By Lauren Sams
August 19, 2016
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I love the series Broad City for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that Abbi and Ilanado not shy away from talking about the female body, in all its gloriousness, and grossness. Our bodies are both weird and wonderful, and Abbi and Ilana know it. They talk about their body hair, sweating and chafing (ugh, the struggle is real), how great Abbi’s bum looks in bodycon dresses, having sex, going to the toilet and so on. And in one episode, Abbi gets her period. It’s not a catastrophic event or a punch line, it’s a fact of life. Because Abbi is a grown woman, and most grown women bleed every 30 days.
This stands out because on-and-off screen there remains a reluctance to acknowledge periods in an ‘every day occurrence’ kind of way. Think of the huge fuss earlier this week around Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who finished her race at the Olympics doubled over in pain and explained in a rather matter-of-fact way to reporters, “It’s because my period came yesterday.”
Because while there are heaps of examples of girls getting their first periods in pop culture, that’s basically where periods end for women on TV and in film. Which mirrors real life, right ladies? Periods are like fireworks – you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all! There are some lovely examples of first periods in pop culture, like when Lucy gets her period on Seventh Heaven and her family are totally chill about it and her dad even offers to buy her tampons, or when Rudy gets her period on The Cosby Show and Clair (of course) makes a joke about how she won’t let her daughters believe that sharks will hunt them down if they head to the beach while they have their period, as she did. But guys, Seventh Heaven is 20 years old. The Cosby Show is more than 30 years old! Where are all the women having periods?
In 2012, University of Melbourne political scientist Dr Lauren Rosewarne analysed hundreds of hours of TV and film to find representations of periods. What she found was that there wererepresentations, but many of them were “traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic.” There were no examples of “the regularity, normalcy and uneventfulness of real life menstruation.”
When Abbi gets her period on Broad City, it’s a plot point, but it’s not a punch line. It’s not, Ha! I got my period! Or Ew, I got my period! It’s, I got my period and I’m on a plane and I’m out of tampons. It was real. It was relatable. Because this is something that actually happens to us all.
When we talk about periods for what they are – a bodily function most women deal with – we take away the shame and stigma attached to them. Why should we have to hide our tampons in pretty little pouches, lest they fall out of our bags and – quelle horreur – a man sees them? Why should we have to silently deal with painful cramps and bloating and backaches every single month because we’re embarrassed to tell people the true cause? Why should we have to put up with PMS being a punchline – or a male excuse for female bitchiness – because people don’t think that it’s a real thing? (It is a real thing, PS.)
The more we talk about periods without shame and stigma, without implying that they are somehow weird or gross or unusual, the more we normalise them for everyone – men and women. We need more Fu Yuanhui’s. We need more women like Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, who host the podcast Call Your Girlfriend and frequently chat about their painful periods like it’s no big deal. Because it is no big deal. And we need more men like Chance Ward, who went viral earlier in the year with his Facebook post about handing over some tampons to a girl at his gym. As he said, “literally half the world goes through this.” Periods are normal. The more we talk about them, the more we see them on screen, the more normal they’ll seem to everyone.
It’s important that we see periods played for more than jokes or horror – but perhaps more importantly, that they’re played for much less than that. By that we mean, played for what they really are: a somewhat inconvenient part of life we all have to deal with. Period.