BY NEON DAMSELFISH
I have a quandary. Here I am, at my keyboard, ready to write a rant. It was going to be of those particularly fervent ones that include a lot of outrage and a fair few generalisations that I might edit out the following day, once the vehement conviction has subsided and a tweet from a stranger makes me reconsider my entire contention, and wonder if I should have written a mild-mannered letter to my local paper instead. The trouble is, I am currently looking at a pink stripy website and instead of feeling angry (the ideal emotion for a successful rant) I just feel disappointed. Disappointment is not so conducive to ranting.
The website in question is moxie.com.au. Moxie is an Australian company that makes tampons, pads and liners. The company was started by a young Australian woman, Mia Klitsas, aged only 22 at the time. Products are now sold in Australia, the US, UK, Scandinavia and South Africa. They are also sold at my local Brunswick Coles, Safeway and IGA. As someone with neither the skills nor desire to start my own business, this seems very impressive. When I was about the same age, I was being paid $14 per hour to work in after school care. There, my achievements included accidentally setting the kitchen on fire and not-so-accidentally facilitating a large-scale jelly-fight. The latter led to so many complaints from parents that my boss felt it necessary to articulate and enforce a new rule of “food is not to be used for any activity other than eating”, thus ending an era of the annual creation of macaroni Christmas decorations at the primary school. So, long story short, Mia is a bit of an entrepreneurial rock-star and undoubtedly is more skilled than me in workplace settings.
Which is why she should know better. As much as I wish it wasn’t so, the fact remains that the current advertising for Moxie tampons is downright sexist. I’ve seen these ads a few times around Melbourne’s inner suburbs in recent weeks. It’s a printed advertisement in pop art style. Two women are talking on the telephone, with one telling her friend that her boyfriend (or some other man) caught her buying tampons. “OMFG!” her friend exclaims, horrified. In the final panel, the first woman reassures her friend that she avoided disaster by buying lots of mints. The reference alludes to the Moxie tampons tin, the design of which could easily be mistaken for a tin of mints.
This is not false advertising: because of the shape and retro style, the Moxie tampon tins could indeed be mistaken for a tin of mints by an unsuspecting boyfriend who is presumably focussing on things other than tampon packaging. The problem with the advertisement is that it assumes that the purchase of tampons is something that should be hidden from men, which implies that it is something to be ashamed of. Worse, the ad not only makes the assumption, but reinforces the perception through reassuring women that tampon-purchasing can be easily hidden (and should be).
The reason I am disappointed is because I thought we were past this. I thought we had got to the stage where buying pads or tampons wasn’t something to be secretive about or ashamed of. It’s not something I go to particular lengths to hide, and assumed that others didn’t either. Hence, the advertisement is either out of touch with its audience, or we aren’t as progressive as I thought we were.
I understand that for some women, periods are gross, and these women would prefer to pretend that they don’t exist. But most of us will be buying tampons for a large portion of our adult lives, so pretending otherwise feels a bit oppressive to me. Pretending we don’t buy them is a bit like pretending we don’t get periods at all, which is reinforcing perceptions of shame from having a woman’s body which operates in the normal way. For young women in particular, this undoubtedly impacts confidence and self esteem, even in subtle ways. It also reinforces the idea that it is the responsibility of women to hide their “womanliness” from men, so as not to make men feel uncomfortable. Instead, we should be putting the responsibility on men to accept the reality of periods as part of everyday life, and as something amazing that enables women to have babies (and being able to grow a brand new human being inside yourself is pretty fricken cool).
I suspect that the endorsement of shame through the advertisement is not intentional. I assume that the advertisement was designed and approved without anyone in a Moxie marketing meeting saying “hang on, isn’t this a bit sexist?”. However, whether conscious or not, the message remains, and I am disappointed that Moxie didn’t think twice. The tins are indeed aesthetically appealing, and the pop art style of the ad is indeed trendy, but it would be possible to promote the brand without reinforcing negative messages that encourage shame.
I think Moxie can do better, particularly as a company that explicitly promotes itself as supporting and empowering young women, including teenagers. If one of those teenagers tells a friend that her boyfriend saw her buying tampons, an empowered friend might say “OMFG, it’s a total non-issue. Here, have a mint.”
Neon Damselfish is a zoologist and a project manager but sadly cannot breathe underwater. She has a weekly current affairs program on community radio and a blog, Much Too Tangible.