When Did My Tampon Become a Fortune Cookie?


By Sayantani DasGupta

Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, some corporate geniuses decided that tampons should come packaged with perky self-help style advice. I can see the business meeting now: “Hey, I know what a menstruating girl or woman might need at ‘that time of the month’ alongside product absorbency! How about some inspiration!”

And so, this morning’s plastic tampon wrapper (I know, I know, I should be using a non-plastic brand, or a diva cup but go with me here) nearly shouted at me with the rah-rah force of a pom-pom wielding cheerleader:

“Don’t Stress!” “Play to Win!” and, worst of all, “You’re a take-charge kind of girl!” it shrieked.

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to take pseudo-Eastern sounding mysticism from the tag of my tea bag, but I draw the line at inspiring tampon covers.

So, I guess my real question is this: When did girl power go amok?

I just came back from the National Women’s Studies Association conference, where there were lots of interesting panels on girl’s movements and girlhood related politics. Some panel names were:

  • Hey Shorty! Young Women of Color Take Research Out of the Academy
  • The Sexualization of Girls Across Time, Space and Cultural Mediums
  • Today, Not Someday When We’re Grown: How Girls ‘Do’ Activism
  • Representing Girlhood and Girls of Color, From Hip-Hop to Health

Awesome, right? (I wish I could have attended them all!)

Girl’s activism is a real and formidable force in the U.S. and around the world. But in broader culture, “girl power” has become heavily usurped–a snazzy marketing ploy by corporate forces who want to appeal to women and girl’s pocketbooks, not our politics. I know there’s been a lot of attention to steering women and girls away from passive “pink” marketing like books from Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers Schemes to Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of New Girlie-Girl Culture. But what about the taking over of “girl power” for marketing ends?

Consider the controversial Gardasil “One Less” commercials, featuring seemingly empowered, soccer playing girls also choosing to get vaccinated against HPV. (So… all girls who are empowered will get the HPV vaccine? Or alternately, get the HPV vaccine and become empowered?) Or, how about the Dove Clinical Protection deodorant ads in which a young woman cuts her own bangs with nail scissors (ooh, rebellious!) before deciding she will “Carpe Diem” today. Or, even the “Be Unstoppable” ads for Playtex Sports Tampons, which seem to shout (at least in my head), “Wear our tampons! Become a champion surfer!”

As opposed to the “F” word (feminism), which involves real-live grown-up women with real-live grown-up political agendas, “girl power” somehow goes down easier in mainstream culture. Girl’s activism becomes somehow read as feminism “lite.” Girls–even bang-cutting, soccer-playing, surfing girls–are cute and perky, right? Not bra-burning, hair-on-legs, speaking-their-minds or, erm, any other formulation of ADULT women?

I find that attitude pretty problematic–both for what it says about girls and girls’ activism, and for how it separates girls’ and women’s political actions and our common goals. (Not to mention how problematic it is to wake up one unsuspecting morning and find my tampon calling me, an adult woman with growing children of my own, a girl.) 

So marketers, lay off using girl power to support sales of your products. We don’t need your deodorant to be rebellious, or your tampons to help us win the big game. We just need them to do what they’re supposed to, and the rest we’ll manage on our own, thank you very much.

Girls’ activism, like women’s activism, is feminist activism, people. Girls’ bodies are not cutesy marketing tools, or a way to get girls and women to buy more junk we don’t need.

How about you keep your plucky advice on tea bags and in fortune cookies, and out of our bodies?





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  2. […] tampons have turned into fortune cookies while we weren’t looking.  I guess it’s not enough that our Dove chocolate has to tell […]