During our discussion about periods, tampons, and DivaCups on Thursday, I began thinking about all of the tampon and pad commercials I’ve seen on TV and how much all of them emphasize the need to keep our need for their products a secret from the rest of the world. I specifically thought of a commercial for Tampax Compak tampons, which are half the size of the average tampon (that comes with an applicator–o.b. tampons by Johnson &Johnson are even smaller than Compak and more environmentally friendly), in which a girl tries to do a stealthy hand-off of a Compak tampon to another female classmate in need. Her teacher sees and assumes she is passing a note and asks her to bring it up to the class, then says he “hope[s] she brought enough for everyone” when he doesn’t recognize the little plastic packet. The girl responds that she has enough for the girls as the rest of the girls knowingly laugh with her. The message this commercial is sending is supposed to be empowering because she does not have to physically hide her tampons anymore since Tampax has done it for her, supposedly making the product discreet and unrecognizable, but it is still telling us that the fact that we have periods needs to be a secret.
At first, Tampax was revolutionary because they were the first “feminine product” company to use the word “period” in a 1985 commercial (starring Courteney Cox from Friends), but their progress seems to have stopped there, as they continue to tell women they should hide the fact that they have said periods, even though everyone is aware that women get periods. Pretty much any promotional spot for feminine care products mention discretion and even self-help videos made by young girls to teach younger girls about periods establish that “no one has to know.”
I am not sure why, but even when I was young I really resented the idea that I was supposed to hide the fact that I had my period and kind of went out of my way to let the people around me know that I had to change my tampon or that I had really bad period cramps. On one hand, I think I was trying to be combative and make people uncomfortable because I felt physically uncomfortable, but having to hide my tampon when going to the bathroom was/is more effort than I am willing to put into hiding the natural functions of my body. After class on Thursday (which also happened to be the first day of my period, sorry TMI), I went home and ranted to my housemates about how frustrated I felt. I concluded the rant by yelling that I had to go change the tampon that I had to set aside money to pay for while my male housemates could spend that extra $10 in their pockets on anything they wanted to. One of my female housemates thought this moment was the opportune time to tell me about the “women’s survival kit” her aunt had given to her as a Hannukah gift: a small, patent leather pouch that held an array of “female necessities,” like a tampon, hair spray, and two earring backs. This idea of “female survival” just reminded me of the conversation we had about the commodification of rape culture with anti-rape underwear and the cost of “surviving” as a woman in our culture. From the cost of tampons to anti-rape wear to the makeup we are expected to buy, it seems like a lot of our resources (including the time/energy it takes to apply/change/buy these things, among others) are already spent before we even know it.