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‘v’ for vagina

It seems we are up in arms again, after being confronted with two, small clinical words.  Carefree’s latest advertisement features an attractive ‘carefree’ brunette, appearing seemingly naked but tastefully hidden behind an array of flowers.  She approaches the camera with a formal but quirky, direct approach, reminding us that ‘even that bit of discharge in-between our period, is our body working to keep the vagina healthy.’  Pause for a few moments as one ruggedly draws in their breath.  Did she really just mention the V and D word in a Carefree advert?

Most tampon /pad advertisements appear harmlessly less confronting, using images of fresh flowers and models gliding around in flowing dress apparel and that ubiquitous blue liquid poured directly onto white spandex underwear.  A 2010 Libra commercial for example features a supermarket of overly excited women and sharp, hyper music and a quick pan toward all the features of the new Libra tampon, fluidly finished with the catchphrase ‘There’s plenty to get excited about.’

I’m not sure in what situation a tampon is known to cause euphoria (unless it’s fitted with amphetamine) but this society has become so accustomed to euphemisms and prettily concealed innuendos, that any form of sexual confrontation outside of the doctor’s office seems to be labeled shameful and grotesque.

One might argue that we do not need to use the words ‘excrement’ when describing the qualities of expensive toilet paper or ‘penis’ when we speak about the fit of a condom and yes, a woman’s menstruation is a private and intimate matter, but it’s also a biological fact of life.

Author Lauren Rosewarne describes Carefree’s new approach as ‘frank and fearless,’ describing the usual camouflaged commercials as ‘sad indictments’ of our society.  However, Rosewarne also states that ‘frank dialogue about menstruation and discharge’ reminds both sexes of the differences between them, limiting a woman to be perceived and labeled by her ‘mood and capabilities.’ The author makes an important point that seems prevalent in our everyday lives.  How many of us have been told that we are acting ‘bad tempered’ because of ‘that time of the month?’  How many women have been described as ‘emotional’ due to the honest unveiling of how our periods affect hormonal dispositions?

Overall, our inability to accept a commercial that portrays ‘vaginal discharge’ and the vagina as something utterly normal, perhaps speaks in volumes of how well we tolerate all aspects of life.  So far, we are able to tolerate pornography and witness a man ejaculating all over a woman (that’s fine); so far we are able to tolerate watching large troops of soldiers brutally murdering the innocent, on the 6’oclock SBS news (that’s also acceptable); so far we are able to sit across the table from our friends and openly discuss our sex lives; but when it comes to our actual bodies, we seem content hiding behind discreet phrases like ‘down there’ and ‘vajajay.’

By Sophia Anna

Are you offended by Carefree’s latest ad or is this a step in the right direction? Tell us your thoughts below!

9 thoughts on “‘v’ for vagina

  1. Interesting piece of writing. I agree with some of what you get at in this piece but I have to say that I do find the Libra advertisement perhaps not offensive but definitely disappointing.

    The advertisement does not offend me because it mentions “vagina” and “discharge”. I am actually glad the ad has done this and allows these two taboo words to finally be mentioned in an ad about these products. But alas, the apparent progress was short lived and misleading…

    The disappointing yet inevitable let down came in the advertisement when what was being portrayed as the “healthy” and seemingly normal vaginal discharge one second becomes a feminine “dirty” problem which has to be solved by purchasing a Libra product for wearing “EVERY DAY” to “stay fresh and reduce odour”. I honestly have to ask women, by this logic, is there ever a time that a girl or woman can feel safe to go about her life without a Libra product in either her vagina or undies for fear of not being “fresh” enough, or being potentially “odorous”? Discharge is a normal thing and for most women, it is not a significant interference. I believe Libra seeks to make girls and women feel insecure about a normal bodily function by attempting to make them feel unclean if they don’t buy into such a product.

    This advertisement is contradictory. It reels girls and women in by virtually saying “hey young girls/women, Libra can relate to you. Libra thinks your vagina and any discharge you may get is normal. But just keep in mind that your discharge may be “normal”, but not THAT normal! Certainly not normal enough to just wear your undies every day! Because that isn’t “FRESH” enough, someone else is going to be able to SMELL you! So use these liners EVERY DAY!”

    As usual, a woman is encouraged from a young age to be a constantly sterilized, perfumed, excessively made-up and prettied-up being that MUST remain furiously preoccupied with erasing any evidence to both herself and others of her natural body if she is to be considered acceptable as a woman or person. Now that’s progress isn’t it Libra? No doubt you’ll make plenty of cash playing on peoples insecurities which you promote if not create in the first place.

