Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines the gendered experiences of menstruation for young Japanese women, as mediated by commercial menstrual products. While access to commercial menstrual products for economically disadvantaged girls and women has been acknowledged as a liberating experience and an important step toward global gender equity, the role of menstrual products in the lives of economically secure women is missing in the scholarly conversation. In Japan, menstrual product manufacturing and advertising is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and most women have access to dozens of varieties of menstrual products. Drawing on recent fieldwork, I argue that menstrual product choice directly impacts women’s experiences and perceptions of menstruation, and, in particular, menstrual pads (the dominant commercial menstrual product in Japan) mediate menstrual experiences at both public and private levels. At the public level, women strategically use menstrual pads to maintain a socially idealized feminine aesthetic and affect, which is also promoted through advertising for the products. “Successful” management of one’s menstrual flow requires concealing all visual, olfactory, or other signs of one’s menstrual status; this cannot be accomplished without the aid of menstrual products. At the private level, the menstrual pad acts as a literal, material mediator between a woman and her menstrual blood; use of the pad limits direct physical contact with menstrual blood and one’s genitals, and it even restricts visual and olfactory contact as well. These reduced sensory relationships produce markedly different menstrual experiences from those who use other menstrual products like tampons or reusable cloth pads.