Men in Menstruation: Vinnie’s Tampon Case

Activism, FemCare, Humor, Independent Film, Internet, Men, Menstruation

We’ve had a couple of productive discussions recently here at re:Cycling about men and menstrual humor, so it seems a good time to introduce Vinnie D’Angelo, creator of Vinnie’s Tampon Case. Therese Shecter has graciously shared this clip from her thought-provoking film, I Was A Teenage Feminist.

I’ve written about Vinnie and the role of men in menstrual activism before, in the “Menstrual Counterculture” chapter of my book, Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation. Here is a brief excerpt from that chapter:

According to interviews, D’Angelo’s motivation in developing his tampon cases was to help out his female friends. He would see them fishing in purses or backpacks for a tampon and retrieve “a mangled applicator and a lump of cotton with old gum stuck to the string” (quoted in Raappana). He also liked the idea of changing attitudes toward menstruation. . . . Interviews with D’Angelo reveal a feminist sensibility that extends beyond providing menstrual support.

[ . . . .]

I confess to some ambivalence here: I am uncertain what men’s role should be in celebrating menstruation. I appreciate [Harry] Finley’s genuine curiosity, and I admire D’Angelo’s feminist approach and his lack of squeamishness. I’m glad to see men talking about menstruation and not insisting that it remain hidden. I like D’Angelo’s playful, accepting attitude toward menstruation, but at the same time I find the fact that he has built a cottage industry of it vaguely exploitive. No one is harmed by his products, of course, but it is more than a little ironic that someone who doesn’t menstruate launched this successful line of whimsical, self-conscious menstrual products. On the other hand, perhaps D’Angelo’s masculinity adds a social legitimacy (as well as a humorous novelty element, as he has noted in interviews) that a woman’s name would not carry in the current cultural climate. And he’s great with the clever slogans: He owns the domain name, and recent ads for his tampon case say, “Don’t let your period cramp your style.”

What do you think, re:Cycling readers? How do you feel about the fact that two of the most visible examples of menstrual activism in the U.S., Vinnie’s Tampon Case and Harry Finley’s Museum of Menstruation, are created and promoted by nonmenstruators? Does it matter if these ventures are commercially successful? (Just for the record, Finley has received no financial benefit – only internet notoriety – from the Museum of Menstruation. Since introducing his eponymous tampon case in the late 1990s, D’Angelo has also developed Vinnie’s Giant Roller Coaster Period Chart and Sticker Book, and Vinnie’s Cramp Relieving Bubble Bath, which is also available packaged with Vinnie’s Soothing Bubble Beats CD of “music to menstruate by”. I do not know how profitable these products are for him.)

Time-limited opportunity! Don’t delay!

anatomy, Communication, Internet, New Research, Newspapers, Ovulation, Reproduction

Cartoon: I can't believe I forgot to have childrenThere’s been quite a bit of internet buzz during the last week or so about a study conducted at University of St Andrews and Edinburgh University by Tom Kelsey, in which he and his colleagues develop a computer model of how a woman’s supply of eggs declines over time. The scaremongering accompanying news reports of this study is reminiscent of the 1980s kerfuffle about how women over 40 were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to be married. Some headlines are proclaiming “Women lose 90% of eggs by age 30” and advising women who want to be parents to act quickly. Some are even recommending fertility screening analogous to cancer screening.

Before you ladies under 30 rush off to get impregnated, let me point out a few things. First, this study is a computer model. It is not definitive evidence that women cannot conceive after 30. Second, there has been ongoing new research in the last several years that suggests mammals may be able to produce new ova, contrary to conventional doctrine that females have a fixed reserve of egg cells enclosed in the ovaries at birth. Although there are many skeptics, there is still a great deal that is unknown about how the ovaries work.

Third, it only takes one egg cell to make a baby.

Introducing the iPad

Communication, FemCare, Humor, Internet, Language, Television

Word on the street is that Apple is introducing their first tablet computer today. With their usual flourish, they’ve named it . . . wait for it . . . the iPad.

ETA: The ladies at Jezebel have published more than one compilation of period-related iPad jokes. A sample:

Are you there, God? It’s me, Marketing.

Don’t make fun. The iPad is the technology of the future. Period.

Can I get a scented iPad for when my data feels not-so-fresh?

Edited again to add: The Week has an interesting comparison of historical femcare slogans and Apple slogans – more similar than one might expect.

