Tampon Taboo: The Ad Ban that Displayed the Existing Social Stigma of Periods
22nd August 2020
“You gotta get ‘em up there, girls!” reads the tagline for Tampax’s latest TV advertisement, Tampons and Tea, featuring a mock chat show in which a host and guest discuss correct tampon usage. This ad was controversially pulled from Irish television at the end of July after 84 viewers issued complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI). ASAI accepted that the ad caused widespread offence and, banned it from being shown again in its current format.
The manufacturers, Procter & Gamble, defended the ad based on its instructive intent. Tampons and Tea was created in response to findings that revealed 42% of women are not inserting tampons correctly and about 80% of women feel discomfort while wearing them.
Out of the 84 complaints received by the ASAI, several critiqued the advert for containing sexual innuendo, being unsuitable for children and demeaning to women. While the ASAI did not take action against the ad based on these claims, it is still disturbing to see terms such as “sexual”, “unsuitable” and “demeaning” employed in conversations about women’s periods in modern Ireland.
It is maddening to think that anyone could call Tampons and Tea demeaning to women yet have no issue with the majority of unrealistic adverts for menstrual products. These ads generally focus on concealing periods and, depicting them as a problem, rather than a natural, lived experience. The women are portrayed smiling, laughing and carefree in the outdoors usually practicing some variation of an extreme sport while, dressed scantily in white. Flash forward to the next frame where a strange clinical blue liquid is used to indicate their menstrual blood.
It’s also hardly demeaning to suggest some women may not know how to insert a tampon correctly, especially when you consider the reality that period-centred education is worryingly substandard. Most girls who have attended school in Ireland will know that education surrounding tampons usually extends to the best way to conceal them discreetly up a jumper sleeve! Classroom curriculums are typically limited to the biological workings of the menstrual cycle, and neglect to acknowledge the practical, everyday implications of periods.
This lack of formal education leads to misinformation, and this is relevant for all genders. I find it in part amusing, in part shocking, the number of males I’ve encountered who mistakenly believed that sanitary towels are stuck to the skin of the person instead of to their underwear!
“Tampons and Tea was created in response to findings that revealed 42% of women are not inserting tampons correctly and about 80% of women feel discomfort while wearing them”
On Newstalk, Ciara Kelly slammed the decision to remove the ad and lamented the persistent sexualisation of women’s bodies, arguing that from the female perspective, a vagina functions for much more than sex. “It’s just a bit of our body […] it sits there, it’s like having an elbow” she rationalized. While one might automatically lay the blame on men for the cancellation of the advert, a surprising 83% of the complaints received about Tampons and Tea came from women. This points to a worrying culture of shame surrounding the female body and its functions.
Social stigma, combined with inefficient education surrounding menstruation, means that periods are largely not spoken about. Women are taught from an early age in school, and by society, that periods are embarrassing and disgusting; something to be hidden and kept quiet about. They carry this mentality with them to adulthood. Yet menstruation is a natural phenomenon which half of the world’s population experience. The lack of open discussion means that women are suffering in silence.
Last month, STAND featured an article about period poverty in Ireland, noting the lack of support and supplies available for many people who have periods. It says a lot about societal priorities that a Tampax advert is deemed too offensive to broadcast, when many in Ireland cannot even afford tampons due to period poverty.
The power and influence of advertising must not be forgotten. Although lighthearted in tone, ads such as Tampons and Tea carry a social impact. Positively, the decision to ban the advert has been met with widespread criticism. This is a hopeful sign that, although 84 members of the public hold outdated views on menstruation, there are other voices. Periods must be discussed unashamedly in our everyday conversations. It is essential for women and people with periods everywhere that their basic bodily functions are not taboo.
Featured photo by Tampax