Ad complaints show a long way to go in destigmatising periods

Evelyn Lewin

18/09/2019 3:14:37 PM

A new advertisement showing menstrual blood has been called ‘offensive and inappropriate’, but Dr Evelyn Lewin believes it is a step in the right direction.

Woman's pad
According to research by the company that made the ad, 70% of young Australian young women would rather fail a class than have their peers known they’re having their period.

It’s no secret that women menstruate.
Yet a new ad depicting menstrual blood has caused such outrage, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was somehow a rare occurrence that afflicts an unlucky few.
The ad by Asaleo Care, the makers of Libra pads, tampons and liners, shows the hands of someone in a white lab coat pouring red liquid onto a sanitary pad, as opposed to the standard blue liquid long used in such advertising campaigns.
It also features images of blood trickling down a woman’s leg in the shower, scenes of women who appear to be in pain, and girls passing each other pads in a classroom.
The ad finishes with a woman peeling off a bloodied sanitary pad.
The final tagline is, ‘Why is it considered unacceptable to show period blood?
‘Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.’
Perhaps not surprisingly, the ad has not been well received by many.
Ad Standards, which manages complaints against the advertising industry, has reportedly received more than 600 objections to the ad (it has dismissed them all).
According to media and marketing company Mumbrella, that makes it the most complained about ad of the year.
Complainants deemed the ad, among other things, ‘distasteful,’ ‘unnecessary’, ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate’.
Despite these objections, the watchdog was satisfied that the depiction of bodily fluids did not constitute a breach of the Code of Ethics.
The new ad is part of the #bloodnormal advertising campaign, aimed to normalise menstruation.
The makers say it is designed to ‘imagine a world where women and girls don’t have to hide anymore, where there is no shame attached to changing your pad in a toilet, asking for a pad at a dinner party or carrying your pad without hiding it’.
Personally, I love that idea and think normalising periods is a great step forward for women’s health.
And, according to research by Asaleo Care, it is much needed.
They say their research shows three in four Australian women believe there is greater stigma attached to periods than there is to drugs or STIs. A further eight out of 10 women say they go to great lengths to hide their periods.
While these numbers are worrying, I think the most shocking statistic they revealed was that 70% of young Australian women would rather fail a class than have their peers know they’re having their period.
Clearly, there remains a stigma around menstruation that needs to be addressed.
To be honest, I can see how the part of the ad that showed real menstrual blood has some people up in arms.
‘Bodily secretions shouldn’t be shown on TV ads,’ one complainant noted.
‘I wouldn’t expect a toilet paper advertisement to show faeces on toilet paper, or an advertisement showing nasal secretions for tissues.’
But, to me, the controversy about whether or not to show red liquid and menstrual blood on TV is not the real issue.
The real issue, I believe, is the ongoing stigma surrounding menstruation.
So I applaud the decision to include a scene where a woman asks someone across a table at a dinner party for a pad.
I also support the inclusion of a scene which shows an email which in part reads, ‘I am having a very heavy period so will be working from home today’.
More than that, I welcome the idea of a #bloodnormal campaign designed to reduce stigma regarding periods.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Raelia Lew agrees.
She told newsGP that she remembers growing up seeing blue liquid in ads used to simulate menstrual flow.
‘The subtext of this is that “real” menstrual blood is in some way unsanitary, distasteful and unacceptable for a general audience,’ she said.
‘In fact, menstrual flow is a normal part of life as a woman.’
Dr Lew also supports the way ad it depicts true menstrual bleeding.
‘I think in many ways it’s great to demystify and destigmatise the normal processes of the female body,’ she said.
‘The female body is miraculous. It’s not dirty or shameful to menstruate. It’s a fact and part of the cycle of life.’  
Is showing menstrual blood on TV confronting?
For some viewers, the answer is clearly yes.
But Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in gender studies at the University of Melbourne, challenged this idea, noting that other types of blood are frequently seen on TV.
‘It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: is it because you haven’t seen it on film and TV and therefore you’ve built up the stigma, in a way that you don’t feel grossed out about the blood that comes from a knife wound?’ she said.
Aside from the controversy about showing menstrual blood, I think the messages the ad is trying to convey are on point. Because, as Dr Lew noted, menstruation is a normal, everyday part of life, and nothing to be ashamed of.
And women should not be made to feel otherwise.

menstrual blood menstruation periods stigma

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JD   19/09/2019 9:02:44 AM

While the underlying intention of destigmatising menstruation is a good one - I agree that women should not feel "dirty" because they menstruate - I do wonder whether you are making assumptions about the reasons why people complained about these ads.

I don't think that the issue is necessarily about whether menstruation is "normal" or "natural", but more whether it is distasteful to show it unexpectedly in a TV ad. There are other normal bodily functions that would be distasteful to depict in a TV ad at 7pm. Should we destigmatise defecation by showing a toilet-paper ad with graphic images of faecally-stained toilet paper and people straining on the toilet?

People make their own choices about what they are willing to see on TV. If they don't want to see bloody knife wounds, they avoid watching movies and shows that are expected to depict those images. Ads can circumvent that decision without warning.

Manuela Mauro   19/09/2019 9:14:53 AM

Great article Evelyn - completely agree

Dr Peter J Strickland   19/09/2019 2:08:44 PM

The reality of a normal young women's life is not a "shock" --it has existed since time immemorial, and the truth. What is not the truth is all these pseudo-scientists frightening young children with a non-existent climate emergency, and now certain to cause increased mental illness in those who don't realise that they have been hoodwinked, and now with a possible increase in suicide and inability to cope even more with normal pressures of life, and fluctuations and variations in our weather I have seen over more than 75 years. As an example CO2 is now produced by nearly 27 mill. Homo sapiens now in Australia compared to 7 mill. when I was a child, and just from normal breathing in populated areas! Compare that to world -wide population and animal increases. Climate problems lie outside Australia, and are reversible by a nuclear power age, and protecting forests and oceans, and done slowly.

A.Prof John William Kramer   19/09/2019 6:21:35 PM

About time that we acknowledged that up to half the human race will bleed vaginally at regular intervals!

Julie Douglass   24/09/2019 6:48:16 AM

I don’t agree periods are stigmatised but like other body excretions private in our society
Polite people dont talk about their bowel motions at the dinner table do we really want ads showing faeces or nasal secretions on “the most ” absorbent paper”all girls are free to discuss their periods with who they chose so where is the problem
Sickness certificates don’t need to disclose the nature of the illness unless the patient wishes for privacy