Picture this a seven-year-old girl is watching her favourite tv show when an advertisement begins-a distraught young woman is feeling uncomfortable and is unable to sleep well. So, she uses a said product that absorbs an unidentifiable blue liquid and the woman wakes up next morning all bright-eyed and happy, proceeding to skip and perform all sorts of acrobatics. To a seven-year-old, this advertisement might be the last thing she thinks about but, to more than 350 million-plus menstruating women and girls, it is an uncomfortable reality.
The first ad in print regarding sanitary napkins and belts appeared around 1920, which promised discretion, convenience, and a remedy for an intimate women problem. Hundred years later, yet this practice in the advertisement industry concerning menstruation sadly has not gone out of use.
But why bother ourselves with adverts that last a minute or two on the small screen? Advertisements for menstrual products are an important source of knowledge and information regarding periods for people. Due to its reach towards a greater audience, adverts have the power either to spread the stigma and shame around menstruation or to inform and empower the viewers.
The main talking points in these adverts are about the super lock gels and ultra-lock technologies that help provide maximum protection against leakages and sanitary pads that can absorb blood for 12 hours; yet wearing a pad for more than 4-5 hrs is shown to lead in an increased risk of fibroids, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Problems like premenstrual syndrome (PMS), cramps, bloating, take a back seat in advertisements where women are shown to overcome any physical challenge on using a sanitary pad. Ironically, a sanitary pad commercial never uses the word ‘period’ instead a very interesting phrase ‘mahine ke char din’ [those four days of the month] is used.
However, advertisements are not the only source of information about menstruation, movies and tv shows also play a large part. Take a scene from the highly popular show Game of Thrones, where Sansa Stark wakes up worried and scared to find blood on her bed as it now means that she can conceive right before she is forced to have sex. The incident serves as a hard-hitting reminder that periods have historically been a sign of “becoming a woman” and a girl’s ability to have children – often against her will. In the film Superbad, the issue of lack of information regarding menstruation is brought to light wherein upon seeing a period stain on the lead actor’s jeans, two young men are terrified in shock at the sight of it.
Movies, series and ads often reflect societal attitudes and beliefs on the big and small screens. Consumption of this mass media helps in propagating information, but when knowledge about a common, biological phenomenon is shrouded in secrecy and misinformed what can we even learn?
I do not bleed blue every month, neither does the girl next door. So why is menstruation so stigmatized in the mainstream media?
Red is a colour that symbolizes power, strength, fertility and fierceness. Dating back to the Puranas, Mother Goddess (goddess of fertility) has been represented as a woman decked up in a red sari. Then how come such a pure colour has been today reduced to hushed whispers at the back of the class? Why is the female body victimized for its fertility? Why has the media contributed to this taboo?
This misinterpretation of red (menstruation) and sanitary pads is a sad reality. The only way to bring about a change in this attitude is by having informative, bold and confident voices and not any murmurs or whispers as there is no need to shy away from talking about menstruation whether it be on-screen or off the screen.
Written by Aricia Bahl for MTTN
Edited by Nitya Sai T for MTTN
Featured image by www.giveher5.org/
Artwork by Marcy Gooberman/talktabu