Photo by Myke Simon
Periods, the rag, that time of the month, Aunt Flo. Whatever you prefer to call it, a large percentage of the world experiences menstruation, and yet, it is a topic that is still vastly absent on the silver screen. In 2019 menstruation continues to be a taboo topic that is sadly either misrepresented or completely ignored in media altogether.
Throughout Hollywood’s history periods have been presented as disgusting, shameful or something literally out of a horror film. Most of us know the storyline for Carrie, where the poor girl freaks out after getting her period in the shower, because her religious mother refuses to explain menstruation to her. It is depicted as a frightening, foreign event, one that Carrie is severely bullied for after, just to add to the trauma. Considering that 80% of Hollywood’s showrunners are men, it isn’t too surprising that menstruation is constantly portrayed in a negative, inaccurate, or ignorant light, through the lens of people who don’t experience it, yet choose to demonise it.
To provide an accurate representation of periods there needs to be more than just one perspective explored, showing that periods are not something to be grossed out by, just because a bunch of men in showbiz say they are. Periods are a natural part of life for many people and should be honestly depicted, not shamed.
When media only portrays one side of the story it can negatively impact a lot of girls who have just gotten or are yet to get their period. 1/5 of women in the UK are too embarrassed to discuss their menstrual cycle with their friends, which shows how continuing to generate notions of shame and taboo can lead to women feeling like they have to be silenced. This one-sided perception also perpetuates the out-dated mindset in young boys that periods are taboo/dirty/gross, and that’s how the bullying & shame cycle never ends. Knowledge is power, just as much as mid-education is dangerous. So, in recognition of this, we are presenting 6 period-positive films that challenge the status quo and share the narrative that periods are a normal part of life.
In true rockstar spirit, Dakota Fanning gets her period while out with her sister. Of course, she’s wearing a mini skirt. An emergency trip to a gas-station bathroom ensues followed by the go-to solution; underwear toilet-paper stuffing. We’ve all been there. The crisis is quickly averted and the girls leave ready to conquer the day.
This scene is groundbreaking for Hollywood as it presents an honest display of camaraderie between two females, helping each other out in their time of need. They both are chill about the whole situation, it’s not depicted as a drama, just a casual event that could happen at any time, to anyone. It’s also unbelievably relatable – hands up who has had to improvise with makeshift toilet paper pads in desperate times?
Bringing period awareness to the Bollywood world, 2018 Indian comedy Padman is based around the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist and entrepreneur who brought low-cost sanitary pads to India, who is featured in Oscar-winning documentary Period. End Of Sentence (see below). The film sheds light on the taboo surrounding menstruation in India and shares the journey of one man who is determined to improve social awareness for feminine sanitation. This is a must-watch to spread awareness about the menstrual stigma around the world, reminding us that menstrual hygiene is a global issue.
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” director Rayka Zehtabchi gushed after the incredibly heartfelt film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film follows a group of local women in Hapur, India who work to change the taboo surrounding menstruation in India, encouraging education and hygiene by creating low-cost sanitary pads. It will bring tears to your eyes and make you laugh as you inevitably rally for the movement for female empowerment and shed light on a part of the world where menstruation is rarely discussed.
20th Century Woman is a must-see. It features one of the most open and honest menstruation dinner-table discussions to be depicted onscreen, and despite being set in the 70’s it is still ever-so-relevant to the attitude of today. The highlight of the film is a hilariously heartwarming scene where Abbie (Greta Gerwig) insists that in order to have a proper adult relationship later on with a woman, teenager Jamie should not be embarrassed to say the word ‘menstruation’, and proceeds to push him to confidently say the word out loud. “Just say menstruation. It’s not a big deal.” This sentiment continues around the table in what becomes a supportive and very vocal war-cry for periods.
Being on your period can be emotional. Try having two women in the same space, both simultaneously menstruating – it can get messy, but it’s also comforting having someone else suffering through the same thing as you. In this rom-com film, Adam (Ashton Kutcher) comes to comfort Emma (Natalie Portman) and her flat mate with a range of indulgent goodies including cupcakes and a classic period mixtape. Who wouldn’t want to be pampered during their period with some treats and eye candy?
For a film that explicitly explores the intricacies of womanhood, it’s only natural that menstruation should be presented as part of that story. Royals are just like you and me, they eat, they sleep, they bleed, they menstruate. “I was fighting for a period in a period movie,” director Josie Rourke explained, “those were instructive discussions about how honest we were being about women’s bodies and what they do, women’s pleasure and what that is, and a queen’s body as a political canvas”. The highly-debated scene depicts a subtle red stain on white cloth and the subsequent body-washing process with Mary’s ladies-in-waiting. “I felt that was something I hadn’t seen before, that I just really wanted to show. There are not many of us who know what it feels like to be a crowned head of Europe – but what we do know is what it’s like to fight for the rights of our bodies.”