Can milk save men from the PMS monster?

We’ve all seen commercials that made us want to *not* buy a product. For men like myself, that might be the effect of a new “Got Milk?” campaign aiming to convince men that milk can reduce the symptoms of PMS. The campaign is centered around the micro-site, which features a few basic flash graphics like a Global PMS Level, a riff on the terrorism threat level, and a video-making widget to create custom-made apology videos with pictures of rainbows and kittens supposedly “proven to endear.” The site portrays men as unfairly set upon, and milk as the magic way to pacify the irrational PMS monster back home. Now, how could that backfire?

On the one hand, I get it. Men don’t buy as much milk as they could be buying. And while a lot of men might like to know that studies support calcium supplements as an effective way to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, the attention of probably every man watching would wander as soon as an ad featured a doctor or woman describing actual PMS symptoms. So good job to the GotMilk? marketers for finding a way to craft a message that guys can relate to.

On the other hand, there’s a fine line between glossing over the nitty-gritty and resorting to a pat stereotype that offends people. The site did not make me want to buy milk because it will supposedly keep the PMS monster at bay. I don’t believe in the PMS monster—premenstrual cramps, premenstrual headaches, premenstrual depression and irritability… These are all real, human experiences that affect many of the women in my life, but there is no once-monthly visiting demon. I’d have preferred an ad that featured a guy who has trouble juggling all the chores/kids around the house by himself, because his wife has a headache and cramps and spent the day in bed. Call me too politically correct, but I’d prefer a world where fewer men (and women) conveniently write off relating to or reasoning with the women in their lives and workplaces, using PMS as just one of a handful of ready stereotypes with which women can be dismissed as irrational.

I’m probably overreacting. PMS stereotypes are at least as much a symptom, not a cause, of gender discrimination, and is intentionally over the top—it’s at least a little tongue-in-cheek, so it’s churlish to be upset about it. One over the top web-page isn’t going to turn our society into a bunch of misogynists overnight, no more than one elevating, informative page would eliminate the gender pay gap overnight.

However, one thing is worth reviewing, and reminding the men and women in your life to be careful about: the importance of getting nutritional advice from doctors and nutritionists, not marketing campaigns. Calcium is good for men and women for a whole range of reasons, including reducing symptoms of PMS — so absolutely ask your doctor about calcium supplements the next time you’re in for a checkup. But, for complicated nutritional reasons, drinking milk as an adult—and I say this although I like the taste and drink two glasses a day—is actually associated with a slight increase in osteoporosis and an increased risk of prostate cancer. There’s also serious speculation among scientists that the estrogen in milk could have real, lasting effects on the body. It’s hard to imagine a milk ad that said, “Milk: it weakens your bones, inflames your prostrate, and who knows what else—but, hey, it has calcium!” If you’re going for healthy, go talk to a nutritionist, not the American Federation of Dairy Farmers.

Kelley M. is a progressive campaigner and is building a career in organizing from the grassroots to create real progressive change. He’s worked in field, fundraising, and managing campaigns in four states, and at one point lived and worked in New Delhi. He grew up in Colorado, and although he travels frequently, he is currently back on the front range.

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