Will Ads Saying “Period” Be Deemed Inappropriate for Public Transit?

In a 1984 ad for Tampax, Courtney Cox became the first woman to say “period” on TV in reference to menstruation. It feels like we haven’t actually come that far since then—menstruation is often still verboten even on reality TV shows that deal with all kinds of body drama and a recent back-and-forth between New York’s public transit agency and a company that makes underwear for menstruation shows that periods are somehow still controversial content for advertisements.

Mic reports on the hubbub around an ad that underwear company Thinx wants to run on New York transit. Thinx wants to run these ads featuring grapefruits and eggs and photos of women wearing their underwear, but first the ads have to be approved by the company that handles advertising for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

I should note that period-underwear is not a new idea—companies like Lunapads and Dear Kate also market underwear specifically for that time of the month. This isn't some sort of shocking idea. But the advertising firm that handles all MTA ads, Outfront, told Thinx said that the series would not be approved if they contained the tagline “For Women With Periods.” The word that specifically raised a red flag? “Period.” When Thinx turned in the ad with the word “period” in the final copy, the agency told them they could not run the text “as is.” Over email, Outfront also reportedly told the underwear company that several of the proposed ads “seem to have a bit too much skin” and that the egg and grapefruit “regardless of the context, seems inappropriate.” 

According to Mic, Thinx director of marketing Veronica del Rosario told the agency that it was extremely disheartening that ads that speak to women wouldn’t be approved. She says the agency representative replied, “'This is not a women's issue. Don't try to make it a women's rights thing.’” The ads have not been officially rejected by the MTA, but they haven’t been approved yet, either. They’re in limbo.

Meanwhile, there’s a double standard here: There are plenty of racy and suggestive ads on the subway. While the period-underwear next to a grapefruit raises alarm, New Yorkers are exposed to this ad using citrus as a stand-in for breasts.

What’s clearly going on here is squeamishness around open discussion of menstruation. The taboo around talking about periods is very real. The pushback to this ad campaign is reminiscent of the response artist Rupi Kaur received when she posted a photo of a woman with a spot of menstrual blood on her pants and bed on Instagram. The photo was removed on the grounds that it was “unacceptable.” The unwillingness to have menstruation be part of “acceptable” conversation has big real-life impacts: It creates a stigma against people who menstruate and leads to a sad situation where many people get their periods without ever having discussed menstruation before. I hope we’re not living in a society where you can’t even advertise period-related products openly. 

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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