Super-Absorbent Tampon Technology in Britain: Unilever’s Project Hyacinth and ‘the 7 Day War’ Campaign, 1968-1980

Camilla Mork Rostvik* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

For just over one hundred years, companies have capitalised on the cyclical and renewable resource of menstrual bleeding through the manufacturing of tampons and pads. But how much do we know about the historic relationship between the corporations that develop menstrual technologies and the people who buy them? This article investigates the British-Dutch corporation Unilever’s research and development scheme aimed at producing and advertising a new ‘super-absorbent’ tampon, begun in the late 1960s and abandoned in 1980, named Project Hyacinth. At the heart of this scheme was the manufacturing of an absorbent material named Lyogel, which was created in parallel and in competition with similar projects in the US. To better understand the link between technology, corporation and consumer throughout the competitive development phase, the article discusses menstrual product market reports and the female consumers who provided information about their own menstrual technology habits to the corporation. Unilever’s market research is repurposed in this article to understand the lived experience of menstruation and consumers knowledge of menstrual technologies and marketing in times before this was considered acceptable to talk about. Many of the women simultaneously resisted menstrual taboos even as they upheld them. Likewise, Unilever was invested in both profiting from and learning about menstruation during the development of the product and during the research to develop an advertising campaign built around military metaphors named ‘the 7-Day War’. In examining consumers role in the development of Project Hyacinth, this paper deepens and broadens the historiography of Unilever and gender, adding to the literature on users of technology and feminist approaches to these by expanding our idea of what innovation might mean in terms of menstrual product development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTechnology and Culture
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • tampons
  • critical menstrual studies
  • Feminist Science and Technology Studies
  • Unilever
  • Feminist Business History

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