An exploratory study investigating the construction of university students’ perceptions of menstruation and the influence menstrual product advertisements in print media
Menstruation is a quintessential phenomenon unique to females which prepares the body for reproductive functioning. Although this phenomenon is a natural biological process of development, social institutions such as science, socio-cultural factors, religion and the media impact young women’s perceptions of menstruation. Media, in particular advertising has been instrumental in conveying specific versions of reality that mirrors Western capitalist and patriarchal ideologies of women and their bodily processes. Media representations of menstruation portrays it as a ‘hygiene crisis’, rational and in need of symptomatic treatment. Media portrayal of women’s bodies highlights the importance of identifying ways in which advertising contributes to young women’s perceptions of menstruation. The aims of this study are twofold; firstly this study aims to understand how young women’s perceptions of menstruation are constructed. Secondly, this study also aims to explore young women’s perceptions of menstrual product advertising in print media. Literature shows that the media often portrays menstruation as a ‘hygiene crisis’ instead of a maturation process. Improved hygiene seems to be the rationale and modern answer of ‘treating’ symptoms. Literature also identifies advertising as a pervasive form of media, which is often unconsciously acknowledged, and it is thought to convey specific versions of reality in order to mirror Western capitalist and patriarchal ideology. Taking these factors into consideration shows the importance of identifying ways in which advertising contributes to young women’s perceptions of menstruation. Positioned within a social constructionist framework, specifically on macro social constructionism the emphasis is on unpacking power relations and how this exercises social control over women. The use of social constructionism strengthens the study with focusing on the importance of how perceptions are constructed through interactions with our environments. This study utilized a qualitative approach using focus groups as the data collection method. The sample comprised of 16 participants recruited from the female population aged 18-23 years from a University in the Western Cape. Foucauldian discourse analysis was employed to analyse the data collected. All ethical requirements as stipulated by the University were strictly adhered to. This study will therefore contribute to the dearth of literature in the South African context as literature in this area is very limited and inaccessible. This study in particular contributes to the South African body of knowledge by furthering the understanding of how societal messaging influences and perpetuates power relations and the social control of women.