Menstruation in Media: The Best and Worst Period Scenes in TV and Movies
Talking about anything related to menstruation is difficult in most societies. For a completely natural body process, menstruation is considered taboo and carries a widespread stigma. The negative perceptions and behaviours towards periods are so deeply entrenched sometimes that we barely notice it. We might even see scenes from movies and TV shows that show such negative perceptions without batting a lash. We might have, ourselves, been convinced that being ashamed of periods, avoiding conversations about periods, making fun of periods, and so on are all completely normal.
So to shed more light on this topic, we’ve made a compilation of the best and worst scenes of menstruation in the media. Let’s get started!
Why Should We Even Care About How Movies or Shows Talk About Periods
In 1889, Oscar Wilde wrote his notable essay called “The Decay of Lying” where he said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” But it’s fair to say that both of these things still happen. Art imitates life and life imitates art - sort of in a cycle as bewildering as “which came first - the chicken or the egg?”
This means that the way mass media handles the subject of menstruation (or anything, really) is not only a reflection of current realities - but is also a way that such behaviours or perceptions can spread and continue. The worst part is that some negative influences can be immortalized in shows and movies, potentially hampering the positive changes that we want to see. This is why being mindful is so important - starting with a clear idea of what is okay and what is not okay.
What Makes a Scene Count as One of the Best or Worst Scenes of Menstruation in Media?
Before we embark on our journey of critiquing movie and tv show scenes, we want to be very clear on what makes a scene terrible or exemplary in handling the subject of menstruation.
A good scene does the following:
- Raises awareness regarding periods and how to handle it
- Shows an empowering attitude towards menstruation
A bad scene does the following:
- Suggests that periods are shameful or disgusting
- Encourages a negative perception towards periods
- Shows unprogressive behaviours towards periods as normal and acceptable
1976 - Carrie 👎
As we are listing these scenes chronologically, we’ll start with Carrie. This well-known American supernatural horror film was adapted from Stephen King’s 1974 novel. This movie, although not really one of the best scenes, is important to include in this list because it was the first ever movie to really show menstruation blood on screen.
The titular character, Carrie, was a 16-year old who was constantly bullied at school. In the famous shower and locker scene, Carrie gets her first period while showering. Because she wasn’t aware of periods, she is struck with terror thinking she was going to die. Her classmate discovers from the red water coming from her shower cubicle what was happening and proceeds to tell the others. They then gather around and jeer at her until a teacher asks them to stop. Later in the day, they stuff her locker with tampons with an intent to humiliate her.
The scene is absolutely traumatic in nature. In a way, it does tell us what’s wrong and what should not be done. But the manner of presentation would most likely terrify young girls about periods and strongly suggest that it is a vile and shameful thing.
1980 - The Blue Lagoon 👎
Yet another movie scene that is one of the worst when it comes to presenting periods is one from the movie, The Blue Lagoon. This American romantic survival drama film is centered on what happens to two 7-year old cousins, Emmeline and Richard, while they are shipwrecked and stranded on an island. Emmeline, some years later, had her period while bathing in the grotto. Suddenly, the water turns into a shade of pink and she screams to her cousin, Richard for help because she was initially thinking that she had gotten injured. Suddenly, she realizes that it’s her first period and tries to bat away her cousin telling him, “Just go away!” The scene, was uncomfortable and awkward to watch with the young Emmeline clearly abashed by what was happening.
Arguably, this scene was unnecessary and promotes shame around a natural bodily process.
1990 - The Cosby Show : The Infantry Has Landed 👍
After a streak of two bad period scenes on this list, we’ve finally got a good one from none other than the television sitcom, The Cosby Show. This series centres around the goings-on in the life of a successful African-American family. One of the most popular characters on the show was Rudy Huxtable, the youngest daughter in the house who can be described as cute, innocent, and a tad bit sassy.
In the episode titled “The Infantry Has Landed,” Rudy gets her first period. Her mom, Claire, shows proactive support and sets up a ‘woman’s only day’ to bond with her daughter. Claire, not entirely sure how to handle the situation, solicits information and support from her friends and eventually, her own mother (Rudy’s grandmother.)
What makes this entire episode one of the best in approaching the topic of periods is that it shows wonderful examples of support and solidarity around this important aspect of life.
2002 - Degrassi: Coming of Age 👍
Degrassi is a Canadian teen drama franchise with multiple series that focus on the lives of youth living in De Grassi Street in Toronto. In one episode, one of the main characters, Emma, gets her period for the first time and ends up with a period stain on her white skirt. When faced with her haters, Emma shuts them down completely, stating that it’s “perfectly natural.”
For many people, young or old, who still dread the idea of getting a stain during their period, the message in this Degrassi episode is refreshing and empowering as it normalizes the experience.
2010 - The Runaways 👍
Possibly one of the best ways to showcase periods is to show that it’s nothing to worry about, thereby promoting the normalization of this natural bodily phenomenon. In the biographical drama film, The Runaways, periods get a place in the opening scene. Cherrie Currie’s period blood is shown hitting the pavement. After that, she and her sister head to a nearby bathroom to improvise with some toilet paper. It’s highly relatable to many and shows a neutral attitude towards menstruation. No fuss, no shame, and no worries - just as it should be.
2012 - Game of Thrones: A Man Without Honor 👎
In one episode of the controversial drama series, Game of Thrones, one of the young female characters, Sansa, discovers that she has had her first period upon waking up from a nightmare. She is immediately mortified because it means that she could conceive an heir with the detestable young king, Joffrey. She then proceeds to try to cut the stain out with a knife with the intention of concealing it.
Understandably, the series seeks to be somewhat historically inspired. Hence, the scene shows a hard-hitting reminder of what the past was like. However, much like the scene from Carrie which may also be true to its cinematic time, the presentation of the scene is troubling and does not really promote positivity or neutrality towards menstruation.
2016 - Broad City: Jews On A Plane 👍
Broad City is an American television sitcom that focuses on the friendship of Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abrams as they go through their lives in New York. In an episode titled “Jews on A Plane”, Abbi gets her period while on an airplane. She and Ilana then set out to scour the plane for a tampon. As they are unsuccessful to get one, they improvise one with materials available.
This episode is among the good ones on this list because it encourages period normalization, resourcefulness, and light-hearted solidarity among friends.
And there you have it! What do you think of these scenes? Have we missed any on this list?