Laughing About Our Periods

Last night, I happened to catch this commercial, thanks to a couple of friends who had shared it on FB. It’s a pretty funny spot (ha) about a young girl at camp who is the first of her fellow campers to get her period, and thus, goes from friendless to the girl “in the know.” The power goes to her head, until the rest of the girls at camp start receiving their tampons and pads through the mail, courtesy of Hello Flo.

Something struck me as unique about the ad, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. When I re-watched it this morning, I realized what it was: This is the first FUNNY commercial for tampons or pads that I’ve ever seen.

The ad is getting passed around the Internet today, and seems to be getting good press for being a funny and refreshing change from the the tired old standard of young women wearing white pants as they run through a field. These commercials usually show ladies diving into a swimming pool, or playing a round of tennis, while a voice over talks about absorbency. Next, we, the audience are treated to a “lab test” where they use the same mysterious blue liquid shown in disposable diaper commercials. The voice-over discusses absorption and odor, talks about “embarrassment” and certainly does not use words like vagina, blood, menstruation, etc.

Despite the fact that the piece was written/directed by two men, there’s a hint of feminism and even progress in the Camp Gyno ad. In one minute and forty-seven seconds, we can actually get real enough to not just MENTION cramps and discomfort, but JOKE about it! The word “vagina” is used!

The point is: this commercial was written like a commercial for any other product might be. It broke the mold of what was considered “standard” and actually made light of something that most women deal with for the majority of their adult life. It set out to amuse its target audience, instead of communicating that they should be ashamed of themselves for being foul, dirty women with menstrual cycles. (Discreetly, of course.)

Coincidentally, I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants this week. In one chapter, she discusses a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live:

“There was one parody [commercial] script that I really fought for. It was back when “classic” was a big advertising trend. Coke Classic. Reebok Classic. The very very funny Paula Pell had written a script called Kotex Classic. It was as if Kotex were trying to revive nostalgia for those old 1960’s maxi pads that hooked to a belt. It featured the women in the cast enjoying fun “modern gal” activities while giant sanitary napkins poked out of their low-rise jeans. It seemed to me like an excellent parody of nostalgia-based marketing while also being a little shocking and silly, which is great for an SNL commercial. I kept bring it up in meetings only to be told that it would be “too difficult to produce.” Paula and I weren’t sure what that meant, so we we kept pressing. Finally, Steven Higgins and Jim Signorelli [SNL producer and director] sat down with us and asked us to explain. “How would we see it? Is it a thing that comes up the front? Would we have to zoom in on it? Wouldn’t the girls have to take their pants off? Would we see blood?”

And this is what Oprah would call an Aha Moment for me. They didn’t know what a maxi pad belt was. It was the moment I realized there was no “institutionalized sexism” at that place. Sometimes they just literally didn’t know what we were talking about. […] They had never been handed a fifteen-year-old Kotex product by the school nurse. But they trusted me and Paula, so I’m proud to say we made her commercial and the commercial worked.”

[Video has been taken down]

I’d be surprised to see the “Camp Gyno” commercial make it on to network TV, because it’s likely to be though of as “too crude” but it does give me hope that the future will hold big changes to the way women and girls are marketed to and represented in our advertising culture. We may have “come a long way, baby,” but we’ve still got a long way to go.

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