Notes on The Curse by Karen Houppert

The Industry

-Tampax Inc. July 26, 1936 – first ad claims “brave new world” – owned by Tambrands Inc is leading manufacturer of tampons convering 55 % of an astonishing $8 million market worldwide

– Culture of concealments is promoted through the ads

-developed with culture of cleanliness

-“In the 1930s…medical expertise was pitted against religious expertise.” (16)

-Tampax called upon the forces of medicine to gain credibility: boasted an American Medical Association badge because it was accepted to advertise…nothing else and was invented by a doctor

-capitalizes on popular movements like being “green”

-difficult to find celebrity spokespeople and models for ads ex: Johnson & Johnson’s maxipad didn’t even want their name on it! Would soil reputation for baby and medical products

-“…while its true that the level of dioxin ‘normal Americans’ encounter and consume on a daily basis makes tampons only one part of a larger, potentially more dangerous equation, women are hit with a double whammy. Seventy-three million menstruating women are bolstering an industry that releases toxins into our air and waterways. And seventy-three million American women may be directly accumulating toxins in their bodies via tampons. (Consider five tampons a day, five days a month, for 38 menstruating years. That’s 11,400 tampons in a lifetime. and all the major brands and sizes – Playtex, o.b., Tampax, Kotex – contain rayon.” (22)

-“It plays on women’s insecurities – Am I leaking? Will this pad show? – and develops ad campaigns to maximize these fears. Where it departs from mainstream corporate culture is in the secrecy that permeates every aspect of the business. Promising the invisibility of its products, it carries that commitment into its factories and boardrooms, cultivating a low profile that precludes public scrutiny.” (36)

-Tambrands plant motto: “If it isn’t broke, fix it anyway.” creates problems ex: odor

-When the 100% cotton tampons came out in 1996 (marketing opportunity) – denied they made it for need but instead because of a trend (false advertising case filed by Natracare, a small all cotton tampon manufacturer, case still pending)

-“Inventiveness – though hardly genuine innovation – reigns. In the last decade we have seen a host of new products. Kotex has introduced curved pads. Kimberley – Clark has introduced pads with “Stay Put” tabs. Procter & Gamble has introduced its Whisper line (Shhh, our secret) and its Always with “wings and quilted sides.” Playtex has introduced Silk Glides (cardboard applicators with a glossy coat). Tambrands has introduced Tampax Satin Touch (same thing), Tampax lites (described by an employee as “the old juniors”), and the Tampax Multi-Pack (twelve “supers”, fourteen “regulars”, and four “lites”; a marketing concept that generalizes a woman’s flow into a tidy uniformity of need). Johnson & Johnson, maker of the non-applicator o.b. has added the “comfort design applicator”. And Stayfree pads now come with “Four Wall Protection” – whatever that means. And of course there’s the new packaging to make women think there’s an upgraded product inside. Old products, new products, old products dressed as new products – all things considered, we’re talking about a $1.7 billion feminine hygiene industry.” (40-41)

-Tambrands has an education program to get young customers and possibly lifetime customers – quizzes suggest use of every one of their products with a right answer

-July 1997 – Procter & Gamble (Always) buys Tambrands

-“leak-free life”

-brands sell deodorants, stain removers, Procter & Gamble products for the entirety of a woman’s life: diapers (Pampers, Luxs) to menarche, to grave (Attends) and “caress her labia every day if she was a Charmin user”

-P&G – 18th largest corporation in the U.S.

-“menstrual products monopoly” will give rise to sales “while 70% of American women use tampons, only 100 million of the world’s 1.7 billion menstruating women do.” (45)

-major campaign to change “cultural bias”, “educational” campaign…presented as progress and enlightenment (45)

-“when it comes to the American consumer, P&G is counting on her complacency – and embarrassment – to keep her from asking too many questions. As long as women are kept ignorant of the makeup of tampons and pads – what kinds of perfumes, surfactants, and materials go into a product – and don’t worry about the cumulative impact of harmful materials in earlier generation tampons (with higher levels of dioxins, contemporary ones with lower levels), and even all-cotton ones which come from crops regularly dusted with pesticides, P&G can continue on its way unhindered.” (46)

-relying on forgetfulness to continue selling tampons that cause TSS

-secret of menstruation allows for secretive business

Power in the Blood

“This kind of feminism, dubbed “cultural feminism” by scholars, colors the language of most mainstream discourse on women’s rights. By accepting most of the cultural stereotypes about woman’s innate nature, it narrows rather than broadens the realm of what is acceptable. Women are still defined oppositionally to men, but they’re reminded to be proud of these differences.” (219)

“Hoping to convert restrictive gender roles from liabilities into assets, this brand of feminism deifies women as goddesses. Likewise, the celebrate-your-cyclists practice a brand of feel-good feminism that turns the fight away from outward sources (a determinedly sexist society) to inward ones (get in touch with your feminine nature and you’ll feel a lot  better), favoring inner reflection over activism. They argue, not that organized religion is an oppressive force, but rather that prevailing religious interpretations are oppressive. For them, it’s a simple case of personal transformation. It’s all in how you think about it.” (219)

Birth of a New Menstrual Product: Insync Miniforms

-pad-tampon hybrid for light days, like a panyliner

-made by A-Fem, 1999, new company, consulted with women

-“It’s a world where underpants are always “panties”, where cum is “discharge”, and where blood is always “fluid” (and usually blue). Once in awhile, manufacturers venture out on a poetic limb. “Only Playtex has a double-layer design that gently blooms to fit the contours of your body”, the company says on its Silk-Glides package, depicting the tampon as a rose (dangling string serves as a stem) and skillfully skirting all mention of placement. No one ever puts anything up their vaginas; tampons are worn internally. Women don’t bleed, they flow. And, in what is perhaps the oddest concession to modesty, the word menstruation never appears on a single package.” (221)

-InSync, earth tone packaging, uses word “labia”, photography of product on back of box, word “menstrual flow” is used

-ad: “Every month you have a period. It is not something that needs to be covered up, danced around or deodorized…You do not have a problem or an illness. Life does not come to a halt because of it. You do not need to be protected from it. It happens because it needs to. It’s that simple.” (221 and 226)

-uses photo of a young girl who is reaching age of menarche, looks smart, thoughtful, calm, not “cute” and uses older women in ads

-TV ad on page 228

-TV ads insist on vagueness, particular hours to be shown, no men or kids in ads

-from info from focus group women want ads that are appropriate but straight-forward and not humorous

-women themselves don’t know what is accurate or not ex: odor

-“A basically conservative industry designed to pick up on subtle anxieties, sanitary protection companies are masters at manipulating and reflecting these anxieties back. No matter what In Sync may profess to believe about a new openness, its ads reflect women’s views right back at them. In the finest Feminism Life tradition, the copy for In Sync’s TV commercial would make you feel good about being a woman without making the slightest allusion to why you might have been feeling bad in the first place. As the women parade through the public restroom in the TV spot, a voice over tells us, “A woman spends her entire life responding to her changing body. Dealing with her monthly cycle is just another way to practice.” No products pictured. No explanations necessary. No possible way to offend – or enlighten – anyone.” (237)

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