Source: Albert R. Mann Library. 2014. Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History (HEARTH). Ithaca, NY: Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/h/hearth/browse/title/6417403.html#1940 (accessed November 23, 2016)
The focus in the 1940s-1950s, with Very Personally Yours and Molly Grows Up, have been on young girls: how they learn about menstruation and what knowledge was being presented to them (ideally). What was going on with grown women at this time? What was their focus? By investigating ads in Good Housekeeping, from which the Kotex ads came from 20 years earlier, we can see what changes had taken place among grown women and what they valued when it came to menstrual management, along with the cultural context of the decade.
I looked at advertisements from 1940, 1942, 1944, 1946, and 1950. These ads had many similarities with those of the 20s. There were beautiful women (now, at least, they were usually either real or else more accurate drawings) and explanations regarding why Kotex is the best. One difference, though, is how these explanations were presented. The 1920s seemed to be fairly straight-forward in their explanations, but in the 1940s it was always very round-about, especially as WWII progressed. For example, in the later half of the decade, most Kotex ads were titled “Are You in the Know?” with multiple choice questions listed and an explanation underneath. There was a lot of focus on social behavior, appearance, and etiquette. One 1944 ad showed a picture of a soldier and asked what kind of uniform he was wearing. In the explanation, it stated that “his safety depends on concealment….And let Kotex help to hoodwink your public – with those concealing, flat pressed ends that show no outlines, tell no tales.” The Kotex advertising campaign was very creative in how they related everything – writing to soldiers, how to hide freckles, what to do if your nail splits, who should walk down an aisle first in the store, what color compliments suntans, how to get a job, etc. – to the perfection and comfort of Kotex products.
Another interesting note was the number of men shown in these advertisements. Mandziuk mentions in her article on ads in the 1920s Good Housekeeping editions that men are only depicted a couple of times. In the 1940s, men showed up in most ads, typically in a situation where they’re having fun with and enjoying the company of women. The advertisements continue to demonstrate that it’s important for women to keep menstruation away from men. Interestingly enough, none of the ads specifically mention menstruating! They all talk about “those days” or “problem days” or “time of the month,” and then explain how Kotex helps. No products are ever displayed – just the box and the smiling women who use them. Concealment is everything, and that’s a focus when it comes to men in ads. As Porter discusses, it’s still a major goal of women to hide menstruation… And Kotex can help!
The advertisements of the 1940s were very focused on the context and culture of women at the time. They acknowledge that women had growing interests – such as playing sports – and that they were participating in new areas of society. Rosie the Riveter’s influence can be seen within some ads. One titled “Do’s and Don’ts every woman absentee should know” made reference to absenteeism. “A war-plant nurse wrote Kotex that their greatest number of absentees are women who miss 1 to 3 days of work each month, frequently on ‘problem days.’” This ad focused on what women can do to not have to miss work while menstruating, as “Lost days means lost lives!” It offered a free booklet with tips to help women feel better so they can stay on the job every day, such as by avoiding too heavy work on “those days” and skipping late night cocktails during “these days.” The issue of doing the jitterbug was also brought up again here. It was a common theme of the 1940s that this dance was unwise for menstruating women. Women in the workforce found menstruation to be a concern, but Kotex was always there to offer instructions as to exactly how women could use their product to get through each cycle.
Finally, Kotex carried on with the earlier traditions of menstruation being a problem. As Freidenfelds talked about in “The Modern Period,” menstruation continued to be construed as something that was undesirable and to be dreaded – it was a “curse” as Molly stated in Molly Grows Up. The ads of 1942 were highly focused on this concept, as well as how Kotex could fix it all. Ads had titles such as “I’m tired of pretending” and “How do they do it?” and “Chin up!…” and all began with a discussion of how a girl was having a hard time with life. She was down, she wished she didn’t have to do anything, she was frustrated and wishing she could be more like the other girls who were just fine. One ad in particular focused on how it was hard to deal with things when her brother was overseas. When it came time to do a “scavenger hunt” to collect scrap metal to support the war efforts, the following takes place: “So you tell Jill your brain wave… that you’re getting in the fight come Monday, when you’ll feel better. And does she give you a look! ‘Why be so old fashioned?’ she asks. ‘I thought every girl knew about Kotex sanitary napkins!’” As if that would fix all of the stresses and concerns when menstruating. I thought this so funny, because Kotex basically ignores any hormone-related difficulties and says Kotex can fix it all and make you feel better! This is one way consumerism continued to take advantage of women. By giving these false promises, women would purchase their products, expecting everything to be better. The introduction of the birth control pill in later decades would change how women responded to such products, as they became more inclined to speak up and take control back over their bodies.