[Video via Lunapads]

Don’t Let The Cat(amenial) Out

Communication, Language, Media, Television

Word Search puzzle featuring menstrual cycle termsGuest Post by David Linton, Manhattan Marymount College

A short item in the February 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine captures, yet again, how nervous some folks are about any mention of matters menstrual.  The piece referred to the publication of a list of words and terms that were blacklisted from use in crossword puzzles and other word games by a British computer program called Crossword Compiler.

Among the partial list of problematic terms, along with others such as bollocksing, bonk, clitoridectomy, fanny, nooky, ruttish, sapphic, sexy and shtup, was the word “catamenial.”  This rather arcane term is one of the more obscure references to the period, more likely to appear in medical or, surprisingly, broadcasting documents.

For the first 25 years of commercial TV’s existence in the US, the National Association of Broadcasters specifically banned the advertising of feminine sanitary products.  It was not until 1972 that the ban was lifted and a year later, 1973, the first mention of the menstrual cycle appeared in a ground breaking episode of All in the Family.

Once the ban was lifted, strict rules were put in place.  Network “standards and practices” guidelines detailed how and when menstrual products could be advertised using the most non-colloquial language they could find.  For example, NBC’s “Personal Products Advertising Guidelines” included a sub-category labeled “Catamenial Devices and Panty Shields,” and ABC used a similar phrase, “Catamenial Devices, Panty Shields, Douche Products”

Use of this Greek derivative (meaning to occur periodically) captures the sense of mystery and semantic evasion characteristic of the way menstruation is commonly discussed.  It is noteworthy that the guidelines issued by ABC, CBS and NBC all avoided any use of the more common terms, menstruation and period.  Furthermore, the most common generic terms used to apply to the products themselves are also avoided.  Nowhere in the network guidelines is there a reference to pads, napkins or tampons.

Not only is the language of the network advertising guidelines sanitized (so to speak), but the rules for ad content insured that the ads themselves would be similarly discrete.  In this regard, the most important rule was that men have no significant presence in the ads.  The NBC guidelines stated that, “Use of mixed social situations is limited to incidental appearances.”  CBS insisted that “Sexual themes are unacceptable.”  ABC agreed that, “The use of either children or mixed social situations in advertising is acceptable when incidental and unrelated to the product.”

The rise of cable TV has altered the menstrual landscape considerably, yet evasions continue to prevail.  As I type this observation, my spell check repeatedly underlines the word “catamenial” in red, and when I ask what the preferred spelling is I learn that it is “cat menial,” whatever that could possibly mean.  So here’s an invitation to re:Cycling readers.  If the folks at Crossword Compiler decide to rescind their ban, what crossword clue would you suggest as an appropriate one for the word catamenial?

Be part of the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves

Activism, books, Communication, Sex

Cover of OUR BODIES, OURSELVESOur Bodies, Ourselves is seeking up to two dozen women to participate in an online discussion on sexual relationships.

Stories and comments may be used anonymously in the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, which will be published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster.

We are seeking the experience and wisdom of heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women. Perspectives from single women are encouraged, and you may define relationship as it applies to you, from monogamy to multiple partners. We are committed to including women of color, women with disabilities, and women of many ages and backgrounds.

In the words of the brilliant anthology “Yes Means Yes,” how can we consistently engage in more positive experiences? What issues deserve more attention? And how do we address social inequities and violence against women? These are some of the guiding questions that will help us to update the relationships section in “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

The conversation will start Sunday, Feb. 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day) and stay open through Friday, March 12.

Participants will be invited to answer relevant questions (see sample below) and build on the responses of other participants. We’ll use a private Google site to post questions and responses.

Personal stories and reflections are welcomed, along with updated research and media resources. While we hope to use some of the stories and experiences in the book, names will not be published.

We hope the open process* will spark robust discussion. We expect new questions to arise that challenge us to re-work this section even more.

If you would like to participate in this conversation, please e-mail OBOS editorial team member Wendy Sanford:

In your email, please tell us about yourself and what you would bring to the conversation. We need to hear from you by Feb. 5 Feb. 3 and will let you know soon thereafter about participation. Thanks for considering this!

*We have thought a great deal about privacy. If you want to share a story or information, but do not want to participate in the private Google site discussion, please indicate that in your email. We may send you questions that you can answer on your own.

* * * * * *
Sample Questions
Participants can suggest other questions

How do you define — and express — intimacy?

What are you looking for in a relationship? What kind of relationship do you seek at this time in your life — monogamous, non-monogamous, long-term, short-term, one partner or more than one? How is this related to being a woman or to your gender or sexual identity in the society(ies) and culture(s) to which you belong?

