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The Body Electric: Man Pad

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Tampax quietly unveiled a viral ad campaign in June that I stumbled on a few weeks ago and my feelings about it remain complicated. Despite the hours spent turning it over in my mind, my conclusion is that the campaign--documented entirely on one site, zack16.com, and chronicling the adventures of a sixteen-year-old boy who wakes up one day with a vagina--is many things in turn: edgy, challenging, steeped in stereotypes, possibly transphobic, and potentially subversive in its exploration of gender. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Zack Johnson, the central figure of this ad campaign--which, it seems important to note, was created by a major corporation--finds himself suddenly transbodied after living a life unquestioning of gender. The idea is interesting and deeply surprising. Zack's adventures are divided into nine brief episodes, where he is forced to rexamine his relationship to his best friend, his sister, and his body. The "sell" doesn't even come until the last few episodes, when it becomes clear that Zack is going to have to navigate his first period (which, I should note, he handles with far less anxiety and grief than I did mine.)  

Stop what you're doing and watch the first four webisodes in this twelve minute mini-film http://zack16.com/the-film/  

As you can see, the campaign slides into simplistic and sexist stereotypes regularly, like when Zack immediately bonds with his sister by baking brownies and watching a romantic movie. Girl parts make you emotional! His final assesment of the female biology--"Fifty percent of the population has a vagina, and they seem to be doing pretty well"--is not exactly a "Hear me roar" kind of statement. There are moments that verge on transphobic, too, like when Zack thinks that his crush won't be interested in him because of his "equipment"--um, I think a hell of a lot of women with similarly-bodied partners would disagree with that assesment.

On the other hand--and this is the part that bowls me over--Zack's experience with the boys he's friends with is, well, very transteen. He is worried about being "discovered" by his teammates, who are portrayed as sexist assholes. We are asked to sympathize with Zack, and not just in a gender-binary pity fest. His body has changed in a way that doesn't reflect his understanding of himself, and he is forced to rexamine what it means to be masculine and feminine from the perspective of one who is both and neither all at once. This aspect of the campaign is an accurate description of my adolescence, and the complexity of Zack's reaction is surprisingly well portrayed. 

 Ultimately, I wouldn't argue that this is a progressive, gender bending ad campaign. However, perhaps by accident, Tampax has created a documentation of a nonnormative gender experience that is not dismissive, hateful, or single-mindedly exaltant of binary norms. Zack's panic about de-pantsing on the soccor field may be one of the most sensitive portrayals of a trans experience that I have ever seen. Or, perhaps, I am being optimistic. What do you think?

 

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

While I agree with your

While I agree with your stance that Tampax is attempting to be progressive with this "Ad", overall I was offended by the entire thing. Who is this trying to reach to? As a young woman, what am I supposed to glean from this.. if only a man was subjected to our pains, he would finally understand the horrors of being female! No. While I appreciate the approach it was carried out poorly. Zach grows a vagina and now he loves to bake brownies and watch chick flicks with his sister? It is completely misogynist.
As a side note, I would also like to add that the complaints I left as comments on this site to Tampax, protesting the blatant stereotyping of women, were promptly deleted.. as their comments are "awaiting moderation". Nice try, Tampax. The Diva Cup will suit me just fine.

if only men...

>> if only a man was subjected to our pains, he would finally understand the horrors of being female!

I don't remember who wrote it, but ... "if only a man was subjected to periods, he would not hesitatate a sec to declare his gender superior". And no, I don't say women should declare themselves superior, I'm just wondering if by accepting all the fuss and whining about periods, women do not help to perpetuate a negative stereotype about them.

PS: sorry for my Engl.

Maybe

Maybe if you could experience a period you'd complain too. Having just gotten over mine, I still wish science could come up with a way for husbands/boyfriends or males in general to experience bleeding and cramping the way their ladies do. I know some women dont' get cramps and always bleed lightly. Not all of us. Now I know why they call your ab area the 'core', because cramps there cripples EVERYTHING! Every month I go through excruciating pain and heavy bleeding and feeling fat and sweaty and oozy and disgusting. I wish my husband could feel it just once, for one day, and then he'd understand and quit telling me to suck it up. He'd whine too.

I wish science stays on the

I wish science stays on the same track where it is now. Also i wish your husband continues to be what he was born to be. I feel sorry for the way he treats you, but it is your fault after all. Relationships work well when two understand each other.

I am married, i cook, i wash, i clean, i work and a lot more...

Suck it up, and yes make up some rules for his ass to follow. Sure, if you cannot train a dog, you should never get one... Now how about that ?

DID HE GET A CLITORIS TOO?

or are we still living in the penis vs vagina world.

