Groundbreaking tampon ads still can’t use the word “vagina”
A new advertising campaign by U for Kotex has done what no menstrual product company has done before—create an ad that is not only straightforward about menstruation, but also pokes fun at its own history of vague and sanitized ads. Both reasons make this ad campaign groundbreaking, but for some reason, you still can’t say “vagina” on TV.
The commercial (below) stars a hip, 20-something woman mocking the standard menstrual product commercials, which feature young, pretty women dancing, doing yoga, or just being smiley in tight, white clothing. She also takes a well-deserved shot at the infamous "blue liquid."
I think it's safe to say this ad demonstrates a victory for feminists, especially those weighing in on pop culture and advertising like Sarah Haskins and the dedicated feminist communities online and elsewhere. Social media has also allowed the voices of women to be heard--letting advertisers know that women are paying attention and are ready for a change from the same old sexist "man" ads and patronizing "lady" ads. But, as you might imagine, the battle is far from over.
According to the New York Times, the Kotex ad originally used the word "vagina," and because of this gross breach of TV etiquette, it was rejected by three major networks. The company then shot the ad using the phrase "down there," and it was still rejected by 2 out of 3 networks. Is the word "vagina" really too risque for the American public? The UbyKotex website asks visitors to sign a “Declaration of Real Talk,” to defy the social pressure that discourages women from speaking out about their bodies and health. But how can an advertisement (or any other TV programming) really disucss women's health if they cannot utter the anatomically correct names for our body parts, or even euphamisms like "down there?"
Jewish women have been fighting this stigma of shame for years. Our history is full of women's health activists, some of whom include Esther Rome, coauthor of Our Bodies, Ourselves, who campaigned to get warning labels on tampon boxes about the risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and Lorraine Rothman, an early leader of the self-help health movement (a phenomenon of early 1970s women’s lib that involved groups of women using a speculum to look at each other’s cervixes--read more about it here). And we cannot forget the pivotal work of Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues--an entire play designed to challenge the taboo of speaking about one's vagina.
We have come a long way, and the UbyKotex campaign is proof that we are making progress. But there is still work to be done. Until society recognizes that "vagina" is not a dirty word (or dirty in any other way), the gag order will continue to create a barrier to healthcare for women.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Groundbreaking tampon ads still can’t use the word “vagina”." 19 March 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 26, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/still-cant-say-vagina-on-tv>.