What do you enjoy most about being sexual?

What are your experiences in a relationship that spans differences such as class, race, age, physical or mental ability, chronic illness, other?

How does it affect your relationships when you are with someone whom the world gives more or less power than you have — because of race, income, gender or disability?

What role has love played or not played in your relationships?

Describe a time when you realized that despite the romantic images you may have grown up with, a relationship you intended to stay in over time was going to be work.

What are some obstacles that can get in the way of our relationships? What images or stereotypes in popular culture add to the difficulties?

What helps? What books or other resources do you trust to speak honestly about relationships?

What is it like to be in a relationship with a man/with a woman when you don’t like some or all of your own body?

How have specific acts of sexual violence against you, or general societal/cultural acceptance of violence against women or LGBT people, affected your intimate sexual relationships?

If you have been in intimate sexual relationships with both women and men, are there special dynamics and challenges that you have noticed in each?

If you have experience with online dating networks, what would you want someone to know who was just starting to explore that venue? What are the safety issues?

[Re-posted from Our Bodies, Our Blog]

It’s Official: At Least One SNL Writer Fears and Disrespects Women’s Bodies

Celebrities, Communication, FemCare, Television

Guest Post by Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University

First, it was Tampax, and then it was Vagisil. But it’s good they didn’t leave out Summer’s Eve. And I expect Midol (for those irritating PMS-y women) and something about menopausal women’s hot flashes (can’t they control themselves with hormone therapies?) to be next. Although probably SNL writers aren’t savvy enough yet to even contemplate what menopause is or how they feel about it, so they’ll probably stick with skits that revolve around women’s body parts and younger women’s reproductive experiences.

I was frustrated with SNL’s skit about ESPN’s coverage of a women’s billiards tournament, “Tampax to the Max Tournament of Champions” (see my blog post about it). I was disgusted and concerned that SNL writers revised this skit for a second airing, to include a spoof about women’s yeast infections during a Women’s bowling tournament, “Vagisil Superstars of Bowling Tournament”. After seeing the second skit, I (along with many other critics) knew that the power of the skits was not in jokes about women’s menstruation alone but, rather, in jokes about the disgusting nature of women’s bodies more generally.

This past weekend, SNL revised the skit once again to be a skit about ESPN coverage of a women’s darts tournament, and the main sponsor was Summer’s Eve, “Summer’s Eve Stars of Darts Competition”. The skit was as dumb as it was the first two times, but the one-line jokes within the skit carried even more jarring phrases in my opinion (e.g., “when your situation down south makes him breathe through his mouth” or “when your man’s in a coma from your panty aroma”). As a trio, these skits point to the fear, dislike, and disrespect for women’s bodies. The three skits also all revolve around talk about women’s vaginas, and the mysteries, misunderstandings, fears, and disgust surrounding this body part. As a trio, the skits produce the message that vaginas are gross, that men do not understand women’s reproductive processes and conditions, and the not-so-subtle message specifically to women is that women should keep their vaginal “conditions” private and not bother men with them. Indeed, the message in the one-liners this time around is that vaginas should be good-smelling, unbloodied, and available for men’s use at all times (and no other situation is acceptable).

After watching all three skits, I think we can safely conclude the following:

  1. Commenters on our previous blog entries about these skits that thought it was “just a spoof on ESPN’s early coverage of women’s sporting events” were wrong. While this may be one of the ideas behind the initial creation of the skits, the skits’ messages move way beyond and mask this. These skits are about making fun of women’s bodies.
  2. Commenters  who suggested that SNL writers were just picking random products, and that these skits “could have very well been about Preparation H” were wrong. These skits will never be about products that everyone could use. The power of these skits is the fact that they are making fun of women’s bodies and products for only women’s bodies.
  3. One commenter on the previous blog entry about these skits also suggested that we have “been taught since childhood that vaginas and penises are serious business. Laughing at them is naughty, so we laugh at them because being naughty is fun.” Sure, this is true, but everyone also knows that when you decide to continually joke about one body part over the other funny ones, there is a reason. (Just like when that one kid was picked on over and over in elementary school – that kid wasn’t picked at random.) At least one SNL writer (and probably several, given how television writing typically works) doesn’t understand and respect women’s body parts. They understand penises and respect them and therefore aren’t joking about them in this particular skit. If they were making fun of everyone’s body parts and everyone’s products, then we wouldn’t be writing about these skits here at re:Cycling.
  4. The fact that the skits seem funny to some people — and that this skit has had enough power/popularity to be revised three times to cement the same message about women’s bodies — confirms to me that most SNL watchers do not understand that gender inequality exists and/or that it is still a problem. If there were three skits in a row that denigrated a particular racial group, people would start to notice and the skit might be taken off the air or changed. But, when we come to gender, it’s okay to trash women’s bodies and perpetuate bad ideas about women’s body parts?
  5. Kristen Wiig (the SNL actress featured in all three of these skits) must not be able to voice her opinion about what skits she participates in, and the guests on the shows (in these three cases, Drew Barrymore, Blake Lively, and Sigourney Weaver) must have no say over what they’ll do as guests on the show. I like Kristen Wiig and I don’t want her to be part of these skits. My assumption has to be that individual actresses don’t get to voice their opinion, and that SNL has a very top-down structure within which individual comedians don’t feel like they can fight back without repercussions.

