Camp Gyno: Periods, Knowledge, and Power
If you haven't heard of it by now, you've clearly been without internet access for a few days. A tampon commercial is going viral on social media. I'm happy to present this piece by my friend C.S. Jack who gives a thoughtful analysis of why so many people (especially adult women) are impressed with it.
Camp Gyno, a two-minute promotional video for startup tampon delivery service HelloFlo, has garnered almost three and a half million YouTube views and over nine thousand Facebook shares in the three days since its release. “Amazing. Hilarious. Perfect. The girl in the commercial is a joy,” gushed Buzzfeed’s Mark Duffy. When I delightedly posted it on Facebook, one of my friends called it “the most awesome thing ever” and others chimed in with declarations of love. That conversation led to this blogpost, which I hope can come near the thoughtful generosity of spirit and intellect that Michelle demonstrates here with such regularity.
What’s so amazing about this ad? It’s not just its boldness, although Camp Gyno’s dismissal of the euphemistic squeamishness typical of advertising for menstruation-related products is long overdue. For audiences raised on the tampon-ad clichés of blond women being active in white pants, cuddling with boys and frolicking on beaches, it’s a thrill to see preteen Macy McGrail’s portrayal of a summer camp nobody turned tampon-wielding menstrual guru who dares to say words like vagina and dubs her period “the red badge of courage.”
But Camp Gyno isn’t alone in its refusal to shy away from the more visceral aspects of menstruation: last year, British maxipad maker Bodyform issued a snarky video rejoinder to a man’s sarcastic post on the corporate Facebook page. The spot follows a Bodyform executive through a sleek office, while she explains that advertising images of skydiving, rollerblading and mountain-biking are metaphors for “the blood coursing from our uteri like a crimson landslide” and, finally, sips from a glass of blue liquid. (It should tell you something about the pervasiveness with which blue water stands in for unshowable body fluids of all kinds, from the urine of infants and the elderly in diaper ads to menstrual blood in tampon and maxipad ads, that this last detail was the thing that shocked me. She put that stuff to her lips!, I found myself gibbering internally.) Camp Gyno similarly inverts marketers' traditional avoidance of red imagery, especially in a scene where a Dora the Explorer doll strapped to a ketchup bottle is the main teaching aid for a hilariously inaccurate "menstruation demonstration" before a duo of dumbfounded campers.
I think there’s something else about Camp Gyno that accounts for its runaway popularity: it gets the details right.
The ad captures wonderfully the excitement and fascination that accompanies the anticipation of a cohort’s first periods. HelloFlo founder Naama Bloom, discussing the genesis of the spot, says, “every woman remembers having, or being, that friend who just has all the information—who’s somehow more advanced, and educates everyone else.” She’s right, of course, and those minute and distant details of menarche are part of why the ad delights me and other grown women. The brief shots of McGrail alone on her bed, inspecting a freshly unwrapped tampon and awkwardly winding up the tampon string after the applicator comes to pieces in her hands, was instantly, intimately familiar. But the ad doesn’t play the moment as maudlin, a girl away from the fun and sequestered with the devices that will bring her unruly body under control—no, this is an expert, learning her field. In a later scene, referring to herself as Joan of Arc, McGrail hands another camper a tampon—“this is your sword”—and a hand mirror—“this is your shield” (“the mirror is such an essential part of the learning process,” and one that male writers would never think to include, as Bloom notes). The humor in the ketchup-splurting Dora scene comes from this impulse, too; the inaccuracy of the ‘demonstration’ reminds us of both our desire to comprehend something beyond our own experience and our anxieties about unknown but impending physiological changes.
Camp Gyno captures those anxiety-provoking aspects of menarche--the frustration and pain--as well. Witness the scene in which a camper curls fetally on her bunk with cramps: McGrail yells at her to suck it up before crooning sadistically in her ear, this is your life now. It’s a funny moment because it's unexpectedly dark, but also because it expresses something about our embodied experience of femaleness within a patriarchal society. Menarche is among the first of many moments in life when a woman learns to suck it up and deal, whether it’s with the physiological discomforts of menstrual cramps, pregnancy, labor, and menopause, or the emotional and intellectual strain of institutionalized sexism throughout our lives.