Tampon Run is an 8-bit video game released about a year ago. Conceived and coded by then 17-year-old Sophie Houser and and 16-year-old Andrea “Andy” Gonzales, the game is styled like an old-fashioned, side-scrolling shoot-em-up, but the game’s heroine beats the bad guys by flinging tampons instead of bullets. Earlier this year, Pivotal Labs released a mobile version of the game, which can be downloaded for free on your phone. There’s even a similarly themed first-person “shooter” called Tampon Toss.
Tampon Run is unique for lots of reasons, chief among them that the game’s two developers produced the project at a camp organized by Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the wide gender gap in the tech field. Also, the creators of Tampon Run are teenagers.
“I was planning on doing a game which addressed the hypersexualization of women in video games,” says Gonzales, now a senior at her Manhattan high school. “Sophie hopped on board with my project, and jokingly suggested that we have a game where someone can throw tampons. Immediately after she said it, we were sold.”
“Both Andy and I had experienced the menstrual taboo first hand,” says Houser, who’s now a first-year student at Brown University. “Menstruation is not weird or gross, or at least we don’t think it should be.”
Though the game is addictively entertaining, it’s also meant to be educational. Houser said:
“We got one email from a middle school teacher in California. She described how the eighth graders started spending their whole lunch periods playing Tampon Run. The teacher began to hear girls talk more openly about the bags they carried their tampons in, and about their periods in general. During one lunch period a sixth grade girl commented on how weird it was that kids were playing a game about periods. An eighth grade boy responded, telling her that periods were a normal and natural bodily function.”
The idea of women throwing tampons to reclaim their bodily independence intrigued us — was this a hot new trend that had escaped our notice? So we did some research and found eight other key moments in the history of tampon-throwing:
Carrie gets tormented with tampons, 1976
No tampon throwing history would be complete without including the disturbing opening scene from Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. Poor Carrie lives with her slut-shaming, religious zealot mom who has neglected to teach Carrie about menstruation. So when Carrie discovers herself bleeding while taking a shower, Carrie thinks that she’s dying, freaks out and runs naked (blood on her hands) to her locker room gym-mates for help. But the mean girls in P.E. think Carrie’s a weirdo and instead of helping her, they start pelting her with tampons and pads while laughing at her like a bunch of hyenas.
The scene not only showed the dangers of alienating women from their own bodies (without sexual education, people are inclined to consider themselves freaks), but it also showed the cruelty of bullying. Worry not, however — Carrie ends up coming into her own and uses her telekinetic powers to electrocute, crush and burn most of her classmates at the prom. Fun!
Allison Wolfe, July 1992
Allison Wolfe, leader of riot grrrl trio Bratmobile, definitely made tampon-throwing history when she flung her used tampon on stage at a protest in Washington, DC. The goal of the event was to protest the right-wing Supreme Court, but the crowd was rowdy and the fans of Fugazi and Bikini Kill didn’t get along. Everyone was cranky. Although Bratmobile wasn’t even playing that day, in many ways Wolfe stole the show.
From Sara Marcus’ riot grrrl history Girls To The Front:
During Fugazi’s pro-choice “Reclamation,” another song written from a female point of view (“These are out demands; We want control of our bodies; decisions will now be ours”), Allison reached under her skirt, pulled out a tampon she was finished with, and threw it onto the stage. She later told [Fugazi frontman Ian] MacKaye she’d been aimng at the audience, not at him, but plenty of people heard differently. MacKaye hadn’t even seen it happen; he’d only found out about it because other people told him later, “Dude, Allison threw her bloody tampon at you!”
But Wolfe herself remembers things differently, as she described in a New York Press interview:
Many of Fugazi’s fans on the Mall were harassing Riot Grrrls throughout the day and behaving like jocks in the crowd. When these same jerks started singing along to the pro-woman song “Reclamation,” it made me sick. My tampon was overdue for a change and there were no bathrooms in sight. I envisioned my bloody tampon sailing into the mouth of one of these hypocritical jock fans, and it made my day. It’s too bad I can’t throw or aim well and that my tampon barely missed Ian MacKaye, one of my old friends and comrades.
