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Girly Business May 10, 2007

Posted by jsaffold in commercials, menstruation, relationships with men.
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Along with my comment on Jennifer’s post about tampon commercials, this is a Dr. Pepper commercial that pretty much speaks for itself: the guy is doing all these girly things for his girlfriend like folding her underwear, holding her purse, holding an umbrella over her and her shopping bags. The beginning part is really funny but I’ll let you all watch the commercial; you’ve probably seen it before. It goes along with my questions about male aversion to all-things-period. I’ll repost my comment here in case anyone missed it:

The last commercial (the Playtex Sport commercial with the cheerleaders doing stunts) in particular cracks me up because I was watching television with a guy friend and he was grossed out by all the flips and activity the cheerleaders were doing. The little song in the commercial goes “step up, let the fun begin” and when he heard that he said “Aren’t they afraid that they’re going to squirt somebody in the eye? They need to sit their asses down.” At first I couldn’t stop laughing, because many males have these vast misconceptions of what menstruation actually is like, and granted while they have no personal experience with it, the “squirting” and “gushing” (sorry, this is getting gross) descriptions is just so hyperbolic. This is all to touch on males’ relationship with periods–in my experience it is mostly one big gross-out factor for guys. We were talking in class about how young girls are often protected from knowing about the gory details of pregnancy and menstruation–young boys, at least from what i’ve seen, are kept at an even greater distance from even knowing about the logistics of how they came into the world, or what really happened on their “birthday.” This lack of knowledge seems to persist into adolescence and early adulthood when, though men may be aware of what happens, they have no interest in really knowing about it or, God forbid, seeing anything having to do with it. The aforementioned friend even grimaces when we walk past the pad/tampon aisle in the drugstore. But I’m not saying all these things to say that my friend is insensitive, because I think that his reactions are definitely socialized and I wouldn’t be surprised if many guys acted the same way. Periods and babies are definitely “girly business,” and while certainly men are becoming more and more involved in childrearing and sometimes births, menstruation and all associated symbols are left among women, and men seem content to have it that way. But I cannot claim to be able to speak from even one man’s perspective so it would be interesting to gain a male view on the amount of knowledge children receive about stuff like periods and how that knowledge manifests itself later in life. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever known a guy who rushes past the pad/tampon aisle, or as he calls it, “the period place.”

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1. lindamc - May 13, 2007

I saw this commercial on TV and thought the exact same things! Except that these commercials always annoy me because they are placed from a man’s point of view entirely, and so they “girl power” over her boyfriend is always shot down when she tries to enter his world and take the male-aimed product that is only for guys (Dr. Pepper, I remember some other food commercials like this: chips, beer, etc). She is excluded from a man’s world, but he is allowed to enter hers, even though he doesn’t want too. This part is particularly important because it emphasizes that a girls world is something (like I think Marina said in class the other day) to overcome. Just like periods and other girly stuff, guys are able to enter the world if they so choose to help out their girl friend, but these commercials hint that it can’t be reversed. I could even go so far as to say that with the growing populairty of the gay male best friend (shows like sex and the city, will and grace, etc) it is becoming even easier for men to share in the female world; if they want to stoop that low.

2. 1bear - October 17, 2007

Dunno if a “male view” is still of any interest so long after the post but …

I’ve always had the feeling that women don’t feel comfortable talking about menstruation in front of men.

The impression I get is that it’s not (mainly) that they fear embarrassing the guys, but more that they feel menstruation is something not to be talked about in front of us. The one or two women whom I’ve asked “why the secrecy?” have said they’re not being sure where it comes from either. The only coherent reason I recall (from one woman) was “Men wouldn’t understand”.

I could imagine that, like other forms of prudishness, reluctance to mention menstruation in male company is largely habit and circular peer-group pressure.

As for how well-informed children (and hence men) are about menstruation … at my all-boys school in mid-1970s Britain, biology lessons covered the technicalities of human reproduction in almost mind-numbing detail, and that included “the menstrual cycle” (graphs of hormone levels, ovulation, this tube, that lining, etc., etc.). Back then, we could all answer quite complex scientific questions about reproduction (note “reproduction”, not “sex”) but virtually nothing was said about how women experience menstruation, the practicalities like dealing with PMS/pads/tampons, social/cultural questions. And I’d say that was fairly typical.

Sex education (at my mixed junior school, around age 9) was really just “reproduction education”. Virtually nothing about sexuality, and certainly nothing about periods.

A former girlfriend told me how all the girls in her school class were taken off for a talk about periods and given strict instructions not to tell the boys what the talk had been about. Not sure what age that was, but imagine it was just before puberty.

Sundry other anecdotes more-or-less on-topic …

My sister quite casually saying “So-and-so isn’t coming swimming with us because she’s got her period” and our mother being scandalized that she’d say that in front of me.

Feeling terrifically honoured that I was the second person my sister told when she started her periods — after that friend and before our mother (possibly because Mum was away at the time).

Standing at the bus-stop with a girl at college (not a particularly close friend) and her quite unembarrassedly complaining to me about menstrual cramps.

A girl at college being totally astonished, a bit embarrassed and very relieved to discover that guys do know about periods. She was convinced that men didn’t know about periods. OK, so she’d been at a Catholic all-girls school, but still … she was 18 or 19 at this point!

A woman in my army unit (what you’d call the ROTC in the US) trying to play on men’s’ supposed embarrassment about periods to get out of coming on exercise, telling me (her boss) that she couldn’t come because of “female problems”. She was supposed to be joining the regular army after college, as an officer, and I put it to her bluntly that she could hardly tell her troop “Sorry chaps, can’t come to war with you right now, time of the month and all that.” Another girl emerged from the toilet just as we were talking and was even more blunt “I come on exercise when I’ve got my period, so can you!” That was the end of that!

A friend who has a jar of tampons clearly visible in her toilet, reminiscent of a jar of candy. In contrast to all those women who have them thoroughly concealed. This is the same friend who went off to the toilet in a café and then came back to the table a mixed group of us were sitting at saying “That was a wasted journey. I only wanted to change my tampon and I forgot to take the sodding thing with me.”

A friend who’d borrowed my bathrobe and left a tampon case in the pocket containing a couple of tampons. Rather embarrassed when I returned it. That was many years ago, before she’d ever had a boyfriend. She’s now married with two children. Interestingly, seems to have got beyond that now, as she quite unconcernedly spent quite a while deciding what tampons to buy when we were in the supermarket together more recently. Seemed no longer embarrassed, just annoyed that her period was due.

Of course, one of the effects of avoiding talking about menstruation with guys present is that they get the idea that it’s something to be embarrassed about. So when the topic comes up, they are indeed embarrassed (e.g. rushing past the pad/tampon aisle), confirming the woman’s feeling that periods are something not to be mentioned with guys around.

I’ve been blessed with a sister, girlfriends and female friends who seem to find it OK to mention their periods when I’m around, but I would have had precious little idea if it weren’t for them. Today, the information is all available on the web. But that didn’t exist when I was growing up. And the fact that the information’s out there is no guarantee that guys will go and look for it — especially those who most need to!


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