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Bleedin' Woman Part 4 - Postmodern Products, Knowledge and Advertising.

by Nikki Sullings

Despite the medical and environmental knowledge available to both men and women, and social awareness generated by the second wave of the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 70s, little has changed in postmodern Australia in terms of the menstrual products available to women how they are advertised and the secrecy of menstruation.

An emerging male dominated global capitalist economy appears to be a major influence.

Despite studies (The National Working Party on the Portrayal of Women in the Media, 1993, p.12) that have shown women in western countries have been repetitively misrepresented by advertisers as sex symbols and inferior human beings (mentally, physically and emotionally) perpetuating notions of inferiority, such exploitation continues to manipulate young women. The politics of tampons (http://www.biobiz.com/terrafemme/uspoltam.htm) states:

If a manufacturer can convince a teen to use its pad or tampon, chances are good she will continue to use that product throughout her life. The taboo nature of menstruation inhibits many women from openly discussing and comparing menstrual hygiene products, which gives manufacturers the upper hand. Openness is better. It's interesting that in most of the ads - girls DO consult with each other, and choose the product advertised.

Again attempts at frankness failed to do more than act as tools for advertisers.

The advent of teenage magazines in the 1970's presented a new opportunity to dominate a susceptible market for menstrual products. So fierce was the market place in the 1980's that previous discretion was no longer used when positioning the advertisements within the pages of the magazine. The advertisements were now often seen inside the front cover and in the first half of the magazine.

Advertising of the 1980's featured activity and promoted lifestyle, in accordance with the economic prosperity of this decade. An advertisement for Carefree tampons (Cosmopolitan, February 1989) depicts a young woman in skin tight aerobic wear and basketball boots jumping to catch a netball. The caption in huge letters above her reads "She's right." Right about what? The reader is left to wonder - she does not appear to know which sport she is playing. A diagram of a tampon in a container of blue liquid is also displayed, expanding widthways "to guard against leakage". This presents a particularly confusing message. The liquid is blue - a medicalised, seemingly sterile representation of the red blood it is actually designed to soak. We are left to think that blood is still too dirty to illustrate.

The mid 1990's saw tampon begin featuring men in their advertisements with allusions made for women to aspire to be more like men. An advertisement for Carefree tampons in Cleo (September 1993) contained a one page image of a man and a woman playing on a bicycle on the beach. Across the image the words "This is carefree" were plastered. The advertisement left the reader with the thought: "Shouldn't you be leading a carefree life?" The intention seemed to make women feel inadequate compared to men. They are somehow restricted by the nature of their bodies, not able to live a carefree life under normal circumstances, without the aid of a menstrual product. This idea revisits the Victorian notion that women's health can only be aided by external help.

The late 1990's brought confrontation of taboo in some tampon advertisements. Libra invisibles (the name alone ironically illustrates the continued secrecy of menstruation) in their attempt to penetrate a young market were the first to actually show blood in television commercials (Ten Network, 1998). A pad was used by a very professional looking woman to quickly wipe up blood at the scene of a Film Noir style murder (which the viewer is to assume she has committed) before the police arrive. Although the scene is highly stylised the woman is the criminal (who will later likely face harsh penalty) and although there is blood there is no reference to menstruation, achieving nothing but to perpetuate the taboo around menstrual blood. This series of stylised commercials were shown during the highest rating prime time television shows which attract a young and vulnerable market audience, such as Melrose Place, Ally McBeal and Friends.

Although pads and tampons later in the twentieth century came with instructions (compulsory due to legislation) making the packaging somewhat more informative than before, manufacturers remained the primary providers of information about menstruation and menstrual products. This presents very biased information and the contents or raw materials that the pad or tampon actually contains are still omitted. It was not until the medical recognition of Toxic Shock Syndrome and thousands of cases that in some instances led to death that these issues were raised by consumers to manufacturers' attention.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare and potentially fatal bacterial illness and has been linked to toxins found in the cotton and rayon used in tampons.

After a landmark lawsuit Procter & Gamble in their refusal to accept accountability for deaths associated with their Rely tampons, instead tried to push blame onto the female victims themselves insinuating that a lack of personal hygiene could instead be at fault (http://www.biobiz.com/terrafemme/uspoltam.htm), symbolising the male dominated corporation's wilfullness to give women no information about the product's contents and then blame them for its harm to their health. Profits first, women's health last.

Health regulations do not yet demand a list of the product's contents and their origins. Dioxins are produced in the bleaching processes used in making cotton and rayon based tampons, sanitary pads, panty liners, and diapers. Several studies (The Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer cited on http://www.biobiz.com/terrafemme/uspoltam.htm) have concluded that dioxins are a probable cancer causing agent and place people exposed to them at risk of harm to their the immune systems, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, reduce fertility, and interfere with fetal and childhood development, not to mention their toxicity when released into the environment.

Since the 1970's heightened awareness of the health and environmental damage caused by disposable menstrual products, has led individuals and small companies to alternative products such as washable pads and organic tampons (http://www.mum.org). Information about these is only available on the internet and from herbal dispensaries, and advertising is otherwise non-existent making this information less accessible to women.

Advertising and information about these alternative products is now imperative to inform the public of a choice that is available and a product that is better for their health.

On to Next Page - A new day for women?