Do Men Need to Experience Menstruation to Dispel the Taboo Around Periods?
Half of the world's population experience periods, isn't that reason enough for the society to be 'comfortable' with periods?
Art by Mir Suhail / News18.
As a young girl, if you had ever wondered how it would be if boys from your class or your brothers or male friends also had periods, you can now see it for yourself. Thinx, a "period-proof" underwear brand, has launched its first TV campaign in the United States with an advertisement that shows a world where men menstruate.
The 'MENstruation' ad, as it is cleverly named, begins with a young boy declaring to his father that he has got his periods. After that, the advertisement shows men of various ages dealing with period days. From asking for tampons to bedsheet stains to letting his sex partner know that he is having periods, we see men navigate several social and personal situations which women face on a monthly basis. The advertisement ends on the note, "If we all had them, maybe we'll all be comfortable with them. It's time to get comfortable."
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The ad does have an unorthodox narrative, but here are a few questions that it instantly brings to mind: Do men really have to experience periods to get comfortable with the idea of the period? What kind of ridiculous society will it be where 'everyone' needs to experience something for that thing (in this case periods) to be socially acceptable? To empathise with women who constantly face discrimination, and are bullied into associating period with embarrassment according to societal standards, do men really need to be in their shoe, or rather wear their period panties? Also, by that absurd logic then to empathise with the LGBTQ community, one has to be a member of the community or to support feminism one has to be a woman.
Here is the important question that Thinx ad-makers should ponder upon, 'Half of the world's population experience periods, isn't that reason enough for the society to be 'comfortable' with periods?
In one of the interviews, the CEO of Thinx Inc, Maria Molland explained the thought process behind the ad and said, "In our first national television campaign, we are imagining the answer to this question: If all people had periods, including cisgender men, would they be normalised?". But, if you think of it, isn't this a moot question to ask? If everyone had periods, of course it will be normal. It will just be like any other body function that humans can carry out like peeing or sweating. The whole point when it comes to periods is the fact that just because only women experience it, it is used as another instrument by the patriarchy to limit women, to discriminate against them, to tell them what they can and cannot do. So, in that context, if Thinx really did want to explore a different world, it should have been a world where ONLY men have periods, and women don't and see how that would play out.
Unfortunately, across the world, the conversation around periods has been shrouded in shame, embarrassment, stigma, and misconception, which have not only contributed to human rights concerns of women and girls but also unveiled the blatant gender discrimination that women face for experiencing this monthly biological process. In several cultures, women are barred from religious places, and in some, they also cannot continue with their everyday chores and jobs. What has made things worse are the period product companies endorsing this skewed narrative for a very long time, where they go on with adverts that have absurd storylines which claim that a certain product will relieve the 'period problems/issues', and spare women the 'public embarrassment' of blood-stained clothes, etcetera.
Thankfully, in recent years, several brands have repositioned themselves as products for women's comfort, several others are trying to normalise period blood by replacing blue ink that was until now used to test the absorption capacity of pads, with blood-red ink and showing panties lined with stained pads. These are all American ads, while closer home, only a few sanitary products are beginning to fight the social stigma associated with periods, and trying to explain the importance of menstrual hygiene to a vast majority of women, especially in rural India, who sometimes face life-threating risks due to the lack of basic products that would help them to navigate through their periods in a hygienic manner.
As conversations around periods gain momentum across the world, it is important to steer it in the right direction, and including men in the conversation is a big part of it. But, it is hard to say if an advertisement which imagines a world where men have periods, and therefore, periods become a 'comfortable' truth is a step in the right direction, or constructively adds to the ongoing dialogue.
But, until now, Thinx has only got many pats on its back because of this advertisement which many are perceiving as 'bold' and inventive in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. One has to admit that this advertisement is a conversation starter, and we can never have too many of those when it comes to menstruation and its public image. In 2015, in fact, Thinx had run another interesting campaign with a bunch of minimalistic New York subway ads which also garnered a lot of attention and a whiff of controversy.
While the social message delivered through this commercial may not be spot on, it is likely to get Thinx the attention it wants from its target audience -- mostly urban women. So, as a marketing campaign, BBDO New York, the creator of this ad, in all likelihood has delivered a hit. What is more, is that it has already got some appreciative tweepals chatting about it on social media, which is just what Thinx must have wanted to do with this campaign in which it is investing a lot of money.
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