The past few weeks I have been holding out on expressing my views on the unfortunate FemFresh social media craze. I’ve been hesitant to share my initial reaction, mostly because in some ways it goes against my entire graduate work. The response from FemFresh has been, well none, and really what can they say? Are they selling a product that is unnecessary for women? Yes, unfortunately they are.
If we look specifically at the discourse of FemFresh’s recent campaign, is it really so bad that they are encouraging women with: “whatever you call it, love it”? Yes, it perpetuates euphemisms and yes it has strong overtones of post-feminist “bliss”, whereby a woman can obtain a state of empowerment because she is using product X. But, it also offers something else. It offers women the chance to talk openly about something they don’t normally feel comfortable talking about.
There have been many blog posts, media reviews and personal opinions regarding the campaign, its products and FemFresh’s silence on the matter. I think these are all important and help contribute to the discussion on vaginal health. However, if the FemFresh critics feel as strong as they do about FemFresh’s ad campaign (selling a product to women that women don’t need and is harmful to their health), why stop at FemFresh? If we each looked in our bathrooms right now, how many of us could say every product in there is necessary, or even good for our health? I’m sure after checking EWG’s Skin Deep website, there may be a pause in the FemFresh critique… maybe.
Don’t get me wrong, if someone decides to cover up the real words of vaginal or menstrual health, I’m usually the first person to speak up. But, my speaking up depends on who is speaking.
When it comes to a woman’s personal choice to use whatever she wants to describe her vagina, her cycle, her uterus, her breasts, etc. who am I (or you) to correct her?
You see, vaginal health, is still very much a “private” issue… and in some cases it is private because some women feel more comfortable keeping it private than sharing it with the world.
A question I’ve been pondering is: If it came down to it, which is better; to not talk about vaginal health at all or to talk about it through euphemisms?
I know, I know. You are probably asking: “Sophie what are you saying? What about the long history of menstrual shame that you speak so much about and the false representation of menstrual health that comes from a result of the euphemisms used in femcare ad campaigns?”
I’m not jumping off my soapbox just yet, but over the past few months I’ve realized that the menstrual culture I grew up in is not at all what it is today. And the way I analyze a campaign, at 28, is not at all how a 14 year old will analyze it.
We (I) may not like the fact that popular culture (and our moms, grandmas, boyfriends, brothers, etc) have come up with euphemisms for MENSTRUATION or VAGINAS. Eve Ensler even wrote an entire book/play about the vagina titled The Vagina Monologues, which has done an excellent job of pointing out the pain, shame and problematic ignorance that is spurred as a result of this silenced (or not so silent) history.
While it can be discouraging to hear the euphemisms, is it entirely unrealistic to think that, for some women, it can be empowering to actually “call it what you want”. I am all for educating society on the proper names of things, but if a woman feels confident and comfortable calling her vagina “whatever she wants to call it” – why can’t she?
Whether we like it or not, women are washing themselves with products that are stock full of ingredients that are not good for their scalp, face, legs… and vagina. And many of these product manufacturers, do little to educate women about what they can do to care for their health, specifically that oh so sensitive and pH-balanced vaginal area.
While using yet another vaginal cleanser is not at all the solution I am advocating for, before you write off the company completely it may be a good idea to visit their website and read some of the material it showcases. For example, the Top Tips FemFresh has on their website are things I bet half of the women commenting on (and criticizing) the campaign don’t know about their vaginal or sexual health.
FemFresh isn’t the only one trying to educate women and promote a healthier discussion of vaginal health. Summer’s Eve’s V-101 is one of my favourites! Check out their ID the V feature to see how much you know about the vagina. Like Summer’s Eve, FemFresh is not just selling a product, they are selling an idea, an idea that I think many young women need to hear – that being, your vaginal health is important!
And lets not confuse the ingredients or fear-mongering tactics of the Lysol or Zonite douching ads of the 1920s – 40s with those of todays vaginal cleanser companies, FemFresh, Summer’s Eve or Healthy Hoo Hoo. Telling a woman that the state of her vaginal health is a reflection of her marital happiness, or better yet her husband’s satisfaction with her as a wife and lover, is not that same as encouraging her to take ownership of what she calls her vagina. While I do no suggest that women integrate the products of FemFresh into their shower routine, if anything, women can at least learn about their vaginal health by making use of the resources they, and other companies, have put together on their website. It can’t all be a waste, can it?
In closing: Is it impossible for us to believe that these companies may actually care about educating women, and not just making a profit?