This is the third in a three-part series about women and advertising.
There are plenty of commercials and advertisements aimed at aiding women with feminine health issues, but they are incredibly secret about what area needs aiding. When using the words “feminine health,” “feminine hygiene,” or “feminine area,” these ads are talking about women’s private parts — the vagina, to be exact.
But the word ‘vagina’ might be too real, vivid, or disturbing to use, as Democratic state representative Lisa Brown found out after saying ‘vagina’ and then being banned from speaking by male politicians who took offense with her choice of words. One colleague, Republican Mike Callton, was very upset and insulted by Brown using the word ‘vagina’: “What she said was offensive. It was so offensive I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”
Commercials do not like to mention the word ‘vagina’ either. They dance around the word, fluffing it up, enfolding it in special terms that make no sense. If you are a woman, is not the whole body part of your “feminine area”? After all, women should be feminine, right? So what is it that is so disturbing about a woman’s vagina? Is it because it has multiple purposes: sex, childbirth, discharging blood from the uterus? Or is it solely because women have vaginas? Why is the penis not treated as nuclear waste or a yucky foreign object?
A commercial for the anti-itch cream Vagisil uses the term “down there” to discuss the “feminine area.” Since the commercial does not mention the word ‘vagina,’ it should not insult Mike Callton, but it is insulting to women. The commercial is offensive as it somehow compares women’s vaginas with animals by showing pictures of a porcupine, the spiky puffer fish, a skunk, and a lobster while the female narrator is describing her problems. So not only are vaginas skunky and fishy, but they are also dangerous with pointy thorns and claws that can pinch and hurt you. Really?
Overall, most advertisements for “red days,” “that time of the month,” “feminine itch,” “feminine odor,” and the “feminine area” are all the same: ambiguous and scared of using the proper terminology. That “itch you can’t scratch” might as well be located between your shoulder blades, and that “uncomfortable feeling” might just be restless leg syndrome.
The vagina is considered so embarrassing and so scary that it should not be mentioned by name. The word ‘vagina’ is so awful and insulting that even women, with vaginas, should be embarrassed to utter the word. It is considered important for women to be beautiful and feminine while a very prominent part of the body, the vagina, should not be mentioned by name.
We believe that the advertisements highlighted in our series contribute to the overall notion that women’s bodies are never good enough. The female body is deemed defective, shameful, flawed, and in need of serious “repair” if women are ever going to be happy with themselves. The impossible standards of beauty imposed in commercials like these are negative and detrimental to women as they invoke shame and guilt. Not only do commercials invoke these feelings, they also readily embrace and perpetuate them as part of their tactics, making women feel even worse about themselves. We would like to see advertisements that display women’s bodies in a more positive light, and that cut out the self-blame and shame so common in ads aimed at women.