Speaking of Vaginas…

Feminine hygiene product commercials have really pissed me off as of late. I’m pretty sure I know why. It all started in my Women’s Studies discussion section when my students were comparing feminine hygiene ads with masculine hygiene ads. One pad magazine ad was talking about how the consumer would be ‘fresher’ because the pad came with a scented (re: bleached) strip and a freshening wipe (which is what I can only assume is exactly like a baby wipe). All of the feminine ads were essentially telling their female consumers to CLEAN IT UP. That their bodies were ‘unnatural’ in smell, hygiene, and appearance. Our bodies are not OK by themselves and these products are NECESSARY to improve this ‘unnatural’ state. On the other hand, the male hygiene advertisements all stressed that the man’s body was perfect and ‘naturally’ great smelling. The hygiene product was there only to ENHANCE the natural attributes that the man possesses. TAG body spray is the overdone version of this typical kind of men’s hygiene product advertising. I guess bottom line, it’s f*’d up that the message to women about our bodies is that we’re not acceptable or natural as we are. These hygiene products are deemed necessary for women, but NOT for men according to the media. Men’s bodies can only be ENHANCED with hygiene products. What does this tell us from a young age: Women = unnatural, smelly, dirty bodies; Men = natural, healthy normal bodies.

In The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler talks about the fact that women are taught from an early age to NEVER talk about our vaginas. Consequently, this implies that our vaginas’ activities like menstruation should similarly never be spoken about. Why is it that we can’t TALK about our periods (other than in hushed conversation with a girlfriend)? My first memory of menstruation was at age fourteen waiting in my parents car while my stepmom went inside the store to get me some pads. She returns to the car and hands me her purchase. With a hushed voice she instructs me to be discrete about my period so no one ever KNOWS when I’m having it. She instructed me to wrap my pads in kleenex and hide them in the trash as if they never existed.

It was as if I was hiding a shameful terrible secret no one was ever to find out about, unless they followed my trail of unbiodegradable ‘discretely’ wrapped pads. The underlying message is that women are supposed to pretend that we don’t go through a natural process because it’s thought to be deemed ‘unnatural’ by various corporations and their media ads suggesting that we ought to ‘CLEAN IT UP’ with their various line of douches, sanitary wipes, pads with bleach and other harsh chemicals. Did the pioneer women have pads that came with freshening wipes? WTF?

It reminds me of Gloria Steinem’s awesome piece, “If Men Could Menstruate”. In this article she discusses what it might be like if the roles were reversed. She talks about the fact that not only would men have a discourse about their periods, but they would be proud of this natural process. In this hypothetical world, “street guys would brag, ‘I’m a three pad man!’ or answer praise from a buddy (“Man you looking good!”) by giving high fives and saying, ‘Yeah, man I’m on the rag!’ “. This is an aweome message from Steinem stressing that the lack of discourse leads to negative messages about women’s bodies when they are menstruating (that they are shameful, dirty, unnatural and need to be cleaned up and changed). This message is further validated by the media telling women in magazine ads that their vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like a vagina, but like a flower garden. I don’t know about you, but I would be freaked out having intimate relations with a partner to discover that their genitals smelled like honeysuckle and petunias, it’s totally unnatural if you ask me.

Unfortunately, older generations of women still conform to these normalized unnatural hygiene standards imposed on women. For example, ‘old school’ women like my stepmom still engage in ‘douching’ their vaginas. This phenomenon has always shocked me.. To engage in a monthly ritural that messes up your vagina’s Ph levels, normal bacteria, and overall vaginal health in order to make its natural scent conform to some impossible vagina scent standard (fresh floral scent). It’s time to put away the douches baby boomers and tell our friends and female relatives to stop buying the uncomfortable, expensive, enviornmentally toxic disposable pads.

I recently bought those enviornmentally friendly Lunapads that I had previously stereotyped as ‘gross hippie pads’. However, I was totally wrong in my previous assumptions. They save you about $100/yr (and last 3yrs), don’t have plastic, adhesive diaper qualities like disposable pads, don’t use bleach and other harsh chemicals that mess up vaginas, they come in cool designs, and don’t trap odor because they’re cotton. It’s weird how a small thing like not buying regular pads that you pretty much assumed you’d be buying for the rest of your life can feel the least bit significant. It feels kind of freeing and nice to not have to be embarrassed about your period by having to buy them or leaving trails of disposable ones wherever you go. It also feels good to help the enviornment in a small way. Just the thought of the fact that used disposable pads can outlive a woman (scary) and her hypothetical children’s existence on this earth was enough motivation to make me re-think buying ‘normal’ pads for the rest of my life.

Kara M.
Carbondale, IL

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  • Deb

    Thanks for posting. I completely agree.

    Furthermore, it’s much better having something soft and organic next to my privileged parts than something plastic.