Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Did My Tampon Become a Fortune Cookie?

Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, some corporate geniuses decided that tampons should come packaged with perky self-help style advice. I can see the business meeting now: “Hey, I know what a menstruating girl or woman might need at ‘that time of the month’ alongside product absorbency! How about some inspiration!”

And so, this morning’s plastic tampon wrapper (I know, I know, I should be using a non-plastic brand, or a diva cup but go with me here) nearly shouted at me with the rah-rah force of a pom-pom wielding cheerleader:

“Don’t Stress!” “Play to Win!” and, worst of all, “You’re a take-charge kind of girl!” it shrieked.
I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to take pseudo-Eastern sounding mysticism from the tag of my tea bag, but I draw the line at inspiring tampon covers.
So, I guess my real question is this: When did girl power go amok?

I just came back from the National Women’s Studies Association conference, where there were lots of interesting panels on girl’s movements and girlhood related politics. Some panel names were:
  • Hey Shorty! Young Women of Color Take Research Out of the Academy
  • The Sexualization of Girls Across Time, Space and Cultural Mediums
  • Today, Not Someday When We’re Grown: How Girls ‘Do’ Activism
  • Representing Girlhood and Girls of Color, From Hip-Hop to Health
Awesome, right? (I wish I could have attended them all!)

Girl’s activism is a real and formidable force in the U.S. and around the world. But in broader culture, “girl power” has become heavily usurped–a snazzy marketing ploy by corporate forces who want to appeal to women and girl’s pocketbooks, not our politics. I know there’s been a lot of attention to steering women and girls away from passive “pink” marketing like books from Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers Schemes to Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of New Girlie-Girl Culture. But what about the taking over of “girl power” for marketing ends?

Consider the controversial Gardasil “One Less” commercials, featuring seemingly empowered, soccer playing girls also choosing to get vaccinated against HPV. (So… all girls who are empowered will get the HPV vaccine? Or alternately, get the HPV vaccine and become empowered?) Or, how about the Dove Clinical Protection deodorant ads in which a young woman cuts her own bangs with nail scissors (ooh, rebellious!) before deciding she will “Carpe Diem” today. Or, even the “Be Unstoppable” ads for Playtex Sports Tampons, which seem to shout (at least in my head), “Wear our tampons! Become a champion surfer!”

To read the rest of this post, please go here!


  1. You are probably already familiar with Roy Fox's wonderful look at how Channel One--the television programming that was being forced into the homerooms of in many public schools. He published a book called Harvesting Minds; his research on media literacy is both fascinating and a strong argument for parents to take control of what messages are brought into the home.

  2. This is a wonderful article! Wow! I'm inspired! I'm very interested in the point you made about the tampon cover addressing you, the reader, as a 'girl!' I'm wondering if real honest-to-goodness women were just left out of the marketing equation here, or if the assumption is that women will feel better (and buy more) if they are perceived (and thus addressed) as young, hip, spunky, and cute, rather than the dreaded OLD. Real girls (the adolescent ones), by being addressed as spunky and hip are made to feel older, perhaps. They are unique and capable of going out and getting it! for themselves. So females of all ages are spun together into this perpetually cute, commodified, looks-conscious and hyper age-conscious group... That could be totally off-base, but your article sure made me think...

  3. At no age would I have been inspired by these things...except maybe to make mocking, satirical art.

  4. Thanks for the visit healthscope! I actually think very few of the target audience of this product (ie. tampon buyers) can be classified as girls, right? From about age 15-Menopause I'm pretty sure we're all women not girls, and how many newly menstruating girls/young women actually use tampons (yet)? I say if you're old enough to menstruate, and have figured out how to use a tampon, you should probably be called a young woman! And I agree, it is this "perpetually cute, commodified..." etc. category the word creates, right?

    And mumsyjr - I would be most delighted to see any "mocking satirical art" you would make from these tampon covers - actually I think that would be a hilarious and smart art project! thanks for the visit

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