As the advertising standards agency of Ireland bans a tampon ad deemed ‘widely offensive’, Fiona Ferguson argues that the women of Ireland, North & South, are up for the fight against period stigma.
God love the conservatives of Ireland. Tormented by Repeal, tortured by endless LGBTQ+ campaigns, and lately, a tampon ad featuring women talking about…how to use tampons.
What decade are we living in? Don’t they remember how we were told in the 90s that feminism has won? Don’t they recall that in the noughties a new dawn for women was rising, shattering glass ceilings in boardrooms everywhere? Surely they can’t have missed more recent campaigns like Repeal which revealed the true fighting power of Irish women to win change: on the streets; from the bottom up; and not just for CEOs, but for us all.
To be serious, we didn’t need another instance of how the tormented conservative elements of Ireland loathe our struggle for liberation, but the reaction to the Tampax ad was just that. It was banned because of ‘widespread offence’ caused. It is worth noting that 84 complaints were received, hardly constituting ‘widespread’ in a state with a population of five million.
You know what should cause widespread offence? Approximately 42 per cent of women who use applicator tampons do not know how to insert the applicator correctly and 79 per cent experience discomfort while wearing tampons, because the Irish state has failed so abysmally to provide decent publicly funded educational resources to inform women, from a young age, how to manage their periods.
You know what else should cause widespread offence? Such basic education is often lacking because it is lumped in with ‘relationships and sex education’ (RSE) doled out by religious groups who get a free pass into schools to promote abstinence over safe sex.
The current government looks set to continue the approach of the previous one by delaying and obstructing a long-overdue overhaul of sex education in schools, which would go someway towards bringing Ireland’s sex education into the 21st century.
And yes, it is deeply offensive that education in the case of the tampons is left up to a multi-national corporation whose only intent, in informing women how to use them, is to make a profit from them.
It is deeply offensive that campaigns against period poverty had to be sparked across Ireland, Europe, and the world, in response to women going without basic sanitary necessities every month. That children in 2020 miss school because their parents are unable to afford period products for them, and homeless women have had to deal with the indignity of begging to afford sanitary products from machines in public toilets.
And yes, less gruelling though it is to consider when compared with the harsh realities of period poverty, it is offensive, as Amy O’Connor points out, that the kind of ads we are used to putting up with and which receive no such complaints, are visions of women in white, stretching to prove how ‘comfortable’ they are in this or that sanitary product, playing this or that sport.
The experiences of many women who’d rather do anything other than sporting activities during their period, because of painful cramps, debilitating PMS, PMDD, etc., are erased from ads in an attempt to sell us sanitary products. And indeed, they are written off far too often by the misogyny that pervades every element of Irish society, including many GP offices.
It is no surprise, of course, that Irish conservatism—so obsessed with women’s reproductive systems that they locked up women who had children out of wedlock; banned the contraceptive pill; banned abortion even when the consequences were so dire they were stomach wrenching to relive during the Repeal campaign—cannot bear to see the functions of our reproductive systems uttered allowed. It is no surprise, but it is no less archaic and repulsive.
Such dinosaur attitudes don’t stop at the border, either. Recent attempts to roll back on abortion rights at Stormont were led by the political chieftans of archaic attitudes: the DUP. The tampon tax was scrapped across the UK only recently, following public campaigning, and is still in place elsewhere across Europe.
But given the incredible strides women have made in the South of Ireland in recent years, this latest manifestation of the shroud of shame is a timely reminder of how far we have to go to get rid of misogyny, and the oppressive system in which it pervades.
Clearly, part of that struggle will be the tired task we should have been done with decades ago – smashing period stigma that affects over half the population. It’s a job for all of us, our uterus-free friends included.
Not that we are not up for it, North or South. Repeal is proof enough of that. As were the incredible cross border shows of solidarity for decriminalisation in the North and the spontaneous eruption across the island in response to the reporting and verdicts in rape trials in Belfast and Cork.
If there’s one thing recent history has proven, it’s that mná na hÉireann are well able for dragging Ireland into the 21st century.