Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Plain talk on an old taboo

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Sexy freedom fighters hurling tampons into the trolley - it's a triumph for capitalism.

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

In June, a Michigan congresswoman used the word "vagina" during a heated debate over abortion and was barred from speaking in the state House of Representatives the next day.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, we are once more ahead of the ball. Not only has the word vagina found its way into prime-time advertising, but in a radical new ad for Carefree liners, a knowing young beauty delivers a little monologue about "knowing oneself" while describing the process of the vagina "naturally cleaning itself" between periods.

The model's delivery is direct and pleasant - although even with flowers artfully placed to protect her modesty, one does wonder how she manages to use the pads without wearing pants.

But the ad is confronting, and the reason is this: we simply don't associate the vagina with advertisements for sanitary items. Wind-swept maidens frolicking with horses? Schoolgirls getting ready to hit the town? Men doing stupid things when they find their girlfriend's stash of pads lying around? Check, check and check.

Yes, all clearly something to do with the female menstrual cycle. It's obvious, isn't it?

Even if we all know that women are quite often bloated, depressed and stuffing their faces with carbohydrates at period time, we accept a slip of a thing in a slip of a thing looking meaningfully into the middle distance, as the voiceover speaks of arcane concepts like pride, womanliness and freedom, because it all seems so cool, almost desirable.

Which is the point of good advertising, I suppose. If you can put aside the acne and the aches and consider yourself a sexy freedom fighter as you hurl a pack of tampons into your trolley, being sure to quickly cover them with a twelve-pack of bog paper, the capitalist system really has triumphed.

The furore over this latest ad, this daringly frank little expose of unmentionable bodily functions, is predictable but still infuriating.

For a start, the good people at Family Health Diary have no such delicacy in the way they present their numerous remedies for endless, ghastly complaints.

If I have to endure one more commercial depicting an acute case of athlete's foot or psoriasis from those merchants of gross just after dinner, I may not be able to resist the urge to reach out and sever presenter Mark Perry's honeyed vocal cords.

My second objection to the objections is the chorus of folk who think their children will somehow fall over in a quivering heap from hearing the word "vagina" during prime time. Little do they know that their darlings have probably heard about that body part a thousand times or more in rap music and other incidental entertainment, only, err ... not by that precise term.

Further, even if your loin-fruit is a boy, but particularly if she's a girl, should they not already be apprised of this rather vital body part? And that, in the girl's case, she may one day need Johnson & Johnson's help to remain "fresh" a full 365 days of the year?

Kudos anyhow to Carefree for pulling off this marketing coup and getting the world talking about vaginas, even if it is to gripe about their prominence during primetime. A great lesson for advertisers the world over, with the potential of plenty more markets to conquer with this particularly entrenched taboo.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com

- NZ Herald

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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