In my investigations of advertisements for menstruation products, issues of the Gaze have proven to be much less straightforward than I initially suspected, taking quite interesting turns and creating undertones that may not be present on the surface of the design compositions, carrying their main message much deeper with the full weight of the female gaze. In this particular artifact, a 2012 ad for a newer product called Softcup, the primary gaze is framed by the photographer to transfer directly to the audience of the composition rather than through the people depicted in the ad; they are seemingly unaware they are being watched, putting the viewer of the ad in a position of power. The audience becomes an intimate singular viewer, invited in as a spectator/a voyeur to the event occurring behind the curtain. The viewer gains agency, taking the lead on participating by witnessing a seemingly hidden act.
But let’s investigate a bit deeper. The very act of voyeurism speaks to a discursive practice. This turn of the Gaze can be read to signify that, regardless of what the body copy says, sex and menstruation is a socially frowned-upon mix. Why is the couple hiding?...they are obviously in a house rather than in a public place. Are they sneaking? This artifact resonates, not so much to craft a scene wherein the viewer sets himself or herself within the narrative, but rather, through a fine tuned psychoanalytical rhetoric of seduction, the viewer is drawn into a multilayered composition of taboos. For the two people behind the curtain, a diegetic gaze is set up just for them in that quite cozy spot, wrapped up in each other. The viewer is a spectator to the action and idea of what may come next – the gaze and framing methods are set up to allow the audience member to be secretly invited in, to create a narrative of their own going forward from the peek they have been allowed.
Within this frame that is hiding and revealing only so much, can we come to a conclusion that menstruation and even burgeoning sexuality should also remain a hidden act of embodied agency, representations of shame enacted through the Gaze? Per Foucault, this ad operates to internalize policing of sociocultural norms, namely in this instance, what John Berger would call “the female gaze” that becomes turned back upon ourselves as women within society, to modify our own actions and behaviors to fit long-set ideologies of social comfort (that we carry on with our lives as if our period never existed). What intrigues me about this particular composition is the fact that the figures are presented as hiding behind the visual trope of the peeking curtain, though the body copy of the ad promotes freedom and agency through use of this product. Within a deeper layer of meaning, in line with Debord, it becomes a gaze of seduction and spectacle that falls back upon the viewer to be internalized in a particularly manufactured and layered way.
Debord, G. (2000). Society of the Spectacle. Kalamazoo, MI: Black & Red.
Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. Sheridan. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Kelly, V. (2014). "Metaphors of resonance for visual communication design." Visual Communication, 12(2), 211-230.