Despite occasional efforts by manufacturers of menstrual pads and tampons (the giants of the menstrual-industrial complex – thanks, President Eisenhower) to present period-positive images, they still seem unable to resist representing menstruation as an undesirable, embarrassing phenomenon. Women, particularly teens, are expected to grin and bear it as best they can while enduring their monthly misery. Consider a recent example.
A few weeks ago, the small college where I work received 12 large cartons from a firm called Brand Connections, which apparently specializes in managing promotional campaigns that involve providing free samples of products. Each carton contained 72 box-like items made up to look like thick text books but with a cover that closely resembled a copy of Teen or Seventeen magazine. In large letters on the spine and front are the words, “GET REAL.” The instruction sheet in each carton included warnings that the contents “may not be suitable for children” and that selling the items rather than giving them away “may result in civil and/or criminal prosecution.” And, in bold type, the page states, “This box contains FREE House of Kotex samples!” The college authorities were directed to, “Please hand out the House of Kotex samples to your Universities [sic] female students for their enjoyment.”
However, the contents of the package itself were a bit more ambivalent about any connection between menstrual products and enjoyment.
The box opens to disclose, on the right side, two plastic pouches, one white containing a pad and a panty liner, and one black containing a pad, a wipe and a tampon. On the left, emulating a feature popular in teen girl magazines, is a six item quiz in which girls are asked to choose favorite shoes, lip gloss colors, eye shade, date wear and weekend entertainment. The sixth item, “Being on your period is. . .” provides the following choices:
- the worst
- not so bad
- part of life
- super annoying
If one picks 1. or 4., one is directed to the black pouch; if one chooses 2. or 3., the white pouch is for you.
The cartons were placed around the campus at strategic locations for young women (or curious young men) to pick up the packets. One enterprising student rifled a few dozen of the tampon packs to store up a stash of her preferred product for the next few months.
Though the cover photo of two smiling young women and the slangy headline references to bonding, fun, and sharing, as well as the playful references to popular items inside created a sense of happy girlhood, the non-so-subtle way the period was described unfortunately reinforced the nuisance trope that is so deeply engraved in young women already.
Readers are invited to propose alternative options to the last question in the menstrual quiz.