I recently came across some advertising that disgusted me beyond belief, not difficult I know. Tampax really takes it to another level with this one. Apparently, one of their marketing people decided that to get people to buy Tampax they should create a fake persyn, give him a blog and a twitter account, and have him promote Tampax. Yes, they created a 16 year old guy named Zack Johnson who wakes up one morning to find himself with a vagina and soon starts menstrating.
You can find the website here.
Zack’s Profile describes him: “Basically, Zack is a normal 16-year old guy. Except for the fact that one morning he woke up a little bit more like a girl.” First, this whole idea that one day Zack woke up and suddenly had a vagina makes the story so fantastic and unreal that it urges the reader to believe that men can’t have vaginas, that your gender is determined by an arbitrary body part, and that men who don’t have a penis and women who don’t have a vagina are abnormal. It goes on to say that this problem is “a question best answered by modern scientists.” The same scientists that label me as having a disorder. The same scientists that assigned me female. The same scientists that rely heavily on Fruedian philosophies to create an idea that all transmen have a “phantom penis.” (Yes, transmen are “normal” men. Somehow in the womb they simply oops, lost their penis and now operate in the world feeling a penis that is no longer there. Anyone who has fantasized about having a penis during sex could be diagnosed with this disorder. Sadly, such ideas may help transmen in the future get bottom surgery if this is included in the DSM.) Also, his experience of waking up with a vagina completely disregards and disrespects and misrepresents the struggle that many transwomen endure to get bottom surgery. He is a wealthy white male who has a lot of privileges and mobility. Trannies, especially those of color and who are boxed into the lower income category, do not have this mobility and for a straight, white guy to wake up with the “wrong” or “other” body part to sell a product is sick and transphobic.
This is some bullshit.
There is so much on the site that makes me want to scream in rage at the normalness of this ad campaign. Of course a company would use an advertising technique to profit. This is really no surprise.
I feel like I cannot do a complete job of critiquing this site. Below are some excerpts that I thought were worth noting. The whole blog and ad campaign is transphobic, sexist, racist, classist, elitist and makes me wonder how effective a 16 year old guy is at promoting teenage women to buy Tampax brand products. Is this helping to sell tampons?!?
“Still in possession of girl parts “down under.”…During lunch, Bryan and the guys were being gross. It was like watching Vikings eat with their feet at an all-you-can eat country buffet. Open mouths, talking and chewing at high volume, food flying everywhere.” Suddenly, Zack not only wakes up with a vagina, he also lacks an ability to relate to his guy friends. Apparently, women are perfect examples of Eurocentric table etiquette and are disgusted by the immaturity of teenage guys. This reinstates this notion that women and men can’t relate, that the binary is a natural division between two completely opposite types of people and that everyone should fall on one side or the other.
“Went into a stall, pee everywhere. Yuck. Did my best and hovered like a girl.” What?!? I don’t even know what to say about this. I sit down to pee like a guy. This is so ridiculous. And, if a period makes a woman a woman like Zack so frequently claims, why does he always refer to actions and experiences he labels female for girls. He never talks about boy things; he talks about man things. Yet, it seems he uses the word girl much more frequently than woman. This sexist use of language creates a dynamic where a man is talking about girl things, and with often an attitude that Zack is doing it better than women with his completely open and honest posts and his ability to call out guys for their lack of knowledge on the subject. (Although, before he woke up with a vagina Zack knew nothing about menstruation either. Does it take going through menstruation to care to know?) I think he is intended to appear as the perfect, understanding gentleman in a position to help women. People who menstruate don’t need some white, upper middle class guy informing ignorant guys on everyone’s behalf. We have the ability to do that ourselves.
“My sister Chrissie and I have a love-hate-mostly hate relationship. But since I changed down there we’ve been kind of bonding. I bet if I told her my secret she’d be totally supportive.” Zack loses his ability to relate to his guy friends and suddenly finds himself bonding with his sister. Again, distinct and rigid lines are drawn between the two sexes as inarguably natural. People with vaginas relate to people with vaginas. People with penises relate to people with penises. How could a someone with a vagina (who are labeled as soft, emotional, calm, mature, and understanding) relate to someone with a penis (who are labeled as loud, rambunctious, immature, careless, and inconsiderate)? I wonder what the people at Tampax think of trans folk?
“I believe that being a perfectly normal 16-year-old guy with a perfectly normal vagina qualifies as ‘unique experience.'” Zack soon believes that this experience will allow him into top colleges. It seems like a wonderful benefit of his situation. Being a guy with a front hole has never helped me financially, socially, or educationally. People who have their gender identity denied because either their bodies or representation does not fit into either box option are not getting economic benefits. They don’t receive anything for going through a world that continuously denies them their identity and violently attacks them whether they are passed as their gender identity or not. This completely ignores the experience of gender variant folks, whether trans, queer and or intersex. Zack is not identifying as any of those identities and no experiences can be compared, however Zack seems to think he is the only persyn who travels through the world with a body that is different from what he is told makes him the gender he identifies with. He seems to believe that although he is annoyed by this experience, he can gain something when his secret is discovered.
“Some people tweeted me that I should make a TV show or movie out of my predicament. Or an after-school special where we all learn a lesson of tolerance and acceptance, but in the end, I still get my junk back.” Again, Zack thinks he can gain something from this. This statement also reinforces that men must have a penis. That is the only way this story could end. Men are not allowed to be men if they don’t have this body part and Zack states this very plain and simple. We can learn about what it means to be intersex or trans, but in the end those individuals will have to be “fixed” to fit either/or and that is the ONLY WAY. It’s so disgusting. Where is the talk about the expense? How hard it is to get surgeries? What documentation and process does a persyn have to go through? What do those without documents or identification do? Are they any options? Zack’s situation urges the reader to assume that everyone has the ability to make a decision to modify their body however they please. It’s oversimplified and totally ignores how complicated and impossible the medical system makes it for trans and intersex people.
“Took Chelsea Carr to prom last weekend. She looked great. Too bad I’m completely unequipped to be her boyfriend. Not sure why I even asked her. I guess I just want to keep things as normal as possible.” WHAT!!!!?! I can’t even write anything about this statement.
“Well, my period is over and things are getting back to normal. Of course, I still have girl parts down there, so in my case “normal” is still pretty freaking weird.” Again, I don’t even know what to say. This is so sick.
“Guys having a period would remove any of the shame associated with the process.” According to Zack only women get a period and, well, him. Women are obviously incapable of removing the shame of getting a period so a man like Zack must come in and save the day. And, he goes beyond that to say that if all guys got a period a few times that then all the men could come together and “fix” this problem. They could go and “fix” the horrible conditions in other countries in Asia and Africa. They could make getting your period something to celebrate. That is some colonialist bullshit. Zack seems to think that when shame is removed from the period in the United States of America, then indigenous and third world countries can adapt these models developed by wealthy, white men.
“Guys would understand that yes, getting your period sucks. But it’s what makes a woman a woman.” Does a period make a woman a woman? What about women who don’t get their period? Is it about bleeding every month or the ability to conceive children? Does it matter? This essentialism is clearly transphobic and excludes people who identify as female that are unable to get their period.
There is more, much more, to be said about this blog site, about this fictional character developed for an ad campaign, about the mixed messages that people get about menstruating. At times, it makes you irritable, not fresh, and is extremely painful. At other times, all of these negative associations need to be removed by men. I know my thoughts on this site are lacking and no where near complete. They definitely lack a comprehensive understanding of the simultaneity of oppressions. These were my initial reactions.