The #MeToo campaign, Women’s Marches and the current news cycles are flooded with women pushing back on the patriarchy and controls placed on women. Women’s bodies are being controlled, not wholly by themselves, but by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, the media, and insurance companies. What is considered normal and natural during menstruation is determined by the family care doctor, OBGYN, or fertility specialist who learns about medications to treat symptoms defined as problems by the pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies then go on to promote these drugs — life enhancers — in the media and through a focused campaign to get the medical community to prescribe them. Little did the American public realize that menstruation has become a multi-billion dollar a year business.
If you have ever had a period, or been around a teenage girl who is starting her period, you may know how difficult the first experience can be with the menstrual cycle. Sometimes the beginning of womanhood is celebrated or the first period can be unexpected and embarrassing. Typically, women’s periods are starting earlier, around the age of 8 or 9, though some will have their first cycle around age 14. Sometimes when periods begin, girls will go to their doctor for a necessary health checkup and are sometimes placed on birth control. This begins the process of the medicalization of women’s bodies and cycles. However, the medicalization experience does not stop at the beginning of menstruation. Medicalization continues into menopause. As part of the natural fertility cycle, as women age and hormones change, menopause begins. The experience of menopause, the natural ending phases of a woman’s fertility, is often met with experiences of emotional agitation, hot flashes, flushing, and exhaustion. Natural symptoms of menopause have been deemed unacceptable by physicians, the media, and pharmaceutical companies. The hormone replacement named Estroven has been marketed via media messages which tells women how awful they are, how their relationships will suffer, and how miserable they will feel during the menopause experience. These messages depict the symptoms, which were once embraced as the cessation of birthing years, can now only be resolved through medication.
The pharmaceutical companies gamble on women’s health for big profits. There are countless drugs available to address the natural physical experience of menstruation: cramps, bloating, gas, constipation. Midol, manufactured by Bayer whose tagline is Science for a Better Life, has effectively turned women’s natural biophysical experiences into a profit center.
These companies make money from Birth control. The pill is the main contraceptive method for women 15–29 in North America where roughly 20 % of women use this drug. In the United States women use birth control to manage or treat various aspect of their periods: heavy bleeding, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), irregular periods, pregnancy prevention, acne reduction, or heavy cramps. These pills, which have allowed women to make reproductive choices, are also marketed by the pharmaceutical industry as a way to counter natural menstruation. The marketing of the pill tells women they can have a more active and youthful life as well as be more socially acceptable during your period. As the pharmaceutical companies create new drugs to regulate women’s bodies, the media will advertise, the doctors will prescribe, and the general public will be indoctrinated into what an appropriate experience should look like.
In an attempt to normalize menstruation and market products to women, advertising centers on living the best life possible — which means what your life would be like if you didn’t have to deal with your period. When it comes to marketing products for women’s periods, the shelves are overrun with pads, tampons, menstrual cups, panty liners, vaginal wash/deodorants and period underwear that are customized to a wide variety of menstrual experiences. The marketing messages go out of their way to stigmatize menstruation and the natural experience of it. Commercials often use blue dye to represent the menstrual blood to avoid the stigma of period blood. These commercials, focused on selling the necessity of the product, tend to stigmatize period blood and make women feel shamed about their bodily secretions. This form of marketing is a targeted at social control and strengthening the medicalization process.
Ultimately, a woman’s menstruation, fertility, and entire reproduction process is governed by physicians, media, and pharmaceutical companies who work collectively in an attempt to persuade women’s decisions about their own body. Only when the American public begins to understand how this persuasion and manipulation affects women and men in their education and understanding of normal body functions, will true choice be available. No longer should women be shamed into hiding their menstruation and menopause cycles, reacting with embarrassment and holding the responsibility for this core knowledge on how to manage these bodily functions. If real education were available, women and men would understand how a woman’s body is meant to work naturally.
By Megan Neitlin and Elliott Kronenfeld