Apparently there is a new TikTok trend afoot in which women send their blissfully bumbling husbands and boyfriends in search of feminine hygiene products that don’t actually exist. This nonexistence should be readily apparent to anyone tasked with procuring these products, considering they are named things like the “Oochie Cooch 3,000” and the “Squeaky Clean-a Vageen-a.” The alleged humor of these stunts, however, hinges on the fact that these clueless straight men know so little about female health that they fail to recognize that the “Magic Fwem Fwem Fresh 2,000” isn’t a real thing. The hapless men then ask a confused worker for help locating whatever Dr. Seuss-sounding product their girlfriend made up, and hilarity presumably ensues.
While it’s certainly possible that these TikTok stunts are just carefully coordinated performances and men aren’t actually falling for the absurd ruse, the mere existence and popularity of this trend reflects a tired, rather embarrassing social script that remains pervasive in heterosexual culture (if one can all it that).
It’s part of a genre I’ve taken to calling “straight cringe,” in which straight people parade dated tropes and gendered belief systems as cheeky but largely unironic celebrations of binary gender and biological essentialism. Gender reveal parties are straight cringe, as is the trove of embarrassing baby merch needlessly advertising the fact that the parents of a baby created that baby through sexual intercourse with suggestive jokes like, “They did not stay six feet apart,” and “I’m proof that daddy doesn’t shoot blanks.”
As Mel Magazine’s Miles Klee wrote earlier this month of the onslaught of sexually suggestive baby merch, “It feels like an offshoot of the traditionalist culture that gave us gender reveal parties, in that it openly prizes an anatomical binary as the basis for ordinary life.”
While the allusion to straight intercourse is not explicit in the TikTok tampon stunt, it does hinge on similarly tired gender tropes reflective of a still-dominant heterosexual dynamic rooted in the traditionalist culture to which Klee alludes. The supposed humor in the TikTok trend relies on the same “clueless straight guy” schtick that has long dominated sitcoms and TV ads. Because he is a cis, heterosexual male, the clueless straight guy is completely ignorant of the female body, specifically the genitalia and anything that might come in contact with it. Despite having sex with women, as a straight man is wont to do, clueless straight guy has no idea where the clitoris is. Clueless straight guy can’t read a box of tampons. Clueless straight guy had no idea he was using pH-balanced vaginal wash to clean his own body, and now he must complete a series of traditionally manly feats in order to restore his sacred masculinity.
The TikTok trend sending men on an ill-fated quest for the Vaginator 6000 is just another manifestation of the same tired trope. “Look, straight men are so ignorant of the female body they couldn’t possibly tell the difference between real women’s hygiene products and these obviously fake-sounding inventions. Lol!” On some level, these jokes might seem almost subversive, if only because they are being made at men’s expense, presumably portraying women in a position of superiority. All they really do, however, is reinforce the same gender binary that has long formed the basis of patriarchal heterosexuality, and embarrass us all in the process.
The latest TikTok trend is actually another manifestation of a straight cringe subgenre entirely devoted to men purchasing feminine hygiene products. In the first half of the last decade, a viral photo of a conventionally masculine-looking man buying tampons and a box of pink cupcakes circulated the internet, racking up heart-eyes emojis and often accompanied by the caption “smart man.”
While this earlier version of the trend was more about praising straight men than mocking them, it still leaned on the same presumption of cluelessness. We are all expected to stand in awe of the straight man who manages to untangle the vast mysteries of the female reproductive system and successfully purchase a box of tampons for his vagina-having partner. The whole thing is an embarrassing advertisement for a cartoonish version of heterosexuality actively celebrating straight women’s extremely low standards and men’s ability to surpass them by simply purchasing a box of tampons.
This is not to say that men shouldn’t buy tampons or any other hygiene products designed for vulva-bodied individuals — whether for their partners or for their own use. But men buying said hygiene products does not need to be an entire subgenre of internet content. Please, let’s all stop celebrating the clueless straight man. Straight women: let’s stop mocking the presumed ignorance of our own male sex partners and ultimately exposing our own devastatingly low standards. Straight men: stop playing into this insulting schtick. I know you know how to buy tampons and that the VagiDazzle Max 5000 isn’t a real thing. On behalf of straight people everywhere: we’re embarrassing ourselves.
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