrmann, Anne. “Shopping for identities: gender and consumer culture.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, p. 539+. General OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

“Feminine Hygiene and Intimacy Products.”Ad Age. N.p., 15 Sept. 2003. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

Fetters, Ashley. “The Tampon: A History.”The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 June 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

Finley, Harry. “Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.” N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Kiara, Robert. “The Lady Problem: when tampons came to market, they were treated as a squeamish topic. Half a century of social progress later, little has changed.” ADWEEK, 9. Jan. 2012. P. 32+ General OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.

Kowalski, Sarah. “Welcome This New Day for Womanhood; Tampons in American History.” December 1999. General OneFile. Accessed March 29, 2017.

Levine, Elana. “‘Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine’: feminine hygiene advertising and 1970s television.” Velvet Light Trap, 2002, p. 36+. Academic OneFile. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.

McLaren, Margaret A. “Foucault and the subject of feminism.” Social Theory and Practice, vol. 23, no. 1, 1997, p. 109+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=lom_ferrissu&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA19532594&it=r&asid=ef173379b5f9df1dba88cadddade2166. Accessed 31 Mar. 2017.

Palmer and Greenberg, Facts and Frauds in Woman’s Hygiene, 20-28; “Tested and Not Approved,” Time, 2 June 1941, 50; “What Is False Advertising?,” Business Week, 23 December 1939, 24-26

Roberts, Tomi-Ann. “Female trouble: the menstrual self-evaluation scale and women’s self-objectification.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 1, 2004, p. 22+. General OneFile, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Sasman, Laura. “Reflections on a Monthly Friend.” Feminist Forum, September 2012, 30-31. Accessed March 29, 2017. General OneFile.

T. J. Jackson Lears, “From Salvation to Self Realization,” The Culture of Consumption, 17.

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