Donita Sparks, 1992
Perhaps the most famous incident of tampon throwing occurred at the 1992 edition of England’s Reading Festival. It was a Sunday, and that show’s lineup was pretty schizophrenic, as festival lineups tend to be. (The Beastie Boys! Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds! ABBA tribute band Björn Again!) Aside from the two ladies in Björn Again, L7 were the only women to appear on stage that day, and when sound problems disrupted the band, singer Donita Sparks pulled out her tampon and flung it at the audience.
The band was known for their politics as much as their music. In 1991 they founded the Rock For Choice series of abortion-rights benefit concerts, and a few years later they appeared on trashy British variety show The Word, where Sparks dropped her pants during a performance of their hit song “Pretend We’re Dead.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1999
Woodstock ’99 was by all accounts a disaster, remembered more for sexual assaults and bathroom shortages than for its performances by DMX, Limp Bizkit or the Insane Clown Posse. Only four of the forty-nine acts at Woodstock ’99 featured women, and the tampon-hurling antics of Bratmobile and L7 were not likely to be repeated by Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Jewel or the one lady in Rusted Root. (Again with the weird festival lineups! The day started with Al Green and Willie Nelson and went downhill from there, with Jewel’s performance segueing directly into a set by Creed.)
But Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis wanted to see tampons! So he called for a new Woodstock tradition in which women launched their bloody tampons at the stage. Then the band launched into “Suck My Kiss,” a song whose lyrics are so ridiculously dumb that they deserve repeating here: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G / Chicka chicka dee / Do me like a banshee / Low brow is how / Swimming in the sound / Of bow wow wow / Oh baby do me now / Do me here I do allow.”
According to one very enthusiastic Chili Peppers fan, no tampons actually flew that day, and the tradition died before it began since the festival never returned.
Rebecca Leigh Crimmins, 2011
An inebriated Australian bartender decided to prank a nineteen-year old cashier at the McDonalds drive-thru by flinging what appeared to be a wet tampon in his direction at three o’clock one morning. Rebecca Leigh Crimmins, 27, was out late with friends and pretended that she’d found the tampon in her french fries. After touching the cashier with the wet tampon, he fled the scene to go wash his hands and Crimmins flung the tampon from the passenger seat, missing the young man but hitting a refrigerator. Crimmins escaped jail time because tampon wasn’t really used. She had just wet it with lime cordial, a clear-ish yellow drink that’s popular in Australia.
One Direction Fans, 2012
Directioners are nothing if not passionate, so it only makes sense that some girls would try to get the attention of Harry Styles by throwing wrapped tampons at him. It happened in January of 2012 at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, footage of which can be seen here. Zayn Malik got the same treatment in the summer of 2013, when a fan (or maybe not a fan) hurled a purple-wrapped tampon at him in San Jose, California.
Johnetta Mack, 2012
Johnetta Cheryel Mack, a 21 year old woman from Golden Valley, Minnesota, was arrested in nearby Mankato for fighting with a security guard at a bar called the Oleander Saloon. By the time officers arrived, the security guard had already handcuffed Mack, but for some reason officials at the Blue Earth County Jail felt the need to strip search the intoxicated woman, anyway. Mack removed more than her clothing, throwing her tampon at one guard and then kicking it in the direction of another. There are laws on the books for assaulting a correctional employee with bodily fluids, and Mack was charged with a fourth-degree felony.
The Texas State Senate, 2013
Despite a memorable filibuster from Senator Wendy Davis, the Texas Senate voted 19-11 to pass a whole package of restrictions making it more difficult for women to access abortions. Before entering the Senate gallery, security officials were confiscated anything they suspected might be used to disrupt the proceedings, including water bottles, tampons, and Maxi pads. Guns were still legally permitted, because Texans will be Texans. The creators of Tampon Run actually cite this incident as the inspiration for their game.