Big girls can buy their own – why Le Parcel is Le Patronising

From cosmetics to cake to designer knickers, it seems you can get almost anything delivered to your door on a monthly basis now. With subscription clubs becoming so popular, it was only a matter of time before someone hit on the idea of providing the one thing that women actually need on a monthly basis: menstruation products.

American company Le Parcel do just that: for $15 a month, you can receive a box of your favourite brand of tampons or pads – and they even include chocolate and a ‘surprise gift’.

It’s a simple and obvious idea – so much so that Le Parcel isn’t the first to try it. Initially, tampons seem to be the perfect candidate for automatic monthly delivery. Periods can be stressful and inconvenient, and knowing you’ll never be caught without supplies would mean that you’d have one less thing to worry about.

However, when you stop to think about it, the convenience angle is flimsier than a panty liner. Remembering to buy tampons is not that hard.  With slogans like ‘Never Run Out…Period!™’, these companies seem to subscribe to the notion that menstruation makes us go a little bit loopy. Our poor hormone-addled brains can’t remember to buy tampons! Helpful hint: make a list! Write ‘tampons’ in capitals. Buy in bulk, it’s cheaper!

If you’re subscribing to such a service, you are an independent, adult woman. Periods are by far the least of the responsibilities that you have to handle. Do you need an automated service to remind you to pay your rent each month, or your utility bills? Do you have to set a reminder on your phone in case you forget to show up for your job, too? No, because you are a capable adult. Le Parcel at el are offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

So, if these companies aren’t selling us convenience, what are they selling? Well, Le Parcel, in particular, has decided that they’re selling the avoidance of shame. I bet you didn’t know that that was available online!

Le Parcel’s slogan include ‘no more awkward stares at the checkout stand’ as if grown, ovulating women find buying tampons as taboo as buying heroin. Seriously, who is giving these supposed stares? I refuse to believe that anyone over the age of thirteen would find a woman buying tampons to be a sight worth staring at – although I suppose if you were devastatingly attractive or wearing something outlandish, you might get stared out regardless. In which case, the staring would not be because you were buying tampons.

Really, is there anywhere left in the Western world where the tampon-buying process is a cause for staring and shame? It’s been over twenty years since the iconic ‘WHOAH, Bodyform’ commercial was on our screens. I think we’ve gotten over the embarrassment by now.

‘Gone are the days of having your significant other “pick up” a box of pads at the store on the way home’ the Le Parcel website proclaims, as if by asking someone to buy you tampons you are putting them through a terrible trial – although, as they feel the need to put the phrase ‘pick up’ in quotation marks, it is possible that they mean something other than shopping that is cruel and unusual. Possible, but unlikely.

The avoidance of embarrassment seems to be the raison d’etre of Le Parcel. It could be the reason for the inexplicably French name. Whereas competitor Aunt Ruby’s name is euphemistic, it’s not so coy that you can’t work out what they’re selling. Le Parcel, on the other hand, is vague to the point of marketing uselessness. They’ll never build a well-known brand off on that name – though doing so would, of course, defeat their hush-hush mission of delivering unspeakable goods.

Le Parcel might be the company who are most obviously peddling the idea that buying menstrual products is an embarrassing and shameful exercise, but they’re not the only ones. Most of these companies reassure that their deliveries are ‘discreet’ or in ‘unmarked packaging’ with the kind fervency that one would expect from an adult toy website. Now, whilst I might feel uncomfortable about members of my household knowing the details of my sex life, I’m fairly sure that they all know, by now, that I am a woman. I don’t think they would be shocked to know that, as a woman, I do that menstruation thing.

Le Parcel thinks periods are not just embarrassing, but icky: ‘Nature’s gift stinks, so we’re giving you a better one!’ they proclaim. They also seem to think that hormonal women are children. Their website is in pastel hues. There’s a cutesy stop-motion video of a box being filled with tampons and sent through the mail, in case your childlike (yet hormonal!) mind finds that concept hard to grasp. Like other companies, they include chocolates in their deliveries. I have to admit, this is actually a good idea. Chocolate landing on my doormat is welcome whatever time of the month it is. Less welcome is the slogan ‘‘PMS: not so hard when chocolate-covered!’

Aside from the disturbing mental images this sentence might conjure, it makes me feel like a little girl. “Well, you know, I was finding this normal, healthy bodily function impossible to deal with, but now you’ve given me some sweets…”

Having said all of this, not all tampon delivery services are eerily infantilising brands that see periods as a source of shame and misery. For every product you buy, ohco.co, which claims to be the pioneer of tampon delivery, donates a tampon to homeless women. Aunt Ruby works on the same tampons/chocolate/gift model as Le Parcel, but Auntie’s gifts are actually menstruation-themed. Whilst I can’t see the ovulation calendar beaded bracelet becoming a fashion must-have, the ‘women’s herbal tea’, designed to relieve cramps, sounds like a nice idea. These gifts are relevant and upfront about what’s going on with your body, as opposed to Le Parcel shoving free beauty samples at you. This combination of free advertising and a ‘treat’ is like giving a toddler a pacifier dipped in Coca Cola to ease their teething pain. It’s a commercialised and patronising distraction. Have some mascara, then you’ll forget your cramps. A box of paracetamol would be a more appropriate and honest inclusion in the box, if less fun.

Another competitor,UK company Trinket, deliver their own brand of organic cotton, non-bleached tampons, which are both more environmentally- and body-friendly than your standard rayon brand. There is sense in this. The product that they’re offering can be difficult to get hold of. Some big supermarkets and chemists stock an equivalent, but you can’t just walk into any corner-shop, chemist or garage and be sure of finding them. A specialised product that can be hard to get hold of is exactly the sort of thing that could do with a monthly delivery service. Trinkets also have a ‘Wellbeing’ page, which discusses what menstruation actually entails (one would hope that this is redundant for the users of their service) and the risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome and cervical cancer. Dark and scary, but important.

It’s the frankness of Trinket and Aunt Ruby that Le Parcel sadly lacks. Having discussed some of their dire slogans: ‘no more awkward stares at the checkout stand’, ‘Nature’s gift stinks, so we’re giving you a better one!’, ‘PMS: not so hard when chocolate-covered!’, the shiny, distracting make-up sample prize goes to the stunningly irrelevant and unnecessarily Bowlderised ‘S#!t crap happens’.

I’m amazed that they can actually bring themselves to use the word ‘period’ on their website. Oh wait – they don’t, unless it’s to make a pun on the punctuation mark. I genuinely cannot find any other uses of the word ‘period’ on their website. Euphemisms such as ‘nature’s gift’, ‘that time of the month’, and ‘cycle’ abound, but the word ‘period’ never appears.

Le Parcel’s market is, by definition, adult women who have periods. Why, then, they seem to insist on treating their customers like little girls is somewhat baffling. Why would you buy period products from a company that can’t even use the word ‘period’?

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