The Persistence of Negative Attitudes (8/10)

Source: Brozan, Nadine. 1981. “Menstruation: Survey Finds It’s Still Uneasy Subject.” ProQuest Historic Newspapers: The New York Times. http://search.proquest.com/docview/121774252/567EAC1A03C742D4PQ/2?accountid=4488 (accessed November 28, 2016).

Moving through the sexual revolution of the latter half of the twentieth century, it seemed likely that as society opened up about many of the historically taboo topics surrounding sex, menstruation would be one of them. In this newspaper article from 1981, we can see that menstruation was still pretty taboo. The findings of “The Tampax Report,” compiled of over one thousand interviews regarding people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards menstruation, are very interesting when evaluated in context of the times.

Tampax, one of the leading distributors of tampons in the 1970s-1980s, desired to better understand their consumers and the public’s perception of menstruation. This would enable the company to improve not only public relations, but also their advertising techniques and education component. Just like Kotex with “Very Personally Yours,” Tampax was involved in educating young people regarding menstruation. According to Vera Milow, the vice president of educational affairs for Tampax at the time, “There is a strong feeling that menstruation should be taught, but everyone feels they should let someone else do the teaching. Mothers often postpone telling their daughters. Schools write it into their curriculum, but many teachers avoid dealing with it in depth.” The results of the report show this was continuing to change, supporting what was seen in the study performed by Clarke and Ruble regarding adolescents’ beliefs about menstruation. Of the women surveyed in The Tampax Report, 31% did not know what was happening to them the first time they menstruated. Looking back to Brumberg’s “Something Happens to Girls,” we can see this is a worse statistic than she offers of 25% of girls mid-nineteenth century being unprepared. Breaking down the 31% statistic shows a change, though. The proportion of women who did not know about menstruation before menarche was 39% among those over age 35 (still a very large and alarming statistic); however, among women and girls under the age of 35, this statistic was at 19%. Still fairly high, but it showed a change that was taking place – more openness among young girls about menstruation was the case. Furthermore, these conversations were happening between girls and their mothers the majority of the time! The Tampax Report backs this up with 64% of the women surveyed saying they were first told about menstruation by their mothers; however, girls under the age of 22 were more likely to have learned about it from teachers. This contradicts the study by Clarke and Ruble, which found that mothers were the most frequent source of information. It’s possible that mothers were a more frequent source of information in regards to menstruation, but that oftentimes it was addressed in school before it could be addressed in the home.

“Despite the increasing frankness with which Americans discuss sexuality, many people are still uncomfortable about the topic of menstruation.” The sexual revolution enabled all sorts of openness to come about in talk about sex, and especially in terms of the sexuality of women. Long gone were the days of “passionlessness!” Menstruation, though, was still an “uncomfortable” topic. This shift in thinking about menstruation is fascinating to consider, as menstruation has always been connected to sexual maturity. Porter discussed in her article about how different generations learned about menstruation that mothers often became focused on their daughter’s newfound ability to get pregnant and focused more on the sexual component of menstruation than the entrance into womanhood. This has been a theme throughout the history of talk surrounding menstruation, but even though talking about sex became more acceptable, there were still largely negative attitudes regarding the acceptability of menstruation discussions. Only 35% of women said it was appropriate to talk about it at the office and 33% thought it okay to mention in social situations. The majority of respondents also said that menstruation should be concealed in these settings, and more than a third of respondents stated that even at home a woman should conceal the fact that she is menstruating! From there, 8% said that women should avoid contact with others when menstruating! There were obviously still many false beliefs regarding menstruating women at the time this survey was given. Labeling that myths were “rampant,” many statistics were listed showing how this was true. For example, 35% said they thought menstruation affected a woman’s ability to think, 27% said that women looked different while menstruating, 26% said that women could not perform as well at their jobs, and 30% said that women should cut back their physical activities when menstruating. Myths from a hundred years before (some of which were even addressed in Very Personally Yours) were still commonly believed in the 1980s! This makes one wonder if the educational materials from years before had helped and made a difference at all. And would the new educational materials created by Tampax make a difference for future girls?

Respondents for this survey were chosen in order to give as accurate a picture of what Americans in general believed. Age, race, education level, and socio-economic status were all taken into account, as was gender. Understanding male perspectives was important for Tampax as they’d be coming in contact with women – their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, coworkers, friends – on a daily basis. By learning more about what men think of menstruation, Tampax could gain power by gaining ideas of how to educate not only girls, but boys as well, and also how to make a product for only women seem acceptable towards men. Men and women sometimes had similar attitudes, but other times there seemed to be vast divides in opinions and beliefs. A couple interesting similarities had to do with emotions and intercourse – 89% of men and 85% of women believed that women became more emotional during menstruation, and 51% of men and 56% of women agreed that women should abstain from intercourse during menstruation. These similarities possibly exist because men felt the effects of these attitudes among women in their own lives. If women perceived themselves as more emotional during menstruation (which they did), it may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy that they act upon, with men feeling the effects. Same is true of intercourse – if women feel that they should not engage in sexual activity while menstruating, men will be impacted by these beliefs. This concept may also be true among some of the disagreements in statistics among the genders. 60% of women said it was impossible to become pregnant at times they are menstruating, compared with 43% of men. Is it possible that there were less men who responded to this statement as they’d had experiences that confirmed the opposite to be true? Or was it just a coincidence that this large difference existed? Another point brought up that 56% of women described menstruation as generally painful, compared with only 39% of men. This may be because men have never experienced menstruation and don’t understand it, so they assume it can’t be all that bad. This attitude is ironic, though, as most men also stated that menstruation “interferes with the activity of women. Unfortunately, the study did not dive in further to determine why these competing attitudes, however, learning about what men think about menstruation can give greater understanding to how society in general perceives menstruation. If men think it’s something negative, those attitudes will be conveyed though the media and other sources, impacting women’s attitudes as well. This may be why it remained a taboo topic through the sexual revolution: many men approved of the heightened sexuality of women, but approval did not increase of menstruation. Negative attitudes have persisted until today, but as will be seen in the concluding posts, there has been another shift in recent years.

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3 thoughts on “The Persistence of Negative Attitudes (8/10)

  1. It’s crazy that most men didn’t think of menstruation as a painful experience. All of the negative views about menstruation (painful, impossible to have sex, affects women’s mood, etc) made me wonder if the generally negative connotation of menstruation affects how much people are willing to talk about it, and contributes to the generally negative attitudes about menstruation.

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  2. I wonder if part of the reason for the openness about sex is that it can involve men directly, but menstruation is for the most part the experience of women. Maybe if there was more openness about the experience and its challenges it could involve more men in the conversation and everyone could accept it as a part of life necessary for everyone.

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  3. The attitudes of men and women were interesting to learn regarding menstruation during the 1980’s. It was surprising that many myths were still alive and many still believed them. It was also surprising that over half of men surveyed said that menstruation was not generally painful which is very surprising. Is it that men do not experience menstruation that lead to this belief or do they not have women who tell them that it is painful?

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