    That’s my discharge summary, minus the liner.

  2. CC – I think you’re conflating the inherent amorality of advertistments (whose raison d’etre is to make you feel so insecure that you *need* product X) with the fact that, within the standards of the advertising world, this ad is more mature in its engagement with its audience then other ads about X.

  3. Hey Chris,
    I don’t think it is a matter of me “conflating the inherent immorality of advertisements”. I am not assessing this ad on how effectively it is marketing to women and girls and at no stage was I surprised that they would attempt to play on insecurities, which is why I referred to the inevitable contradiction within the ad.

    But I am not going to applaud this ad for advancing womens ability to feel comfort and openness with their bodies. It is blind to see this ad as a groundbreaking progression in putting these issues out in the open and normalizing them for girls and women and the wider public. That is the guise this ad cleverly uses; it starts by trying to convince the viewer of the normality of their bodily functions, but then tells them they need to use a liner “EVERY DAY” to deal with their supposedly “normal functions” which according to the ad have an “odour” and “not so fresh feeling” which is apparently present every day of a womans life?!

    I think you will find that this directly contradicts medical advice. Normal vaginal discharge does not have a noticeable or offensive odour. In fact, “odour” is a warning sign doctors have flagged as a symptom of a problem which requires investigation.

    To try to teach young girls and women that they are in a perpetual state of dirtiness and odour when they are not is a step backward rather than a step forward in my opinion.

    Frankly, there must be something wrong with me and every woman I know or have discussed periods with, either from the days of high school or adulthood because most women are glad not to have plastic and cotton in their undies when there’s no need for it. But if you catch the girls and women early and convince them they are freaks of nature who need a product to solve their “permanent” and seemingly inescapable problem, I’m sure many girls will buy into this. After all, in a world where the mentioning of “discharge” or “vagina” has caused such public shock, upheaval and outrage, I’d bank on a lot of people not knowing too much about what is normal at all.

  4. I can see your arguments applying just as strongly to “men” products like, for example, after-shave – consider the typical image of a man staring into the mirror impressed with the quality of his after-shave, while an attractive woman comes and hugs him from behind. The implication, surely, is that if he *didn’t* use the aforementioned product, then the attractive woman *wouldn’t* want to hug him, or at least not with a such a turned-on look on her face.

    There’s no clear objective reason why most/all men would need this brand of aftershave (or any, for that matter), but these ads are trying to convince men that they’re in a perpetual state of unattractiveness until they use it.

    Carefree, likewise, is playing exactly the same game as every other cosmetic company (which no one is disputing). As you say, “it starts by trying to convince the viewer of the normality of their bodily functions” which is what is specifically regarded by people as an improvement, “but then tells them they need to use a liner “EVERY DAY”” – coz it’s an advert by a company that wants more dollarz$$.

    In short, if you had to pick between a tampon ad that played on women’s insecurities but used the words “vagina” and “discharge”, and an ad that played equally on women’s insecurities but, instead of using those words, featured a delighted woman skipping around in a flowerbed – which would you choose?

  5. I do see a considerable difference between aftershave being a catalyst for scoring hot, turned on women and carefree liners stopping your supposedly smelly, and apparently ever-present vaginal discharge which is less than fresh. A similar technique is present in both the carefree ad and the aftershave ad concept you outlined, but that does not make those advertisements equivalent in the nature of their content. There is a difference between being told you will score a hot chick if you use X aftershave and your vagina will stink and be unfresh if you don’t use X liners everyday. One alludes to the positive benefits of an aftershave product, the other alludes to dire negative outcomes if you do not use the carefree product. While a man will survive if he doesn’t get that hot chick with the turned on look on her face, I would argue that comparably much more is at stake for the woman who is considered to have a stinky unfresh vagina every day of her life. I think this is a particularly confronting situation for a young woman whom the ad is most likely targeted at, and it is all the more ridiculous because it is medically non-factual and occurs under a guise of being a liberating advertisement for womens bodies.

    Perhaps if there was an advertisement that discussed the apparent normality of secretions of the penis or perhaps the presence of smegma on the penis, outlining the accompanying odour and lack of freshness and then offerring a cotton penis sheath for every day use to avoid such odour and lack of freshness then the concepts could be more closely compared!? You have to admit that the fact that the genitals and the way they smell or their “freshness” would be considered a sensitive issue which could be the cause of embarrassment and shame if it weren’t up to the levels of social acceptability. You have to keep in mind that this is not a tampon ad; the product is not to absorb a womans menstrual flow. It is an everyday product to absorb her supposed everyday ick and odour.

