MENSTRUATION MATTERS

Guest Post by Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University

First, it was Tampax, and then it was Vagisil. But it’s good they didn’t leave out Summer’s Eve. And I expect Midol (for those irritating PMS-y women) and something about menopausal women’s hot flashes (can’t they control themselves with hormone therapies?) to be next. Although probably SNL writers aren’t savvy enough yet to even contemplate what menopause is or how they feel about it, so they’ll probably stick with skits that revolve around women’s body parts and younger women’s reproductive experiences.

I was frustrated with SNL’s skit about ESPN’s coverage of a women’s billiards tournament, “Tampax to the Max Tournament of Champions” (see my blog post about it). I was disgusted and concerned that SNL writers revised this skit for a second airing, to include a spoof about women’s yeast infections during a Women’s bowling tournament, “Vagisil Superstars of Bowling Tournament”. After seeing the second skit, I (along with many other critics) knew that the power of the skits was not in jokes about women’s menstruation alone but, rather, in jokes about the disgusting nature of women’s bodies more generally.

This past weekend, SNL revised the skit once again to be a skit about ESPN coverage of a women’s darts tournament, and the main sponsor was Summer’s Eve, “Summer’s Eve Stars of Darts Competition”. The skit was as dumb as it was the first two times, but the one-line jokes within the skit carried even more jarring phrases in my opinion (e.g., “when your situation down south makes him breathe through his mouth” or “when your man’s in a coma from your panty aroma”). As a trio, these skits point to the fear, dislike, and disrespect for women’s bodies. The three skits also all revolve around talk about women’s vaginas, and the mysteries, misunderstandings, fears, and disgust surrounding this body part. As a trio, the skits produce the message that vaginas are gross, that men do not understand women’s reproductive processes and conditions, and the not-so-subtle message specifically to women is that women should keep their vaginal “conditions” private and not bother men with them. Indeed, the message in the one-liners this time around is that vaginas should be good-smelling, unbloodied, and available for men’s use at all times (and no other situation is acceptable).

After watching all three skits, I think we can safely conclude the following:

  1. Commenters on our previous blog entries about these skits that thought it was “just a spoof on ESPN’s early coverage of women’s sporting events” were wrong. While this may be one of the ideas behind the initial creation of the skits, the skits’ messages move way beyond and mask this. These skits are about making fun of women’s bodies.
  2. Commenters  who suggested that SNL writers were just picking random products, and that these skits “could have very well been about Preparation H” were wrong. These skits will never be about products that everyone could use. The power of these skits is the fact that they are making fun of women’s bodies and products for only women’s bodies.
  3. One commenter on the previous blog entry about these skits also suggested that we have “been taught since childhood that vaginas and penises are serious business. Laughing at them is naughty, so we laugh at them because being naughty is fun.” Sure, this is true, but everyone also knows that when you decide to continually joke about one body part over the other funny ones, there is a reason. (Just like when that one kid was picked on over and over in elementary school – that kid wasn’t picked at random.) At least one SNL writer (and probably several, given how television writing typically works) doesn’t understand and respect women’s body parts. They understand penises and respect them and therefore aren’t joking about them in this particular skit. If they were making fun of everyone’s body parts and everyone’s products, then we wouldn’t be writing about these skits here at re:Cycling.
  4. The fact that the skits seem funny to some people — and that this skit has had enough power/popularity to be revised three times to cement the same message about women’s bodies — confirms to me that most SNL watchers do not understand that gender inequality exists and/or that it is still a problem. If there were three skits in a row that denigrated a particular racial group, people would start to notice and the skit might be taken off the air or changed. But, when we come to gender, it’s okay to trash women’s bodies and perpetuate bad ideas about women’s body parts?
  5. Kristen Wiig (the SNL actress featured in all three of these skits) must not be able to voice her opinion about what skits she participates in, and the guests on the shows (in these three cases, Drew Barrymore, Blake Lively, and Sigourney Weaver) must have no say over what they’ll do as guests on the show. I like Kristen Wiig and I don’t want her to be part of these skits. My assumption has to be that individual actresses don’t get to voice their opinion, and that SNL has a very top-down structure within which individual comedians don’t feel like they can fight back without repercussions.

The worst part of all of this is that the commentary between Pete Twinkle and Greg Stink, the two ESPN announcers featured in every skit, IS funny in its ridiculousness and if the skit’s purpose was not to denigrate women’s bodies then I would actually enjoy watching the silly banter. But the minute that the banter falls into one-liners about the denigration of women’s bodies then it becomes offensive. I would venture that, if she is willing to be honest, ANY woman watching these skits (particularly this last one) might feel offended by some of the jokes about their bodies. AND skits about Preparation H, Viagra, acne cream, anti-balding creams, anti-farting or anti-burping drugs, etc., would be just as funny!  Even though they now have three strikes against them and have confirmed their disrespect and fear of women’s bodies, SNL still has a chance to turn this skit around and let it become a more general commentary on all of the normal bodily functions and conditions we have, regardless of sex or gender. There is actually so much potential to this skit if SNL writers actually step back and take off their “let’s trash women’s bodies” hat.

I, for one, am tired of this skit, but if it continues to air I have to continue to speak out against it. I’m also tired of trying to explain why I am angry about this skit. Why don’t people get that the message across these skits is dangerous for women? I want to like SNL, but I want to think my body is normal and that the fear and disgust surrounding women’s bodies is decreasing. I know that there are many other pressing issues in our world right now, for instance, the devastation in Haiti. But, even though SNL is not causing massive destruction like an earthquake can, continual disrespect of women’s bodies has ripple effects too. Maybe it won’t kill most of us, but it can definitely lessen our quality of life and self-confidence. And if enough people keep thinking these things about our bodies, then these ideas translate into mistreatment of women in the long run.

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