A couple of nights ago, as I was exiting the Bedford Ave L stop, I heard a man behind me talking about ads for Thinx underwear plastered on the walls.
"I mean, that's just gross," he said in a British accent as we passed by an ad featuring an image of a woman in underwear reaching up to her toes with her legs in the air, juxtaposed by a drooping raw egg. I wanted to turn around and scold him—"All women have periods, grow up!"—but instead I marched forward and seethed, suddenly thrilled that the walls of a packed subway stop are lined with ads saying women have periods, and we should start talking about it.
The ads feature diverse women in their underwear and say things like, "Why are there period ads everywhere? The better question is, why shouldn't there be? There's a 1 in 12 chance you're on your period right now, yet we rarely discuss menstruation outside of whispers from woman to woman. Today, we can change this." The underwear itself is marketed as "period-proof" and has four layers of wicking and fluid-trapping materials. Different styles are marketed for different levels of flow, and they can be worn with pads, tampons or other menstrual devices—or even alone. Sounds great! But the MTA didn't agree—their advertising company, Outfront Media, first rejected the ads until people created an uproar on social media, and an MTA spokesperson reversed the decision.
Now, another big NYC media company has rejected the ads: CMT, which controls ads on Taxi TVs. "This is a fucking outrage," says Thinx CEO and co-founder Miki Agrawal. "After 80 publications published the rampage against the MTA, this judgment was made again by old white men. We're not going to stop until it's equal." Agrawal points out there's plenty of ads in public transportation touting breast augmentation (like the woman holding oranges in front of her breasts and frowning, then holding grapefruits and smiling), or women with perfect bodies in bikinis, or movie posters for 50 Shades of Grey where a women is tied up and being choked—and yet, men don't seem to find these representations of women "offensive."
"It comes down to the sexist world we live in that caters toward the male gaze," Agrawal says. "It's really about changing the storyline and the reality men and women expect. If women find this gross, they've been brainwashed by sexist standards as well. Every woman has [a period], and every man is here because of it."
The man I encountered who called the ads gross reminded me of a few other dudes I'm not a huge fan of. Like the man who barred Michigan state House Representative Lisa Brown from speaking on the floor about an abortion bill for daring to say the word "vagina." Or when Todd Akin said women who suffer "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant because "the body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." He reminded me of the modern-day witch hunt Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards recently sat through in Congress.
If you can't bring yourself to say the word vagina, or understand that menstruation is the reason you stand on this earth today, you need to take hard look at those MTA ads, then think about why they make you uncomfortable, and get over it.
"We've gotten so many people saying, 'Yes, it's time!'" Agrawal says. "This is finally something real! This actually happens to women and we should honor it and not be shamed by it. Let's respect it."