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Opinion: 'Revolution Period' is here - so why are the authorities banning tampon ads?

Menstrual Cycle Awareness facilitator Kitty Maguire says the recent banning of an ad for tampons missed the point entirely.

Kitty Maguire

AROUND TWO BILLION people in the world have regular periods. Every day, 800 million people menstruate. Imagine if all menstruating people began their journey into menarche (their first period) with support, wisdom, celebration and love.

This would transform a female adolescent’s relationship with their womb and their identity. It would allow them to examine their views on women, sexuality, self-esteem and fertility.

We live in a time where adolescents are prevented from attending school in some areas because they don’t have menstrual products or support during their period. Africa, India and Asia have the highest rates of period poverty but it’s also here in Ireland and the UK.

In Ireland in 2019 61% of girls reportedly missed school due to their period and more than 80% said they didn’t feel comfortable talking about their period to their father or teacher.

Without menstruation, human life would cease to exist. I believe it’s time we shatter the taboo of menstruation and normalise this vital sign of fertility, overall health and well-being.

It was with dismay then when I heard that the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) recently upheld complaints against a TV ad for tampons.

Your relationship with your womb

A greater understanding of the process of menstruation can really benefit women and society in general. As women in a modern world, the messages we receive via advertising are that menstruation shouldn’t affect our everyday lives.

Ads usually tell us that we should be able to continue to run, play sports, dance and go to work. While this message is sold as liberating, is it acknowledging what it really means to menstruate? Often, the normalisation and discussion of the pain we experience as menstruators is of more benefit to us.

The reaction to the ‘Tampax Tea and Tampons’ ad has been quite an interesting one. Personally, when I first heard and saw the ad I did laugh and think it was going to cause a few raised eyebrows.

We have definitely not had this approach with period products before. I felt the advertisers knew exactly what they were doing with this lighthearted, shock-value approach that would definitely catch the crowds’ attention… and it did.

tampax ad 2 The ad, deemed offensive, urged girls to 'get 'em up there' when discussing how best to use a tampon. Source: Tampax

Before the ad was banned I took a straw poll of my friends, students and followers on Instagram and asked for their thoughts on the now-banned ad. Most of my social media community are female or identify as women and are exposed to regular updates on menstruality and sexuality. The poll result for “you gotta get ‘em up there, girls” was stacked more in favour of it than not.

Some of the respondents however did feel mortification and shame. They said they were triggered by the use of such language in the ad. Some I spoke to felt the ad was incredibly sexual, while some felt irritated by it and wondered, “is this really necessary?“

The ad also reached those who related to having no education or exposure to information about tampon application as a young girl. It may have been loud and brash, but it tapped into something for menstruators who could relate to the absolute discomfort of the incorrect insertion of a tampon, something they’d never seen discussed publicly. Those responders thought this ad was really positive for the period power movement.

shutterstock_258671000 'Traditional' period products, pads and tampons. Source: Shutterstock/matka_Wariatka

Some men I spoke to about this ad didn’t realise that this tampon insertion issue was ‘thing’ and when in discussions with men and women I explained how many menstruators have no guidance when it comes to learning about tampons.

They have to deal with the fear of tampons getting lost in their bodies and can be unsure how far to insert a tampon. Even though a leaflet with instructions and images is provided, every vagina is different so if you a have high, low or tilted cervix tampons will feel different for everyone.

But when do we find out about our cervix? Does anyone remember being taught about this along the way? No, me neither. Again, there is a lack of education around the female anatomy.

Censorship never works

If we’re banning ads that inform, then what message do we want to give to our adolescents embarking on the journey through womanhood and menstruality? Do we want to pretend that periods aren’t painful or uncomfortable for many, and when you’re bleeding you may not want to just keep pushing your body to the maximum and skydive into overriding your body’s intelligence?

Or should young women learn just how incredible our menstrual cycle is and is how it’s now recognised as a vital sign? We must be honest now and accept that the current approach isn’t working.

Keeping adolescents in the dark about their bodies, sexuality and leaving it to chance is not serving us.

We need to educate everyone around menstruation. Homeless women often have no option other than to use old rags or cardboard as substitutes. With nowhere to wash, poor hygiene leads to high numbers of infection. My work – Red Alchemy and Revolution Period – includes a fund to raise money for free period products for Direct Provision and Homeless menstruators.

shutterstock_633545540(1) A menstrual cup. Source: Shutterstock/David Pereiras

As part of that work, I’ve had conversations with some men on this issue. Some were genuinely concerned about the struggles around periods. There are, of course, men who tell me my work is disgusting, repulsive and I need to tone it down.

I feel we’re at a delicate stage in the opening up of free conversation around periods. We cannot allow Ireland to regress and keep pretending we bleed blue blood (as seen in some ads for pads). We cannot keep smiling into the abyss of an outdated patriarchal vision of what menstruation should be.

It’s important to cultivate a conversation around periods that is positive, inclusive and void of any stigma. Cycle awareness would be of huge benefit and support to students preparing for exams as they could plan accordingly and factor in different techniques and practices to support the difficult phases of their cycle.

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During this pandemic, some people have been experiencing shorter or longer cycles or even not ovulating at all. For many, the nervous and endocrine systems have been impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown as our bodies adjusted to this new reality.

With all of this going on, the banning of an ad that encourages women to laugh and be open about their menstrual cycle is entirely the wrong message.

Kitty Maguire is a Menstrual Cycle Awareness facilitator, (MCA) and also teaches yoga for reproductive health, pregnancy and pregnancy release circles, Yin Yoga and Yoni Yoga teacher. Sharing Women’s circles, Red Alchemy MCA training and Red Tents off and online to honour and celebrate Revolution Period. Original artwork by Kiki na Art and photography by Aimee Stones.

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Kitty Maguire

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