2014 in review

In the last few years since starting this blog, there has been a significant increase of menstrual-related content online and some of it has excitedly gone viral! As we draw a close to 2014, I wanted to highlight some of my favourites. While I can’t capture all of them in one post, I think most, if not all of these, will make for some interesting dinner conversations.

Reproduction in the Workplace
From advocating for paid menstrual leave to companies like Facebook and Apple offering to pay for women to freeze their eggs, it seems as though women are being given all sorts of “options”. Ideally a woman could “freeze” her job position and return back to exactly where she left off, but I guess family planning doesn’t play a role in company budget plans.

Pelvic Floor Muscles, Periods and Gaming
Whether you are jumping over obstacles with the pelvic floor exercise game, SKEA or attempting to break down the taboo around menstruation with the App, Tampon Run, gaming certainly introduced a new genre into the marketplace.

Policies and Periods
The resurgence of the Robin Danielson act, spurred a fair bit of debate around the oh so popular feminine hygiene aisle. The Act asks the FDA to mandate that tampon and pad manufacturers disclose all the ingredients found within their products on the outside of the box.  There was even a video made to encourage a change by Women’s Voices for the Earth titled: Always Detox the Box.

Menstrual Hygiene Day
May 28th, 2014 marked the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day. Close to 100 organizations from around the world joined together to draw awareness to the global challenges surrounding menstrual hygiene. Be sure to join in for 2015!

Camp Gyno matures, sort of…
After a hilarious video by Hello Flo in 2013, the follow up was quite the masterpiece. The same adorable character fakes getting her period, only to have her mom throw her an over the top first moon party!

Subscribers Wanted!
And speaking of Hello Flo, period subscription services seem to be generating more buzz than Netflix! From your regular product needs to monthly snack boxes, these services seem to be meeting a need women didn’t even know they had. Of course, for those of us who use reusable options, the subscription features may not be as appealing.

Reusables on Primetime
In the fall of 2014, viewers in both Canada and the United States saw the premiere of The DivaCup commercial. If people didn’t know what a menstrual cup was, they sure do now!

Endo Goes Public
The launch of the ROSE Study by the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York is bringing some much-needed hope to the 1 in 10 women who suffer from the disease . If you or someone you know has endometriosis, this study is for them!

Cups Collapse
I first saw the Lily Cup Compact at a gynecological conference last Spring and since then the cup has literally gone viral. The frenzy of media attention surrounding Lily Cup can mostly be attributed to their campaign on Kickstarter which acted very much as a store front (allowing backers to essentially pledge money in exchange for a Lily Cup). Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry did a great review of Lily Cup (pros and cons) that I’d recommend checking out!

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my grammys

In June I attended a conference that in the realm of menstrual cycle research could be classified as something akin to the Grammys.  Although it only had one award ceremony it truly was a showcase of the best of the best in menstrual cycle research! 

Being among the writers and scholars who help organize my thoughts for my Masters MRP was inspiring. I was quoting and citing studies in my presentation to the very people who wrote the texts. Engaging in conversation with like-minded individuals, people who “get you” and are just as enthusiastic about analyzing a femcare ad is a wonderful feeling.

I am talking about the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Biennial Conference.

For two and a half days I was immersed in menstrual cycle knowledge and teaching. I learned about organizations that I never knew existed. Met with artists that make beautiful works inspired by the menstrual cycle. I had dinner with scholars that have written texts that have transformed society’s view of the menstrual cycle and brought to light the dangers of disposable femcare products.

Because the menstrual cycle is so dear to my heart, and due to my everyday management of endometriosis, this conference really challenged me to think about my reproductive health and what it is I want the next year or so to look like.

Children, or no children, prescription drugs or holistic care, the disease will always be something I have to manage.

Discussion of endometriosis and the medical treatment of such a disease were ever-present at the conference. Dismissal of symptoms, experimental treatment, side effects of treatment… I’ve experienced it all and it was refreshing to know that the way I am feeling is not out of the ordinary.

I also realized that even though I don’t agree with how society pushes women to terminate their cycles completely, for some women, and maybe even for myself, this option… may just save our lives (or our sanity at the very least).

I hope all who have an interest in menstrual cycle research will join the SMCR as well as attend the 2015 conference! Hope to see you all there!

“Party Hard” with Playtex

Fresh and Sexy WipesOver the last number of months, Playtex has been getting quite the attention for it’s “Fresh + Sexy Wipes”. But it is the kind of attention that probably isn’t going to encourage women to love the brand, at least not any woman who knows a little bit about her vaginal health. “Fresh + Sexy Wipes” are basically baby wipes that couples can use to “clean” themselves before and after sex.

