Irritations of Modern Life: 16: Tampon Ads

THERE IS a phrase that, if I'm in the throes of PMT, makes me want to throw the nearest Yuppie coffee-table ornament through the TV screen. All you have to do to bring me out in a cold sweat is raise an arched eyebrow, put on a Scottish accent and say "You don't suppose using dry white wine was a bit of a cheat, do you?". Innocuous enough, I know, but when the actress delivering the line has just poured the contents of her glass into a sanitary towel, it's downright offensive. Look, dolly: wings are useful if you knock your wine glass over on your white sofa and don't have any kitchen paper, but that's not actually what they were designed for.

The advertising of menstrual products - and I say this as a ranting liberal - is one of the most disastrous spin-offs of the liberalisation of our airwaves. The problem is that you can't take a society that had hitherto dealt with periods by grimacing and whispering phrases like "the curse" or "monthlies", and openly discuss these facts of life on commercial airtime. But if you're going to allow the advertising of condoms, you can hardly refuse to accept advertising for other products related to the reproductive system.

Whatever you do, someone's going to be offended. Men go green about the gills if asked to contemplate what is really going on when their womenfolk are curling round hot water bottles, eating chocolate and shouting at the children. The conservative tendency think these things best ignored in the hope that they might go away. And people get squirmy if gender- related subjects come on the telly when they are with the children; hence the popularity of simple, explicable violence like Power Rangers.

As a result, advertising agencies have come up with compromises that are offensive to all, and particularly to the group they're advertising to. Vacant actresses going: "Well, my friend suggested I try wings, and they were brilliant. And then I found out that everyone else was using them already." Clear-complexioned women leaping into the backs of open- topped cars (driven, of course, by men). Or that fantastically long, fantastically boring waste of your and my life in which Lil-lets show that their wavy blue water is very, very discreet.

Tampon advertising has produced a set of cliches - women on roller-skates, fluffy clouds, in white dresses, women running, riding, laughing with their arms round each other - as instantly recognisable and as instantly ineffective as anything the lager industry has thought up. I say ineffective because, when I did a straw poll to see if anyone could name the product that is Most Effective Against Leaks ("Eeeugh," said the boys, "there's no need to get so detailed"), the one that lets you go to Venice (but not every day), or the one you use to mop up your dry white wine with, not one person got it right. Wooah-Bodyform is the only universally recognised slogan, and that only because it's become the universal butt of jokes.

I don't want my periods represented as an opportunity for liberation when they're actually an opportunity for some multinational to make a thousand per cent markup on cotton wool. If they're going to advertise, at least let's be truthful about what they're for. What kind of society do we live in that bombards us (and in the daytime, too) with Jerry Springer's images of trailer-park peccadillos but can't bring itself to mention menstruation? Please, someone, give that woman a bottle of red. If it scares the boys, they'll get over it in time.