When I was 7, my best friend and I decided we wanted to start either a detective agency or a Tommy Page fan club. I can’t quite remember what, but either way, we needed to get some notebooks to make things official. We rode our bikes to the local pharmacy and asked for pads. The clerk very calmly asked, “Stationery or sanitary?”
We were mortified. But we were 7, and when you’re 7, periods are both hysterical and terrifying. But the clerk, who was an adult, didn’t bat an eye. Even though this was before ThinkPads and TouchPads and the brand-new Apple iPad, he knew that “pad” is a pretty useful, generic term that has all sorts of applications. Why, within the clerk’s small store alone, there were notepads and gauze pads and corn pads and sanitary pads and heating pads and cleansing pads. He also knew, making his living in a slightly medical field, that periods happen, and sanitary pads exist, and that neither of these facts is worth getting all giggly and red-faced about.
Were that such a wise pharmacy clerk around now to try and calm the collective titters (and Twitters) of the American public! Ever since Steve Jobs announced that Apple’s new device was to be called not the iTablet but the iPad, people have been making jokes about the name’s slightly menstrual connotations. And five hours into it, I’ve already had enough.
On Twitter, the jokes abound: “If all your friends buy one, will they sync up?” iTampon is a trending topic.
Slate's Farhad Manjoo, when praising the device as the “computer I’ve always wanted” can’t help but point out the “feminine-hygiene-product-inspired name.” I highly doubt StayFree was the inspiration; see the above point about “pad” being a pretty wide-ranging term, and one with totally established stationery roots. Not to mention it’s just a letter away from iPod, which is a much more likely source of inspiration. To me, the new name suggests an evolution from the company’s earlier products, not something with dry weave and wings.
Everyone is piling on. Jezebel even compiled a list of its favorite jokes. And yes, joking about periods is better than not being able to say the words “pad” or “cycle” out loud. Joking about periods is an excellent way to take a little power, and pleasure, out of the monthly inconvenience that is a woman’s birthright. But jokes about the iPad aren’t even jokes—they’re just lines referring to the new minicomputer, or super-phone, or whatever the hell it is, as if it were a sanitary napkin. The period is the punchline. And excuse me for sounding like a joyless buzzkill, but . . . I don’t get it.
This is not an argument about propriety. I’m not scandalized that we’re talking about dirty things at the office water cooler. Nor am I one of those people who refers to menstruation in cryptic, cutesy terms like “Aunt Flo." I’m perfectly comfortable, if oft inconvenienced, with menstruation. I can buy tampons without having to spend an extra $20 on magazines, cold medicine, and Twizzlers to make them less conspicuous. But it took a while to get there.
For many women, “getting your period” is like “getting cancer”: people can’t even say it without whispering. I know women who are mortified at someone catching sight of a tampon in her purse. Dates are carefully restructured. Evenings out are canceled. And this hysteria over the iPad—the notion that anything period-related is fair game for public mockery—is exactly why.
I get that bodily functions make people uncomfortable, and that discomfort is a great source for humor. I’m not advocating that everyone get so accepting of periods that we all discuss ebbs and flows over lunch and in great detail. But the idea that periods are ridiculous by default—and therefore so embarrassing and shameful to those who get them—is one that’s way past its time.