It is important because girls should be made aware of their vulva and clitoris before they are taught about their vaginas. Girls are conditioned and brought up to feel shame over their genitals, in a way that boys don't, and the most obvious way this is achieved is by refusing to name them correctly, as in, deny their existance. How can you touch something that isn't there? So in this way, boys as well as girls are taught girls have vaginas, which is tied to birth, instead of their clitoris, which is connected with their sexual pleasure. Men are not brought up to make the distinction about their bits, and their sexuality by virtue of their sex is not controlled and punished as a result. And then we wonder why women have fucked up sex lives and find it hard to orgasm compared to their partners. Lemme give you a hint. You're not using your sex organ. But he's using his.

Just thought I'd add that because when a sixteen year old Boy Wakes Up With A Vagina in an advertisement endorsing (albeit at first glance subtly) a specific brand of tampons, that aspect of womanhood is ignored and therefore it isn't made clear who the ad is aimed at. Except it is clear when, due to said vagina, the protagonist now develops a new found capacity to bake. Girls, take note: your vagina wants to bake and also wants you to buy tampax.

But I wanted to talk mainly about this:

"Very transteen...He is worried about being "discovered" by his teammates, who are portrayed as sexist assholes."

So.. they'll hate on him for having a woman's body and identifying as a man, or for having a woman's body and identifying as a woman? Which is it, or is it both?? Or is simply having a vagina on the soccer field is in some capacity cause for concern? If they are sexist assholes, is the issue here not, sexism?

"Zack's panic about de-pantsing on the soccor field may be one of the most sensitive portrayals of a trans experience that I have ever seen."

Trans experience? Could also be every girls' experience who has played sport but didn't feel comfortable changing because she would be made to feel like shit for being a girl / having a girls' genitals (see paragraph on clitoris.)

Personally identifying as either sex is not the issue I am having, it's just that this is not the first article I have read when a situation that is inherently sexist becomes pointedly labelled transphobic instead, or even at times homophobic, whilst ignoring the fact that fear, shame and humiliation over your body for being female, is very often a cause of distress for girls growing up, ESPECIALLY in this case when they play sport, which is still seen as inherently a boys thing.

I don't know how it happened exactly, but when did trans issues become separated from the everyday misogyny that young girls face everyday growing up? It becomes nothing short of alienating, and obscures the fact that these are not separate issues and we need to fight them as one. It also heavy handedly relegates sexism to the backseat, when trans issues and gender oppression as well as homophobia come directly FROM the systemic oppression of women under the distorted power relations of capitalist society, best exemplified with this video for tampons apparently.

It was clear that as a girl I was not expected nor encouraged to play, or even enjoy sports like soccer. Much less be good at them, unless I was secretly male. Which is an ideologue that still persists - and it is plain sexist. And I did have to hide the fact that I was a girl many times growing up in order to play as there were no girl's teams at the time. And I can tell you it was clear to me then, that whilst I also felt panicked at times should I have been "found out" by certain people, I was always made aware that I, nor my body nor my team mates were the problem, but messed up societal norms and a system that stunted the development and dehumanized the majority of people. How far have we come in breaking sexist stereotypes now when we seem to be insidiously and tactfully reinforcing them?

And the previous poster here made the point worth repeating in my own way; what the fuck exactly am I gaining as a woman by having watched that shit?? Or indeed as anyone, man, woman, trans, queer, straight, meat popsickle...There is no way a video like this will send a positive message to girls growing up or trans identifying people. Or humans. It is a tampon ad, and like all tampon ads, it's selling point is pubescent girls' insecurities.

Make no mistake, the issue here is S.E.X.I.S.M, and the video is SEEPED in it. The message so exploitative of stereotypes and genuine concerns during puberty for girls, that it's almost too obvious to write out, except, well, the point was to SELL a BRAND of tampons. Let's hope we don't forget sexism when we see it, lest we reduce identifying what it means to be women with vaginas and periods and identifying what it is / feels to be inherently male with playing soccer.

"There are moments that verge on transphobic, too, like when Zack thinks that his crush won't be interested in him because of his "equipment "

This to me sounds alot like homophobia too by the way. Maybe they tried to expoit the internalized homophobia that many lesbians feel growing up? Who knows. Calling it transphobic without also mentioning the homophobic aspect of it, comes across sounding like gays and lesbians just want to screw each other, not that they have personal feelings of love, whereby sex alone equals sexuality and the "equipment " defines their relationships.

I don't know why issues like misogyny and even homophobia weren't dealt with more thoroughly in this critique/article. But I think this article missed the boat. Would an ad with a 16 year girl waking up with a penis have the same effects? Would it be sexist to men then? Obviously it doesn't work like that. But what if the sixteen year old girl with a penis was scared to take off her trouser pants in case her male peers saw that she shaved her legs? Would that be transphobic? Or would that be an example of sexism? What if she felt she couldn't wear her bright pink thong any more and therefore didn't feel like a real woman? Would that be transphobic or a transteen issue, or sexism? The answer should be clear, but to spell it out, in a video ad like that you couldn't sell tampons with it.