For those not familiar with the campaign, the flack it’s getting has much to do with a series of ads whose messaging suggests that the vagina is dirty, and in need of continual maintenance, especially when it comes to sex. On the other hand, it is also a campaign that was created to reach out to a market not normally reached by Platex, men.  But, is this really the way we want men to be brought into the conversation? Through sexualized discourse that promotes sex as a victory and the vagina as something that continually needs improvement?

Probably not.

ADKTo top it all off, Playtex enlisted Andrew W. K. as the official “Fresh + Sexy Wipes” spokesperson.  What woman doesn’t dream about nights with a man like Andrew W. K? A man who parties hard and whose Party Hard Philosophy  only applies to those who don’t have full-time jobs (did I mention he is a motivational speaker?). Yes, we should all do what we enjoy as well as give our all for the things we love, but I doubt Andrew’s philosophy could actually work outside of a rock and roll lifestyle.

Playtex 3

A polished knob always gets more wood.

A clean peach always gets picked.

A clean peach always gets picked.

What’s more, the campaign echoes past hygienic vaginal discourses that encouraged women to continually be cautious about their smelly and dirty vagina (Ahem… Lysol ads). The discourse in the “Fresh + Sexy Wipes” ads  lend to a negative historical discourse with suggestive ad copy that reads: “A clean beaver always finds more wood.”, “A clean peach always gets picked.”, “A polished knob always gets more turns.” and “A clean pecker always taps it.”.

Basically, if you use these “Fresh + Sexy Wipes” you are always going to get laid.

This suggestive discourse is highly fueled by phallocentrism, encourages the objectification of women’s bodies and treats the act of sex as one women and men can achieve so long as they follow a prescribed cultural code laid out by Playtex.

playtex 2

A clean pecker always taps it.

The Group Marketing Director who led the creative on the campaign, Erik Rahner, said this about why such a product is even necessary to market:

“Sex isn’t always a planned event that can be prepared for. With Fresh + Sexy wipes, couples now have a way to be clean and ready for even the most spontaneous moments. They can be ready for intimacy whenever – and wherever – the mood strikes.”

The main question I have for Mr. Rahner is, what did people do before Playtex gave us the option of this all too important product?

Were we all just having dirty sex?

I’m curious as to whether there was any market research that went into this campaign. If there had been, and the response to these wipes was positive, there is concern for how much understanding men and women have about the vagina. Most women know the dangers of douching, and likewise the dangers of putting scented products in or near the vagina. Any doctor would recommend that when it comes to vaginal health, you stay away from anything scented, especially disposable wipes that contain traces of chemicals that can irritate the sensitive tissues around the vagina.

A clean beaver always finds more wood.

A clean beaver always finds more wood.

The campaign sends a very strong message about vaginal health and to some extend penal health. Basically, cleaning “it” is essential to a happy (and better) sex life. What’s more it appears that with the help of Andrew W.K. the campaign is encouraging a lifestyle that may not result in a healthy ending, just a good time, with the promise of well… only sex.

From a marketing standpoint is the ad campaign “good”. I’d have to say yet, but it is accurate? No! Does it promote positive talk about sex and women’s health? Again, probably not.

Yet, even with all this being said, couples will probably buy into this discourse. Sex can be messy and the idea of having something easily accessible to “freshen” you up, is appealing. However, ladies (and men) it’s important you know that the vagina is self-cleaning and good vaginal hygiene isn’t too hard to obtain with just water and old fashion fragrance-free soap.

breaking up is hard

Get with Gen KI’ve been enjoying the recent U by Kotex campaign, “GET WITH generation KNOW”. However, after studying their past campaign “Break the Cycle, for what seemed like an unending “cycle”, the same feelings of unease and frustration abound.

Is U by Kotex sharing “truths” that women need to know? Yes. Are they doing it well from a marketing standpoint? Absolutely! Are they telling women the truths when it comes to the products they are selling?

No.

If you are not familiar with the campaign, this video will help you out:

This video features some great facts about menstrual and vaginal health that all women should know. The only thing I would discourage women from doing is to look to U by Kotex for guidance about period care. Women need to “Get with Generation

When a company doesn’t disclose that their products contribute to both environmental waste and compromises women’s health, they aren’t really letting their customers “in the know”.

