I am a die-hard mooncup fan. I'm one of those women who graffitis toilet walls urging women to get one. But the latest swarm of advertising for menstrual cups is making me see red.
Mooncups have launched a poster and online campaign to encourage more women to use their eco and body-friendly product. The premise is that they want women to 'love our vaginas', asking us to vote for what we 'lovingly call' ours.
Now, I'm not against us loving our (or other people's) vaginas. But seriously, I have only just recovered from Bodyform's 80s neoliberal take on us hiding our bleeding from the world. It was a long time ago when I sat guffawing with my mum at a Jo Brand sketch in which she ridicules 'panty-liners' by nicknaming them 'fairy cradles'. While Bodyform encouraged us to get rollerblading in white trousers, using doilies, fluff, flowers and glitter circling euphemistic names for vaginas still reflects prevailing cultural representations of menstruation as something that needs to be talked of in hushed tones: as something fundamentally 'unclean'.
Part of me feels I should just be happy that the word 'vagina' has even appeared on a poster. Particularly given the recent news that a Kotex advert was banned in the US for using the V-word.
But it seems to me that while the mooncup adverts purport to engage women with their bodies (by asking them to give their vagina pet-names), it maintains the usual media silence on the fact that menstruation is about a bodily function: about bleeding.
It is perhaps more upsetting because the way that mooncups work involves a very real engagement with your body. You fold and insert the silicone cup into your vagina, and empty and clean it. It is far removed from the blue-inked dry-weave topsheets and individual floral wrapping of most menstruation products.
Until now, they have languished outside the mainstream, caricatured as a 'hippy' product. Whenever I have heard them discussed in person or online, their mention is usually met with a barrage of revulsion and squeamishness. It is this reputation they are trying to combat when they soothingly joke with us on the website: "We bet you winced when you saw this, everyone does."
Euphemistic advertising about menstrual products is a symptom of a much wider issue in cultural representations of women's bodies. While it is deemed appropriate for Marks and Spencer to devote billboard spreads to disembodied breasts (to high media coverage last year and again now with their nautical 'hello buoys' billboards), women's bodily functions continue to be represented as things that should be hidden: where lack of control is seen as a symbol of failure. This is not news to anyone. Comics Mitchell and Webb have produced a fantastic sketch that parodies the gendered imbalance in advertising.
Hyper-capitalist society commodifies our bodies into parts that need constant perfection. It creates ever-expanding markets of self-improvement and grooming, stoking our anxiety that we will be found out as leaky, unclean and failed women instead of the perfect consumer citizen: forever improving on her worth by buying products from the cosmetic industry and living up to the normalised white, wealthy, thin, young and able body.
Mooncups, in some ways, offer a challenge to this rhetoric. The silicone cup lasts for years - a very different model to the hoard of disposable products such as tampons and sanitary towels. It also doesn't shy away from the function it serves, in catching blood.
But instead of competing with dominant notions of femininity as alienated from our bodies (as either mysterious gardens of eden, or hypersexualised sex machines), the company who create mooncups stick to safe ground in an attempt to get their share of the squeamish market.
It is unlikely that any company will take on the powerful constructions of femininity that dominate mainstream media culture. As we challenge the capitalist premise that we are commodities for upgrading, improving and marketing we must remember to challenge the shame and secrecy historically associated with our bodies.
Instead of floral advertising, I'd love to see mooncups given out to women for free: a cunt-cup for life.