A brief history of menstrual taboos


The construction of menstruation as an “unclean” process is an important cornerstone in misogyny, as it provides the sexist asshat a permanently available means of character assassination. Jen Bell gives us a brief review of the taboo’s presence for the past 100 years or so in advertising.

Modess was a brand created by Johnson & Johnson in 1926, which became a household name thanks to a glamorous advertising campaign they did in the US from the 1940s to the 1970s. The ads featured high fashion models, gorgeous gowns and the text: “Modess… Because.” There was no description of the product or what it was for. Periods were a taboo topic that was not directly spoken about, only alluded to. It took until 1985 for the word period to be said in a TV commercial by none other than Courtney Cox.

In the 1950s Modess promoted the fact that their sanitary napkins came in a plain brown paper box to save embarrassment.

Many brands still use terms like “virtually undetectable” or advertise that their product has a “discreet wrapper” to ensure “discreet protection.” This suggests it’s important to hide the fact you’re menstruating. In 2010, Kotex challenged period shame with their “Break the Cycle” campaign, showing that it’s cool to carry your tampons proudly in a transparent handbag.

At first the Softcup ad from 2015 above seems like it’s breaking taboos about period sex: the viewer can peek through an open door to see a couple in bed, with the text promoting “12-hour leak protection so you can sleep. Or not.” But the Softcup is actually designed to hide the fact you have your period, so you can go about your (sex) life “without him knowing.” Friendly reminder: you can have sex during your period — some people even prefer it! There’s no need to hide the fact you are menstruating from your partner. Periods shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment.

Menstruation is also used in other oppressive constructs (e.g. its presence is sometimes cited as “evidence” against trans men’s manhood, or to undermine any AFAB individual expressing a gender other than woman). This demonstrates some of the previous arguments I’ve made about how an attribute can exist but its broader “meaning” remains in dispute.

Maybe we can just generally stop being shitty about people’s bodily attributes.

Read more here.

-Shiv

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