Camp Gyno: Periods, Knowledge, and Power
This is your life now. There’s a loss of innocence in that phrase, and a sense of resignation, but also a note of resolution: this is my life now, and I will learn how to live it. Remembering a time when that capacity to simply deal was a new skill I had to learn is, paradoxically, a thrilling reminder of the fortitude and grit women enact every day. McGrail’s Camp Gyno is knowledgeable, experienced, and aware, if at times rueful or overbearing; she’s the active opposite of this hangdog moppet who seemed to appear on the inside back cover of every teen magazine of my adolescence, haunting some mildewed back porch in a smear of chambray and soft focus as she hid her face in shame and fretted over the integrity of her hymen.
There have been a lot of blogposts in the last few days celebrating Camp Gyno’s frankness about menstruation. There have also been some critiques of the service the spot was created to publicize: while Claire Mysko at The Frisky astutely observes that the ‘discretion’ of HelloFlo’s unlabeled boxes imply a sense of menstrual shame, Ashley Fetters of The Atlantic objects to the sweets in HelloFlo kits and the implication that “women somehow just can’t handle their period without a side of chocolate.”This is my life now, and I will learn how to live it.
But I think Camp Gyno resonates for a reason totally unrelated to the menstrual. This little two-minute ad gives us a remarkably complex character and a full story arc along with the perfectly-right details of the menarche experience. The Camp Gyno is more than a little power hungry, and in the end her strategic cunning and earned expertise are bested by her lust to transcend her status as camp nobody (as Michelle pointed out to me, she even seems to have a moment of 'self-reflective remorse' about her own rise and fall). The ad passes the Bechdel test (which is to say that it features two women, talking to one another, about something other than a man)—something that at least thirty percent of current films fail to do. And this may be the greatest advantage of telling the story at hand through preteen girls: the girls are arguably at the point in their lives at which their male counterparts are the least relevant to their identity.
Part of the joy of the spot is its paradoxical quality: it is a story about female bodies moving toward adulthood, that reminds the woman viewer of a time before the particularities of being an adult woman in a patriarchal society were fully discernable. I think my enjoyment of Camp Gyno comes less from its invocation of a time before I knew an adult body that bleeds and cramps, than from its invocation of a time before I understood why my culture can label that body as shameful, unruly, and downright unmentionable. The spot invites the adult woman to return, for a moment, to the very different politics of being eleven years old, when our own female physiology inspired a distinctive kind of fascination, expertise, and power.
C.S. Jack is a graduate student and researcher of media, technology, history and culture.
Thanks to Michelle Parrinello-Cason for her invitation to write this post and her feedback and to the Museum of Menstruation and its fabulous archive of advertisement images.
Originally published on Balancing Jane: PhD student. Educator. Mother. Wife. Feminist. A look at the intersections.