Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Menstrual Authority: A Lexical Semantic Evaluation of Kotex’s First 20 Years

Menstrual Authority: A Lexical Semantic Evaluation of Kotex’s First 20 Years

Kaitlin Scharra

The introduction of mass consumer advertising at the turn of the 19th century allowed brands to create ideological infiltrations into the capitalist culture. This paper looks at the modes of authority utilized by the brand Kotex in its first twenty years of sanitary napkin production. These different modes function as a reflection of the broader social discourse on menstruation and the female body. Countering the previous work of Mandziuk, this research seeks to comment on the role of personality in advertisements through a lexical semantic analysis. The corpus for the research was 80 Kotex advertisements provided by Duke University’s Ad*Access from the years 1921-1941. The advertisements were rated on the content of lexical elements as in the six semantic groups of hygiene, science, comfort, reliability, personality, and secrecy. The research answered which modes of creditability were utilized in these formative years, when they were applied, how they responded to consumer concerns, and in what ways the brand reestablish brand loyalty. It was found that through these years comfort and reliability had a consistent presence. Following this, the themes of hygiene and science peaked in advertisements for the five years prior to the 1938 FDA act. Affected by this legislation, it was not until after this time that personality and secrecy had a large presence in the advertisements. This research counters the preconception that personality was always the main mode of authority utilized in female focused marketing. Further research looking in to the role of personality post-FDA legislation would answer broader questions about what misconceptions of female brand advertising exist. An inconsistent role of personality targeting throughout the later years of Kotex marketing will reveal alternative strategies reflecting historically overlooked views of women in society, both positive and negative.

April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract


  1. How does a frame used by someone like Mary Douglass in “Purity and Danger” potentially apply to this project? Thinking not only of the linguistic models, but the cultural systems of values, how can we better understand feminine experiences and ways of living out and dealing with our own embodied experiences?

    Comment by Kathryn Nowinski | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  2. This is really interesting! Are you using any kind of archaeological data? Is there any kind of historical archaeology that has been done in relation to female hygene?

    Comment by Jaroslava Pallas | April 22, 2015 | Reply

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