A Consistent Lack of RepresentationModern television shows and movies cover life’s sensitive topics more now than ever before. However, there’s still one glaring gap—menstruation.
In a UK study, they found that 37% of people have never encountered menstrual topics in film, TV, or books. This lack of representation emphasizes periods as taboo. So much so, that they found another 56% of people would even rather be bullied than talk about it with their parents!
Why is one massive part of life for people who menstruate constantly overlooked? Why have social norms made it so controversial to talk about menstrual hygiene, or any topic surrounding menstruation?
Here are a few examples of how menstruation has been treated in film and TV.
Tracking Your Periods for Fertility ReasonsTake Friends, for example.
The beloved show ran for 10 seasons, depicting the lives of three women through a decade of their lives in which they likely would have been menstruating. Despite this, periods were only mentioned once—when Monica and Chandler were trying to conceive. It’s odd to see a show that was meant to encapsulate the experience of 20-somethings completely sidestep menstruation.
Did you know pads and tampons were banned from TV advertisements until 1972?
Careful What you Wish ForThough it seems like any conversation around periods would be beneficial to normalizing menstruation, this unfortunately hasn’t been true.
One classic example is the 1976 film, Carrie, which opens with a scene of the title character, Carrie getting her first period. She’s unaware of what's going on and starts to panic. Her classmates ruthlessly taunt her and this bullying, paired with her mother’s explanation that menstruation is sinful, ignite her need for vengeance.
The movie culminates with her classmates dumping a bucket of pig’s blood on her head in front of the rest of her peers. The shame and humiliation around menstruation and the use of blood to create such violent and visceral imagery perpetuates the notion that to get your period is a curse and something to be ashamed of—even if we recognize that these are heightened elements are used to execute the thriller/horror genre.
There are many more examples of making menstruation out to be shameful and even scary, which is arguably worse than omitting it all together.
That Time You Just Started Your PeriodOne example of menstruation framed in a positive light on television was in 2001 with Degrassi: The Next Generation. Emma discovers her first period after bleeding through her white skirt at school. Manny helps her get to the bathroom and finds her a spare pair of gym shorts to replace her skirt for their upcoming presentation. When they get to class, some of the boys start teasing Emma who goes on to say,
“Actually, I just got my period. For the first time. Menstruation, it happens to about, oh, 50% of the population. Perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed about.”
This was a rare kind of commentary on periods, especially for its time. This phrase was more than enough to stop the boys in their teasing and is more than likely to have broken down some of the stigma on menstruation for its viewers.
Modern ExamplesModern Family had two major references to periods. One which shows three women in one house syncing up, and another in which the youngest family member gets her first period, and her fathers recruit the family’s help. They even went so far as to mention a DIVA Cup(!!).
New Girl also has an episode in which Jess has PMS and is more than comfortable expressing this to her three male roommates. Winston goes so far as to have “sympathy PMS”. Ultimately, this is a great example that periods can be uncomfortable, but not shameful or gross.
In The Last of Us, Ellie is gifted a menstrual cup, something that is referenced only a couple times in the episode, but never in a negative or stigmatizing manner. This was a great example of showing that periods exist in a relatable way.
A Long Way to GoWe can see that progress is being made, but more importantly that we’re not even asking for it to always be something revolutionary or central to the plot (although it also could be!). It is effective even in small instances and works to normalize menstruation as part of day-to-day living by including it in these characters’ realities.
Help normalize periods by supporting shows that increase menstrual representation, sharing clips online, and by actively trying to reduce any internalized stigma from your own life. Periods are a natural and healthy part of many lives, it’s about time for TV and film to represent that!
- Charisma, T. (2021, April 1). A brief history of onscreen periods. Vulture. https://www.vulture.com/article/periods-in-movies-and-tv.html
- Grunenwald, J. (2017, November 9). Horror films are still using menstruation as a source of scares. good. Bitch Media. https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/it-chapter-two-menstruation
- Keaney, Q. (2018, June 23). When Emma gets her period for the first time. POPSUGAR Entertainment. https://www.popsugar.com/entertainment/photo-gallery/41466123/image/41466548/When-Emma-Gets-Her-Period-First-Time
- Squier, C. (2016, January 22). In 10 years, “friends” only mentioned periods once. Grazia. https://graziadaily.co.uk/life/tv-and-film/10-years-friends-mentioned-periods/
- The Period Place. (2022, June 13). ✨iconic moments✨ periods in TV shows!. The Period Place. https://www.theperiodplace.co.nz/blog/iconic-moments-periods-in-tv-shows