Languishing in bed last week with a bad cold, I spent four days in
the company of Oprah and Maury Povitch and General Hospital. I was
astonished to discover that most daytime TV commercials have one
clear message: Women leak, dribble, and smell. They’re overweight
and they’re constipated. Women have dandruff, split ends, bad
breath, and bad breasts; both the under- and overendowed require
special bras. Apparently women must buff, douche, diet, gargle, and
primp constantly if they want to overcome their basic vileness.
Then I thought, maybe men get the same messages when they watch
their programs. Maybe advertising during sporting events is geared
toward products that men need to make them socially acceptable. So
I turned on a golf tournament and spent an hour and 12 minutes
watching the commercials.
Evidently men are fine just the way they are. They have a small
problem with weight gain and graying hair, but mainly they are
handsome, playful, and successful. They get to go fishing with
their buddies, using leaves for toilet paper. They could probably
come home from their trip and hop right into the sack for a
romantic encounter and think they were just fine. No rushing off to
shower or spray here.
Around this time I needed to get some cough syrup. The first
thing I noticed when I got to the drugstore was a huge sign, ‘Fem.
Hygiene,’ hanging above an aisle filled with thousands of products
designed for women’s special needs. There were a variety of pads in
a multitude of shapes for heavy periods, light periods, and bladder
control, as well as for women who want to feel fresh all day. There
were yeast-infection medications, vaginal deodorants, vaginal
lubricants, douches, personal towelettes, pregnancy tests, and
germicides to do away with feminine odor. There were laxatives,
hemorrhoid creams, and gas-relief tablets.
I looked all over, but there was no aisle for ‘Masc. Hygiene.’
Now, I’ve been around enough men to know that some of them could
use piddle pads and penis towelettes and deodorants, products for
crabs and crotch rot and athlete’s foot and gas, so I couldn’t
understand why the drugstore didn’t at least label the aisle
‘Fem./Masc. Hygiene.’ The closest I came to anything specifically
targeted to men was a large display of condoms next to a shelf of
The packages for feminine products usually featured a woman in a
gauzy dress running through a meadow full of spring flowers
(daisies were very popular) as her sparkling clean hair billowed
behind her. I found myself attracted to a vaginal moisturizer that
had a picture of a peaceful little water lily floating on a
‘Do you know how to use this?’ the male pharmacist asked in what
I thought was a particularly loud tone.
‘Of course,’ I replied, certain that everyone in line was
staring at me.
As it turned out, I couldn’t even figure out how to open it. It
was one seamless plastic entity. I tried twisting it. I tried
cutting it with garden shears. I gnawed at it with my teeth and
finally threw it in the trash. I was so angry that I called the
manufacturer’s toll-free hot line, which I’d seen advertised on TV,
and complained to the customer service representative. She told me
I was trying to open the wrong end and that all I had to do was
twist off a piece of plastic at the bottom.
Now that would be a peculiar job, I thought, to spend your days
answering questions about vaginal moisturizers. I wondered if men
have an 800 number they can call to get information on crotch rot.
I imagined a TV commercial–a really clean guy fishing in a meadow
stream, surrounded by daisies, with a deep voice intoning: ‘This
cream is made specially for men’s tender tissues. Call
1-800-JOCKROT for sensitive answers to your intimate questions
about male hygiene.’ Then I pictured the forlorn Jockrot
representative, waiting like a Maytag repairman for the telephone
to ring. It never does.