Yesterday Kotex launched a new ad campaign lampooning, well, itself. The first ad for U by Kotexparodies the super slo-mo, twirling in circles, running on the beach, practicing ballet in white spandex, pristinely clean genre of femcare ads that have been advertising staples for decades. The commercial is funny, smart, snarky—it’s already got people talking, tweeting, blogging, posting.
It’s a step in the right direction.
But the hill it’s going up is incredibly steep.
I know how hard it is to talk about menstruation in mainstream media. After my book FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation (with Susan Kim) came out last fall, I was sure something in it would spark public interest. Or outrage. The Bible and Koran condemning menstruating women? Lysol hawked for decades as a douche and possible spermicide? Chemically stopping your period marketed as a way not to spoil yoga classes and weekends away?
A few intrepid publications talked about FLOW, but for the most part—nothing. We heard back that one popular weekly felt the subject matter was too squeamish. Forget that articles about incest, rape, underage drug use, plastic surgery are staples, that they run femcare ads, that 80% of their readers are woman. Actual periods are off limits. During an interview with Dr. Oz, he started off the show (Sirius radio) by saying he’s not allowed to talk frankly about menstruation on TV, networks won’t allow it.
It’s no surprise, as reported in the NY Times today that those same networks refused to air new Kotex spots that used the word vagina. Even “down there” was deemed unacceptable. But, it’s ok to run spots that subtly assure women they smell bad, that hawk a pill a day for menstrual suppression, that have Mother Nature chasing down women who are trying to avoid her at all costs because of the “present” she’s carrying. Advertisers can sell us whatever they want as long as they don’t come out and matter-of-factly say what they’re selling.
Maybe, if we knew what we were actually buying, we’d start actually thinking.
And that would be bad for big business.
Kotex deserves serious credit for trying to break the cycle (that’s their catchy U by Kotex tagline). But there are much bigger cycles that need to be broken before significant change is in the air.