What a Tampon Ad Has to Do With Leadership

Camp Gyno, a new viral ad for tampons, sheds light on the cultural roots of the stubbornly persistent leadership gap.

My mom has always welcomed discussion about menstruation. She gave me books to read, cheered for me when I got my first period and took me to my first gynecologist appointment. Until middle school, I didn’t realize that talking openly about it wasn’t commonplace. When I was 13, I mentioned offhand that I was on my period to a group of friends and you would have thought I’d said I had cancer. Both the girls and guys stared at me, aghast at my declaration. Someone whispered that I was “gross” and another told me that I should go to the bathroom and get ahold of myself. I learned my lesson.

Menstruation has long been seen as disgusting, odorous, and shameful. Women are constantly told that the newest brand of tampon will save them from embarrassing leakage and that fresh smells will prevent anyone from sensing they’re on their period. The Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health is listed as number four on Cracked.com’s 7 most Horrifying Museums on Earth.

But a new, hilarious ad -- The Camp Gyno -- has the potential to not only shift the conversation about “that time of the month,” but shed light on some of the cultural roots of the stubbornly persistent leadership gap.

The ad from HelloFlo, a company that sends care packages to girls on their first period, stars an endearingly sassy girl who, after she gets the "red badge of courage” for the first time at summer camp, teaches all of her friends how to deal with their periods. It’s totally rad, and has been deemed “the Wendy Davis of commercials” and “the best tampon ad in the world.”

Although the “Camp Gyno” ends up as a bit of a tampon tyranny, the ad portrays a young girl as “the boss” in a positive and funny way. Too often when women lead they are seen as “bossy” or “shrewd,” but when men act like the boss, they’re simply seen as leaders.

The ad seems to riff off of the nearly 30 year old argument made by activist Gloria Steinem in her famous piece, “If Men Could Menstruate.” which describes the pride men would display if they could have a period. “Men would brag about how long and how much. Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood,” she writes. These “feminine qualities” are reflected upon men in a positive way.

This stigma not only impacts how we, as women, define ourselves, but how we’re established in society. Women legislators are constantly demeaned because of a culture that shames menstruation. When talking about choice issues, vagina is a dirty word (as exhibited in a session in Michigan last year) and women who become upset over their bodily autonomy are said to be "on their period" in order to devalue their legitimate criticism.

Media Matters for America noted a particularly excellent example of this on a segment of The O’Reilly Factor. When author Marc Rudov was asked, "What is the downside of having a woman become the president of the United States?" his initial response to the question was, "You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings, right?" Rudov showed his misogynistic colors yet again when he asserted: "Well, you know, I'm joking. Of course, the main problem I have is if a woman has a female agenda."

Ads like ‘Camp Gyno’ help change the marketing game. It’s not about treating an illness anymore, it’s about helping women feel comfortable with their bodies. Quite obviously, I’ve gotten better at talking about my period. I’ve learned to surround myself with people who will support me, no matter the menses.

Normalizing talk about menstruation is a great first step towards healthy, empowered young women. The more we encourage positive, frank talk about bodies, the more likely it is that young girls will feel comfortable speaking to doctors and future partners about their wants and needs without feeling ashamed. By creating awesome, thought-provoking spots like ‘Camp Gyno,’ we can continue to encourage women to seek more leadership roles in various arenas. Now, I wear my "red badge of courage" with pride.