Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation”

-“whenever menstruation is mentioned these days, it’s only because there’s an underlying sales pitch.” (2)

-ads don’t show actual products, not being inserted or applied, flushed, etc and don’t even show inside of bathroom but do ads for condoms or other personal hygiene products do? 

-ads rarely appear to be related to menstruation

-Red dot campaign by Kotex was first to use “period” and “red” in 2000 – still uses euphemisms though

-period makes us other due to its uncontrollable characteristics

-‘protection’ against what? do tissues = nose protection?

-“Even the expression “feminine hygiene” implies that menstruation is fundamentally dirty, yucky, bad, as does the expression “sanitary pad”…advertising, by continuing to refer to menstruation in such unrelentingly negative ters, reinforces the same message over and over.” (11)

-only a few other mammals menstruate

-“studies on menstruation tend to be funded by the ‘femcare’ industry itself…” (14)

-nearly all women menstruate (pre, peri, post) and for all their life – menstrual our whole lives

-10% of girls still get period without knowing what is going on

-1970s, “medicalization”: “health or behavior conditions that have traditionally been thought of as being part of normal life are redefined by experts as actually being medical in nature…” (22)

-menstruation is a perfect problem to provide a solution to: almost half of population need it and it lasts for a long time

-a lot of discourse on menstruation particularly when linked to medicine is also linked to birth control pills, menstruation suppression pills, or the feminine hygiene industry interests ex: Professor Coutinho in book “Is Menstruation Obsolete?” pioneers Depo-Provera (a contraceptive he endorses in book)

-is the period an evolutionary leftover? what’s the point of it?

-synthetic estrogen in period blood of women on pill has been causing damage to wildlife

-companies create and perpetuate negative attitudes – not a good reason to get menstrual suppression


-1873 – Comstock Act was passed in US – made it a federal crime to distribute or sell pornography or conception-related materials or text thus “In response, the birth control industry coined the term ‘feminine hygiene’ to advertize their repackaged, over-the-counter products.” (103)


-1896 – Lister’s Towels – first commercial sanitary pads by Johnson & Johnson but went bankrupt due to prudish times

-early 20th c. – sanitary aprons and bloomers and homemade pads

– WW1 – French nurses used cellulose bandages

– early 1920s – Kimberley-Clark used leftover WW1 surgical wound dressings

– Kimberley -Clark encouraged store owners to display kotex on counters with box for payment so no one had to                        order it aloud

-1930s – first menstrual cup by Lenora Chalmers – not many women wanted to handle blood

-1931 – Tampax is invented

-1948 – Modess ads turn menstrual ads into display of haute couture and fashion photography

Blog323_Pursettes Tampons_Girls Love Stories 144_6

-1950s – Pursettes go on market and target teen girls – nonapplicator tampon with a lubricated tip and in a nice case

– 1959 – Tassaway menstrual cups – women still weren’t interested

-1961 – Confidets – contoured pads for comfortable fit, sold with disposable bags, discontinued in 1980s, wide in front, narrow in back


–  1969 – Stayfree minipads, first pads with adhesive strips

-1970s – panty liners become famous and popular

-1971 – Personal Products Company made Stayfree Maxipads

Menstrual extraction hit scene – with Roe vs Wade in 1973 made less popular due to anti-abortion sentiments

Playtex introduced first deodorant tampon


-1972 – Kimberley-Clark joined beltless generation with New Freedom pads

National Association of Broadcasters lifted its ban on TV advertising of products

-1975 – Rely Tampons went on sale

Modess patented a flushable sanitary napkin  – clogged toilets and went off market due to TSS

-1985 – Courtney Cox Arquette used word “period” first first time in a TV commercial

-1987 – The Keeper Menstrual Cup was more successful and is still on market

-Late 1980s – announced douching was bad for vagina ph balance yet women still buy the product

-1995 – Fresh n’ Fit padettes, new product – meant to be tucked horizontally between folds of labia; was  met with enthusiasm but soon disappeared

-2007 – Always Clean is launched, individually wrapped wipes, unhealthy chemicals and more packaging to landfills

-Chp 8 : Advertising

-” a good ad also manages to sell emotions, fantasies, fears, and lifestyles” (114)

-“What…femcare ads actually do, and quite efficiently, is rigorously drill us on the constantly evolving vocabulary of new product improvements and development.” (114)

-“absorption technology and applicator design”

-“our collective menstrual mind-set is the result of effective advertising campaigns.” (114)

-“Early advertisers turned menstruation from a natural function and aspect of fertility into a veritable hygienic crisis” (117)

-easy to convince with 1950s obsessions with germs and bacteria

-money and class were other anxieties that were preyed on

– early ads targeted women with money: white, wealthy ladies of fashion and leisure

-implied if you bought product you would become woman in ad


-Modess first marketed to young women who didn’t want to use the “old fashion” methods or make them themselves

-tampons were first advertised to “deflowered” married women


-20s – 30s – menstrual odor gave women anxieties for their marriage – wasn’t just cosmetic

-WWII greatly impacted menstrual ads – “became downright treasonous to let one’s period stand in the way of efficiency and productivity” (126) and “featured a genuinely egalitarian, classless ideal”

– sex goddesses back in ads after war ended – got to return to ultra femininity ?

-Young & Rubican’s “Modess…because” for Johnson & Johnson in 1948-1970 – no reference to menstruation, surreal, ideal, beautiful world, glamourous, minimal, sold an idealized dream instead of facts, “freedom from reality” (132)

-1960s – feel happy/look rich trend continued, no product shots, lengthy explanations, nothing clinical, younger white skinny models

-always near water – “In purely visual terms, the message is loud and clear: all women need to be ritually cleaned and sanitized after their periods, as if by religious immersion in purifying water.” (133)

-often in white

-with adhesive strip, ads turned  in the early 1970s from vague fashion shoots to role of educator and used photo of product and more frank language

– 1972 – TV ads ban is lifted but shown only during daytime for women, caused uproar from women, saw drop in sales thus changed ads to euphemisms, buzz words, soft images, sterile blue liquid, bloodless and clinical

-Rely – absorbed natural vaginal fluids and caused a mini TSS epidemic

-1980s – tampons were no longer targeted at married women but at teens instead, no smell, no leans, no showing

-pads fought back showing off their safe history from TSS, absorbency, extra protection, and versatility


-Stayfree 1980s campaign used Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby in a skin-tight leotard in revealing poses all while supposedly wearing a maxi-pad

-today there are new “technologies” like wings, pearl tampon applicators, sanitary wipes, various shapes and sizes

– more positive view of menstruation – should indulge themselves – but keeps shame and secrecy involved

-douche is part of “feminine hygiene” : ads blamed women for unhappy marriage due to odor

-“As with douche ads, the hands – down single best weapon advertisers used – and continue to brandish to this day – was terror; terror of offending, terror of being helplessly awash in stench…” (156)

-tampons still play up odor to compete with pads

-1970s – started adding perfumes to products

-high competition because women tend to be loyal to a product they trust for 35 years

-products don’t even have to include an ingredients list

“Having a female body doesn’t make you feminine. It’s the extra things you do like FDSA.” ad for FDS = Feminine Deodorant Spray from the 70s

-menstrual cup is solution to TSS

-people dislike idea of using in public restrooms but you show feces and urine when cleaning your babies!

-Padette, 1995, unsuccessful – interlabial pad, good for light days and short periods of time, replaced by Unique Miniform of 2008

-some use sea sponges

-1960s – sanitary panties, no belts and pins

-reusable pads – don’t pollute and can be used for years, more effort with cleaning

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