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Opinion: The media shies away from the topic of menstruation. Enough is enough

Jul 22, 2020 | Editorials | 1 comment

//Illustration by Estevan Ruiz | ruiz.estevan@gmail.com

Very little is too risqué for Hollywood these days. Americans devour entire TV series focused on sex and sexuality, but the topic of menstruation seems to be too much of a taboo for our stomachs to handle. When much of the world’s population experiences menstruation regularly, it shouldn’t be an offensive or scary thing to talk about. It’s time for society to stop seeing it as such. 

Media plays an integral role in the defining of the status quo. From a young age, movies and magazines teach girls how to wear their hair, how to dress and how to appear attractive. We see our biggest role models on big screens acting one way, and we want to be just like them. Like anything else, the way menstruation is portrayed in the media influences the way we react to it in real life. 

Movies and TV portray women’s sexuality in a way that is just realistic enough to make young men believe that is how girls really act. In the typical Hollywood sex scene, a man and a woman hook up on a starry, romantic evening during a few moments of breathless passion. The woman never says she doesn’t want to go too far and the man never asks. Sometimes, especially in a TV series, they’ll do this repeatedly without the woman ever saying, “Sorry, I can’t, I’m on my period.” This leads young men to believe that women rarely if ever turn down sex. 

Menstruation is rarely mentioned in movies and TV. When it is, it’s usually in a negative light. When it isn’t mentioned at all, it encourages us to wipe away the thought of periods as if they don’t exist. This is a dangerous way of thinking for anyone who isn’t educated about what menstruation is and how to react to it.

The 2007 comedy film “Superbad” turns periods into something that is funny for boys and embarrassing for girls to watch. The party scene where a teenage girl bleeds through her skirt to the horror of an eager-to-fit-in Jonah Hill is infamous for being the pinnacle of period shaming. The audience is encouraged to feel sympathy for Hill’s character and grossed out at the idea of period blood, as if it spread from one teenager to another like a disease. The sole purpose is comedic relief, but when boys think back on that scene after watching the movie, they’ll laugh at the lunacy of the situation and be reminded of the disgust they felt at the sight of a girl’s blood. 

Positive depictions of menstruation in the media are few, but two of my favorites that come to mind are “Date Night,” the 2010 comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and an episode of “New Girl” from 2012 called “Menzies.” The former includes a scene about a women’s book club. Carell’s character Phil, desperate to connect with his wife and her friends, inserts himself into the discussion of a book about a young girl walking through the desert on her period. When he doesn’t grasp the emotional hardship of the story, one woman lets him know in a show of hysterics and tears. 

What’s comforting about this scene isn’t the comedy. It’s the rawness of the woman’s emotions, provoked by almost nothing but heightened to almost ferociousness, and the knowledge that she’s surrounded by other women who have lived through the same thing time and time again. This is an exaggerated yet accurate depiction of a woman on her period. It’s something that those who menstruate can sympathetically laugh at because we’ve all been there, and cis-gendered men can learn a thing or two from it. 

The latter example shows the main character Jess, played by Zooey Deschanel, reeling in the throes of PMS while unemployed. This episode has it all–the sudden sad tears, the bursts of anger, the self-doubt. Towards the end of the episode, Jess sits in a hot tub with her roommate Nick, played by Jake Johnson, and insists that her failure to find a job is due to PMS. Nick tells her the issue is that her self-confidence is rattled and her motivation is low. Rising above her anger and doubt, Jess finds the strength to ignore her PMS and go for a job interview she’s been dreaming of for months. 

It’s sad that people like me only have a limited number of resources like this we can turn to in order to relate to someone when we’re menstruating. The last thing I want to feel while on my period is that people are afraid to touch me or are grossed out at the sight of me. Hollywood needs to lead the discussion about periods and make it normal for us to openly talk about them. People who menstruate aren’t so different from the rest except that sometimes we need a little extra love. 

1 Comment

  1. Marcela Chavez

    Very interesting! I also grew up watching the same model where girls were always not only sex ready, but party, pool (a big one) ready, beach ready, etc in hispanic television. And I think is time to change the story.

    Reply

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