    I’m with you on the fact that advertising is geared to play on insecurities and I never was surprised by that. But I do not find this ad progressive, particularly since the words “discharge” and “vagina” were tactically used for their shock value, not to normalize and make the words acceptable and more to the point, the actual things themselves acceptable or understandable.

    So it is a hard question you ask, as I despise the skipping around in the flowerbed concept, but on the other hand we have got pseudo straight-talking and pseudo-liberation which purposely spreads false information about the nature of womens bodily functions. Frankly I would choose neither.

  6. While we’re clearly not going to agree and the debate could/would go on forever, this will be my final comment:
    “One alludes to the positive benefits of an aftershave product, the other alludes to dire negative outcomes if you do not use the carefree product” is just as arbitrary a flip of terms as: One alludes to the dire negative effects of not using the aftershave product (not getting the girl), the other alludes to the positive benefits of using the Carefree product (getting a guy).

    “Perhaps if there was an advertisement that discussed the apparent normality of secretions of the penis or perhaps the presence of smegma on the penis, outlining the accompanying odour and lack of freshness and then offerring a cotton penis sheath for every day use to avoid such odour and lack of freshness then the concepts could be more closely compared!?” – Not really, at the heart of both examples the issue is desirability, and the implication that you will be less socially acceptable to both your peers and less attractive to the opposite sex without them. To that end, it doesn’t matter if it’s referring to your genitals, armpits, face or lack of a Mercedes.

    “Frankly I would choose neither.” – isn’t really an answer to a “if you had to pick” question.

    I think this was a quality argument though, fun debating with you!

  7. Well I don’t believe I have to “pick an ad” or prefer an ad just because you’ve asked me to. The fact that I think both the ad concepts in question are flawed and I don’t prefer either of their methods does not suggest my point or argument is flawed whatsoever. I chose neither ad because they are a similar thing in a slightly different costume. My point is and always was that the carefree ad is not progressive for women and I would certainly think about the content more closely before writing a letter of thanks and gratitude to carefree as I’ve noticed has been done on this site.

    Your argument that carefree ads are directly about “getting a guy” is incorrect I believe. I think you will find that a product that is marketed to women for “everyday use between periods” as the ad states includes not just women who are trying to “get a guy”. Lesbian women menstruate too. As do married women. As do partnered women. As do many primary school aged girls who are not sexually active. Even nuns do…

    The point is there is a difference between acceptability and desirability. You aren’t being told to use the carefree liner to “get noticed” and “be sexy”, but you’ll certainly need to use a liner before you even have the basic platform to try to get noticed and be sexy. You are being told to use the liner to avoid being noticed for very socially unacceptable reasons and to mask the presence of an “unfresh” and “odourous” ick that carefree says is there “every day” of a womans life; there is no glamour associated with this product at all. Certainly not the glamour associated with a fancy car or a pair of high heels or a vixen-yielding aftershave for that matter. There is most certainly a difference. This is why such a product is marketed as a “feminine hygiene” product, it does not fall in to a fashion accessory or cosmetic or glamour category. If the products and premise was the same, I somewhat doubt we would be having this conversation because this would be just another ad. The fact there is significant enough public taboo around “vagina” and “discharge” for this ad to rise to the spotlight indicates the sensitivity, shame and awkwardness surrounding the topic.

    This ad continues the peddling of a façade that not just menstruation, but the vagina in its everyday state is somehow experiencing an ailment which needs the intervention of a “feminine hygiene” product. I’m not naïve enough to be surprised that a company would advertise in such a manner; playing on insecurities works like a charm. What my point is and was from the word go is that it is ridiculous that people are applauding this advertisement as progressive for women while it simultaneously tells them they are dirty and odourous every day of their lives. You’d have to be brainwashed to see that as progress. Even if you were someone who did think the ad is an improvement, the premise that “this ad isn’t as shit as it could have been” does not indicate a cause to raise the womens lib flag I am afraid.

    Anyways, thanks for your responses and I hope you managed to get your hands on a pack of carefree liners, either for yourself or a pal. At this rate I’m sure they’re flying off the shelves and into undies (then landfill) quicker than we could all simultaneously chant “vaginal discharge!”… 🙂

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