Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 8 June 2016


Menstruation is not a mystery. Women of all creeds and cultures have a monthly period; it’s completely normal.

If women menstruate then clearly men must be familiar with the process.

I remember a time when women didn’t talk about menstruation, at least not out loud in mixed company. There are places in the World where that is still true. I started to menstruate in the seventies, before sanitary towels and tampons were advertised in the mainstream or on the television.

Things changed, gradually, and mostly for the better. Women did begin to share more, the media talked more about women’s issues, including menstruation, and advertising sanitary towels and tampons became commonplace.

There was a downside, however. I was in my twenties when menstruation began to take the blame for everything, and it was mostly men that were doing the blaming. Any time a woman raised her voice, offered an objection or disagreed with anything, she would be accused of being on her period, and therefore irrational, aggressive and emotional.

Menstruation was being talked about, and that should have ameliorated our anxieties on the subject, if we happened to have any. It should have taken any embarrassment out of being compromised by our periods.

Men simply used the conversation to marginalise us.

Honest to goodness, I’ve been emotional and I’ve been irrational, but I haven’t spent a quarter of my life that way (and I menstruated regularly for more than thirty-five years). When I was emotional or irrational it wasn’t because I was menstruating. 

Of course, some women do suffer horribly with their menstrual cycles, both from PMS and from pain and discomfort. Many… most… don’t suffer more than regular, mild problems, and we soon come to manage them. I would have lost three months a year, every year for almost four decades if menstruating had been an issue. I would have spent ten years of my adult life being emotional and irrational. I didn’t, and I don’t know any woman who has.

Perhaps I should get to the point.

Bodyform has produced a new advert to sell their sanitary products. Women are thrilled… Lots of women.

There’s a groundswell of admiration for the ad and what it stands for.

I’m not so thrilled, and I’ll tell you why.

It is very rare for women in the First World not to buy sanitary products; they are considered essential. Sanitary towels, tampons and even panty liners are considered a necessity by the majority of women (half of the population!), so why are big companies spending vast sums of money on advertising campaigns? That cost is passed on to the consumer, women like you who are taught that they need these products. Women are a captive market for these products. We would still buy them without any persuasion from ad agencies. Many of us are also brand loyal; we find the products that suit our needs, and we stick with them.

I would be thrilled if the price of sanitary products was lower, and I’d support any company that cut the price of its products by reducing or abandoning its ad budget.

We’ve all seen the kinds of adverts that are produced for purveyors of the humble sanitary towel. In the early days of sanitary product advertising, women were shown doing whatever their hearts desired, including swimming, dancing and wearing white jeans.

Using a particular brand of sanitary towel or tampon doesn’t allow women to swim, dance or choose to wear whatever we want to wear. By their very definition, sanitary products… protection as they were once sometimes referred to, should all do the same job, so that we can all pretend to the World that our normal bodies are not functioning in the normal way.

More recently, sanitary product advertising has shown the towel or tampon being sold, often with test tubes of blue water poured into them.

Blood is not blue, nor does it have the consistency of water.

The great hullabaloo about Bodyform’s latest ad is that it actually shows women bleeding. There is real blood.

Women seem to be applauding this breakthrough.

I’ve seen the ad, and the step that Bodyform has taken is a tiny, baby step, and I’m not convinced it isn’t a backward step.

In the ad, which runs to more than a minute, in its entirety, women are shown running, dancing, playing rugby, boxing, cycling, surfing, swimming, skateboarding, rock climbing, horse riding, and, yes, bleeding: Bleeding from grazed knees, split lips, banged elbows, torn feet and ripped knuckles. The advertisers have gone back to the older format of showing women being active, doing whatever their hearts desire. It’s old-fashioned, although possibly no worse than the science-y ads that we’ve seen more recently, with their test tubes and blue water.

Women will do whatever they want or intend to do, or, at least that’s the way it should be; that’s the way it should always have been. I have done none of the things portrayed in the ad. Most of the blood I have shed during my life, and almost all of the blood I have shed during my adult life has been menstrual blood.

No menstrual blood was shown in the making of this advert. If women run, dance, play rugby, box, cycle, surf, skateboard, climb rocks or ride horses, their pastimes might, from time to time, cause them to bleed. None of it has anything to do with menstruation.

The strapline for the ad is 

No blood should hold us back

Personally, physical injury would be much more likely to hold me back from doing something than would my period, and it’s condescending to suggest otherwise.

The biggest joke in sanitary product advertising history was the Tampax Compak ad of 1992… You remember the one with the girl in white, rollerblading?

This Bodyform ad is more dynamic and has a better soundtrack… And look… There’s actual blood in it! But what’s the real difference? In the end, I don’t see how attitudes to women, to menstruation or to sanitary products have really changed.

The cost of sanitary products is too high, and it wasn’t until March of this year, 2016, that they were finally 0% rated for VAT, and only then after a long and bitter battle. Society has created an environment in which menstruation is hidden away, is considered an inconvenience or an embarrassment. It isn’t, it’s a simple fact of life for most women; more than that, it sustains the circle of life.

For those women who feel like me, who want to own their bodies and be at peace with their cycles, can I suggest you consider acquiring a mooncup. It’s cheap, clean and seems simple enough to use. Were I still menstruating, I’d have invested in one. Sanitary towels and tampons cost between 12p and 20p each. A mooncup costs about twenty quid and can last for ten years if you treat it right. The maths isn’t difficult.

Of course, now that I’m not menstruating, I’ve entered a whole new realm of womanhood in which I can be marginalised, ignored and even demonised, and all because my menstruating days are over.

Go figure.
In 2015 Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon while menstruating.
She chose not to use sanitary protection.
Here's what she said in the Independent

1 comment:

  1. Juicy, ack, in you know, an intellectual way...