Monthly Archives: October 2015

Menstruation: Not a Fit Subject for Tender Male Eyes

Debbie says:


Outfront Media, which places ads in the New York City subways for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, thinks this ad “seem[s] to have a bit too much skin.” As Christina Cauterucci points out at Slate, “The ads that plaster New York City’s subway system have shown women in the throes of passion, showing off most of their breasts, and wearing just a skimpy bikini—or nothing at all.”

I never gave a thought to blood-absorbing underwear until I saw Cauterucci’s article. Now I wish I had been able to try it when I needed it. If it works, it would be amazing. And if it doesn’t work, it’s probably the forerunner of something that will–if Thinx and their competitors can get enough exposure and customers to keep experimenting.

So if Outfront Media claims that woman is showing too much skin, what do they think of this ad?


“Regardless of the context,” Outfront wrote about this ad and one with an egg dripping out of its shell, “they “[seem] inappropriate.” Sure they do. We all know Outfront wouldn’t have an issue with an image that looked like a penis, as long as it wasn’t an actual, human-skin penis.

“Regardless of context,” is a big lie. Cauterucci relays from Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal that

the rep also asked what a 9-year-old boy might think if he saw the ads and how his mother could explain them to him. One imagines that a 9-year-old boy who rides the New York City subway has seen more objectionable images and heard crasser language, both in ads—such as one for the Museum of Sex that depicted fleshy, intertwined body parts inside the words “Hard Core”—and from fellow subway patrons.

Note that it’s a 9-year-old boy and his mother, which exposes some assumptions. And I bet the Outfront rep isn’t a parent, because parents quickly get good at dodging questions they don’t want to answer. Not to mention the huge benefit some parents might see in *gasp* answering the question.

Outfront Media, a company with predominantly male leadership and a completely male sales staff, isn’t reacting to the visuals of the ads, all of which they would accept without question for another product.  They say “regardless of context,” yet context is the only issue in play here. They just plain don’t want to imagine menstruation, and they don’t think subway riders do either. Of course, more than 50% of subway riders are women, and a very substantial proportion of those women don’t have to imagine menstruation; they think about the subject approximately four days out of every 28. But that doesn’t matter to the dudebros at Outfront.

Underlying the general (male/commodified/corporate) perception that sex is okay but menstruation is disgusting is this underlying dogma:

Women’s bodies are interesting and important when the context is looking and handling.  The same women’s bodies are not fit for public consumption when the context is lived experience. The power structure that can keep these ads out of the New York City subway  is dangerously close to the power structure that closes abortion clinics and tries to defund Planned Parenthood.

The same women’s bodies that adorn the sexiest posters, the most enticing porn videos, the most lust-inducing wet dreams are the bodies that drip blood once a month for forty years or so. And after thousands of years of letting men turn away from this information, maybe it’s centuries past time to have menstruation ads be at least as common as Viagra ads.


Screening for Cervical Cancer in Africa with Mobile Phones

Laurie and Debbie say:

Some of the most exciting health innovations depending on mobile phones are happening in Africa, where a widespread mobile phone and tablet culture is making amazing advances in treating health problems, such as diagnosing pneumonia and cardiac disease.

Africa is often stereotyped as the continent of hopeless disaster and poverty. In reality a vibrant, exciting, innovative culture is addressing many African people’s life-and-death issues: the “developed” countries have a great deal to learn.

women lining up for cell phone cervical cancer screenings (photo by Abigail Higgins)

To get a cervical cancer screening in America, a woman has to go to her doctor or to Planned Parenthood (long may they survive and thrive!). Abigail Higgins at TakePart describes a different option in Africa:

More than a quarter of a million women die of cervical cancer every year, almost as many as are killed by pregnancy or childbirth complications. More than 88 percent of these women live in the developing world. …

[Catherine] Njeri was screened using visual inspection with acetic acid—simple, white vinegar that causes any precancerous lesions to turn white. It’s an attractive alternative in low-resource settings such as Kenya.

The smartphone device allows a nurse to take a detailed photograph of the cervix, a much less invasive procedure than a Pap smear.

“I love this technology because it makes so much sense. It’s so simple. It’s so practical,” said Dinah Mwangi, the head of field operations at MobileODT.

Mwangi was able to take the photograph and consult with other medical practitioners on the spot. If the appointment had been in a rural area, she could have consulted other doctors for a second opinion, using an application to send the photograph.

If the results had not been normal, she would have been treated with cryotherapy immediately, eliminating the possibility that doctors might lose touch with her until it was too late.

Stop for a moment and think about how amazing that is. A simple, inexpensive device that, used with ordinary white vinegar, identifies precancerous lesions, allows the practitioner to consult, and has an immediate treatment on site!

Triza Okal and Catherine NJeri after cervical cancer screening (photo: Abigail Higgins)

Plus, there’s a delightful body image aspect. It turns out that these women love seeing their own cervices.  Although the pictures are actually taken by nurses, the response to them is pure 21st century selfie culture:

“Women have been so excited about their cervix, it completely changed the patient encounter,” said [Curtis] Peterson [of Mobile ODT, which makes the screening device] “What was previously an opaque process is now clear.” …

“They want to text [the picture of their cervix] to their phone, or they want it emailed to them, or they want us to send it to them on WhatsApp so they can take it home and show their husband and friends,” said Peterson.

The combination of being able to get a picture of your own cervix and a culture which encourages you to share pictures is changing the way these women see their bodies, and especially the internal, usually invisible parts of their bodies.

Who knows when cervix-sharing pix will become a fad in the developed countries? Meanwhile, we celebrate the African women being screened and treated, and the people who are making it possible.