For better or for worse, how we portray things in the media has a lot to do with what we think about them IRL. When something isn’t portrayed accurately in media -or at all- it sends a message to viewers that it isn’t worth talking about, sometimes even that it’s wrong or shameful.
Periods haven’t historically been a big feature on the silver screen, and that’s because societally, there’s a lot of pressure to be embarrassed by them. If it’s considered impolite to even talk about periods, why would we have them in our movies and TV shows? With eighty percent of Hollywood showrunners being men, there haven’t been a lot of voices for the menstruators.
But when menstruation does make it into our media in positive ways, it can be remarkably empowering, especially for young viewers. Instead of handing girls boxes of tampons and telling them they’re for “when Aunt Flo comes to visit”, we could teach them about their bodies and encourage them to celebrate them and to question people who tell them not to.
We think that’s worth doing here at Ruby Cup, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see how a new era of how we talk about menstruation in movies seems to have arrived. We’ve gathered some “menstrual moments” from movies and TV shows that set an empowering example – and some of the cautionary tales as well.
#1: The Great Tampon Hunt
Broad City has long been known for pushing boundaries and celebrating messy, imperfect ladies, and this scene from episode 10 really drove it home. When Abbi gets her period on a plane, Ilana goes on a hunt for a tampon for her pal – asking others on the plane and even trying to fashion one herself. What I love about this clip is that it demonstrates how tough it can be when there are no available menstrual products. There should be menstrual products available in any setting where there are a lot of people, especially when they are stuck there for hours, like an international flight. Broad City uses humor to illustrate how ridiculous it is not to have free, accessible products on a flight.
#2: Just Say Menstruation
20th Century Women has one of the best open, frank discussions of menstruation that I’ve ever seen. In this scene, Abbie tells teenage Jamie that he should be comfortable with menstruation and challenges him to say it aloud. She says she’s not embarrassed to be menstruating. She describes it as a normal, healthy process, and calls on all the men at the table to say menstruation and talk about it. So many are uncomfortable discussing menstruation, but menstruation is something everyone, no matter what their gender, should be able to discuss and understand.
#3: Wide Set Vagina
Mean Girls is a cult classic for a reason. This scene is a true gem, tackling one of the silliest menstrual myths out there. A student complains that it’s written in the infamous “Burn Book” that she’s not really a virgin, because of the tampon size she uses, which is of course ridiculous. The size or choice of someone’s menstrual products has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, not to mention the fact that how much sex they’ve had shouldn’t matter anyway! The principal of the school, who is supposed to be running a workshop for the school’s girls, says he “can’t do this” after the comment, which also demonstrates how uncomfortable people often get when menstruation is discussed in public. If you needed an excuse to watch mean girls again, this is it – count it towards menstrual positive activism!
#4: Period Sex, Crazy Ex Girlfriend
Period sex is pretty stigmatized, but it can actually feel great–check out this article for tips! In this Crazy Ex Girlfriend clip, Rebecca Bunch celebrates getting in on during your menstrual cycle.
#5: Everybody Bleeds
In this episode of Netflix’s Big Mouth, Jessi gets her period, and is shocked and frustrated. She complains to her mom, and she says, “I know, sweetie. If men got their period, it would be like an olympic sport. They would give out medals for the heaviest flow.” While of course there are men who get their periods (see our inclusivity post!) but there’s no doubt that the shame and stigma around periods is connected to patriarchy and misogyny.
We need to call out period shaming and change the narrative
These are some of our favorite positive period moments, but unfortunately there are some negative ones too. There’s the infamous scene in Superbad where a man is so upset about having period blood on him that he says he “might throw up”. Tropes like this encourage the idea that periods are dirty, disgusting and shameful, and that women who are on their periods are to be avoided at all costs.
This mainstream idea of menstruation is why Instagram removes images with period blood in them, and why menstruation in the workplace can be such a disaster (this woman was fired for bleeding during her shift).
We need to lift up narratives that normalize menstruation and make sure that anatomically correct information, not just cutesy nicknames, are woven throughout our media. And when people period shame, even when it’s the president, we have to call it out.