periods

I’m taking up another ad as part of ‘Conditioning is for Hair, Not Minds’ – a series in collaboration with The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman. This one is by Whisper Ultra. The ad review suggestion was made by award-winning bloggerSheena Dabholkar, who is also the co-author of this post.

So let’s begin. I was sent a link to this ad, that’s currently just available online and runs for a few seconds only. We are shown a package wrapped in newspaper- which is carefully torn away to reveal the new and shiny Whisper Ultra Clean- five times better than the earlier Whisper Ultra (not-so-clean?)! The ad ends there.

Check it out here if you haven’t already seen it.
Now, let’s look at the positives first. Thankfully, we aren’t shown any exceptionally happy women in ungodly white pants jumping fences, running through busy streets, dancing in the middle of a gym, etc… Because you know, those are the things we love doing while we’re on our period. It’s not like most of us are lying in bed with our hot water bags, wishing we were dead. That’s where the positives end for me.

But what’s wrong with this ad? Well, for me, what’s really disappointing is that a powerful corporate entity chose to cash in on what is clearly a regressive practise. Yes, I know what you’re going to say – it might be commonplace, BUT it is born out of the shame and secrecy attached to a natural monthly occurrence almost all women go through. An occurrence that, on an average, lasts for three decades of adult female life.

If you’re a woman reading this, you know what I’m talking about. Every time you go to a medical store and ask for sanitary napkins, the (always male) shopkeeper gives you a look which I can only describe as disgust mixed with a kind of sanctimonious pity. Then comes the entire process of procuring the package (“Stayfree ya Whisper?”- what is with these names?), putting it in a paper bag and then in a black (ALWAYS black) plastic one. God forbid the world finds out that women menstruate! OH, IMAGINE THE CONSEQUENCES! The pandemonium, as millions of men across India – who had stopped briefly by the roadside to practice their piss-writing skills – run to shield themselves from this disgusting revelation, would be off the charts! It’s only fair then that female hygiene products be handed out with secrecy befitting national security ops.

But even more remarkably, it’s Whisper driving this corporate cultural appropriation that I find saddening. The fact that they adopt the stigma as they see fit / when they can benefit from it. In 2014, Whisper launched the #touchthepickle campaign in order to break out of period related stigma, and now, so conveniently, they choose to use another aspect of this very stigma as a promotional tool to market their Ultra Clean product.(Also, their obsession with clean, clean, clean, irks me. Do they or do they not think periods are the dirtiest thing in the world?)

The newspaper thus represents what the brand feels is a routine, acceptable practice when it comes to sanitary goods, further validating that periods are something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden (I wonder if the ad- makers had been in touch with the priests at Sabarimala).

So here’s some shocking news for Indian advertisers- women menstruate and you know what, those few days aren’t pretty – a lot of us aren’t always cheery (yes that’s right, women are allowed to be snappy too), wearing white and saving the world as your ads might have people believe – but guess what? We aren’t ashamed either. We’re proud. We don’t need newspaper covered packages, your dark plastic bags and hushed whispers. Because maybe you haven’t heard, Whisper, but you know what? We are happy to bleed.