The worst part of all of this is that the commentary between Pete Twinkle and Greg Stink, the two ESPN announcers featured in every skit, IS funny in its ridiculousness and if the skit’s purpose was not to denigrate women’s bodies then I would actually enjoy watching the silly banter. But the minute that the banter falls into one-liners about the denigration of women’s bodies then it becomes offensive. I would venture that, if she is willing to be honest, ANY woman watching these skits (particularly this last one) might feel offended by some of the jokes about their bodies. AND skits about Preparation H, Viagra, acne cream, anti-balding creams, anti-farting or anti-burping drugs, etc., would be just as funny!  Even though they now have three strikes against them and have confirmed their disrespect and fear of women’s bodies, SNL still has a chance to turn this skit around and let it become a more general commentary on all of the normal bodily functions and conditions we have, regardless of sex or gender. There is actually so much potential to this skit if SNL writers actually step back and take off their “let’s trash women’s bodies” hat.

I, for one, am tired of this skit, but if it continues to air I have to continue to speak out against it. I’m also tired of trying to explain why I am angry about this skit. Why don’t people get that the message across these skits is dangerous for women? I want to like SNL, but I want to think my body is normal and that the fear and disgust surrounding women’s bodies is decreasing. I know that there are many other pressing issues in our world right now, for instance, the devastation in Haiti. But, even though SNL is not causing massive destruction like an earthquake can, continual disrespect of women’s bodies has ripple effects too. Maybe it won’t kill most of us, but it can definitely lessen our quality of life and self-confidence. And if enough people keep thinking these things about our bodies, then these ideas translate into mistreatment of women in the long run.

Jane Lynch is feeling her Lady Power!

Celebrities, Communication, Menstruation

Jane Lynch just gave us another reason to join her fan club. Interviewed on the red carpet at last night’s Golden Globe event, in addition to being asked about her outfit and jewelry, Lynch was asked what was in her bag. She replied, “My invitation, a little bit of lipstick, and a tampon.”  The (male) interviewer chuckled and responded, “Are you feeling lucky tonight?” Check out her reply in the video clip at the left.

(I am bit disappointed that she wasn’t planning to make the same announcement if/when she won the award . . . )

[via Kate Harding]

Celebrities! They’re Just Like Us!

Celebrities, Communication, Internet, Menstruation

Screen shot of Katy Perry's Twitter message announcing that she is menstruating.Since I am both far too old to follow Katy Perry on Twitter and too completely uninterested in celebrities’ personal lives to read The Huffington Post (WTF? Didn’t HP used to be a political blog?), a friend had to tip me off to the big news that Katy Perry is menstruating and presumably not pregnant.

The image at right is of one of Ms. Perry’s Twitter messages from Wednesday, which reads, “ur gonna make me cry, maybe that’s my period tho. THAT’S RIGHT I’M BLEEDING. Face. Better luck next month peepz”.

As far as I’m concerned, Katy Perry can tweet about her period until the cows come home – hell, that’s what Twitter is for. And in general, the more open acknowledgment that Menstruation Exists, the better for all menstruators. But the comments on the Huffington Post article provide another fascinating study in communication about menstruation. I don’t have enough Sanity Watchers points to read all six pages (and still accumulating) of comments, but I did scan a couple of pages. Most of the comments are along the lines of “TMI” and “It’s gross to discuss that kind of stuff.” One Perry fan posted this remark:  “Katy, get pregnant fast so that you can talk about that instead of this.”

Apparently it’s acceptable to talk about the contents of one’s uterus only when it’s full.

[via my buddy genehack]