And, let’s not forget the 2012 KC Natural Balance Security recall over bacteria traces and metal particles as well as and the case of the moldy tampon. Wouldn’t those in “the know” want to know what really happened with thees two cases? And isn’t this type of media platform a perfect place for such conversation to occur? If you are going to make a video unveiling the truths about period care, these two “scares” should definitely make an appearance.

I am well aware that KC sharing options like menstrual cups or reusable cloth pads with their customers wouldn’t be the best corporate decision, but if they can’t be honest, they should change their tag line.

Being “in the know” about vaginal health and menstrual care, and more specifically about the history of Gen know braceletfemcare products, should include honest discussion of the whole industry, not just the elements that contribute to U by Kotex’s profit margin.

One unique element of the campaign is their “i know” bracelet which fans are encouraged to request (for free) and wear proudly! While I agree that these little gems can be a good conversation starter… what will the conversation be about? Will it be about the taboos of menstruation? The fallacies surrounding proper vaginal care? Or will it be about their new tampon purchase?

My hope is that these bracelets will help spread the word about the truths of menstrual and vaginal health. However, my concern is that they may also encourage young women to buy a product that  is not different, but rather the same as those of decades past, laden with chemicals, plastics and a deep history of menstrual waste and shame.

I want to leave you with a video that is all about break ups. You read right and might be asking break up with whom?

In the summer of 2012, Sarah wrote a song (with the help of U by Kotex fans) about breaking up with her old tampon.

Merriam Webster online defines a break up as: “to end a romance”, “to bring to an end” and “to do away with” among many more. Given these definitions  shouldn’t a break up in femcare resemble an actual break up – moving from what once was (a tampon) to something new (a menstrual cup or cloth pad)? Of course, as with all products there are always upgrades in the KC product line: colour, width, length and ingredient list, but at the end of the day they are still selling women a disposable product.

I’m going to turn things over to Sarah now and just in case you miss what she’s saying, I’ve added the lyrics below! 

Help Sarah Break Up

Finally summer’s here again
It’s time to hit the beach with all my friends
Then I stop cuz it’s not cute
Looking insecure in my bathing suit
You’ve had me all out of sorts
I can’t even wear my favourite shorts
You keep trying to hold me back
Old tampon, I’m over that
Cuz I’m done letting you ruin my days
Listen here, I’ll make it clear that I’ve changed my ways
Cuz, the sun is shining. now that your gone and
Now I can rest assured knowing that your gone for good
And I won’t miss you
No not one bit cuz now I feel safe and sound
With the new protection that I’ve found
oh… oh oh…

“Now I feel safe and sound with the new protection that I’ve found”

What a great song! In addition to the lyrics taking away all my fears surrounding tampons, I’m glad there will be more sun shining as a result of U by Kotex.

If I may say one more thing… while the song presents itself as breaking free from the past, the mere fact that discourses of protection, shame, secrecy and femininity abound, makes me wonder if U by Kotex has actually come as far as they are letting women believe is the case. Is it wrong to suggest that maybe they are covering up what remains with bright colours, catchy tag lines and a cute bracelet?

i confess, i thought it was about time!

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. 

But aren’t most of the products advertised to women, unnecessary? (For those of you not aware of the fallout you can read about it on the Ms.blog and some of the comments by women here.)

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to softcup or not to softcup

I’ve been resisting writing about Instead Softcup® for a while now as I have never tried it, nor do I think I ever will. Some may think that it’s hypocritical to write about a product that you’ve never tried before, but why try something that is not eco-friendly, sends a negative message about menstruation to men and women and in the end costs more money than the product I am currently using?

For those who have never heard about the product, Softcup is a reusable (well reusable for up to 12 hours or a full cycle, if you use Reusable Softcup) cup that is worn near the cervix and collects your menstrual flow.

While I must admit that their advertisements promoting the “benefit” of being able to have mess-free period sex are well done, from a marketing standpoint, from a women’s health standpoint they are very negative in their messaging. It’s not enough that the femcare industry tells women that we need to conceal and protect ourselves from that “o so awful monthly bleeding”, now we can’t even be secure in our sexuality without buying yet another product to ensure our cycle doesn’t mess up our sex life!

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remembering march

Last month not only brought about daylight savings and the first day of spring, but it also held promise for drawing awareness to menstrual health initiatives many of us may not know about.

International Women’s Week nestled itself into early March – campuses, organizations and news media outlets led the way in campaigning for a better life and future for women and girls everywhere. I do want to give an honourable mention to endocenter.org and their campaign of raising awareness about the effects of endometriosis and the influence it has on women’s lives. I want to encourage you check out their website and consider wearing a yellow ribbon next year to draw awareness around the reality of this widespread disease.

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