Menstruation in Pop Culture – Terror, Hysteria and Catastrophe

Article by Lara Vascouto /
Eight Not /
July 22, 2016 /
Click here to view original /

[Spanish to English Translation]

The negative representation of menstruation in pop culture is another face of machismo, misogyny and control of the female body.

If life were like movies and series, menstruating would be quite different from what it really is. To begin with, my grandfather’s timid congratulations when I had my menarche (first menstruation) would not have been the most embarrassing part of the whole thing. No, probably the worst part would have been all the possession, the evil powers, and the hell demons that my bleeding vagina would have released in the world that day.

Likewise, my menstrual period today would also be very different from the taciturn and slightly melancholic days that blood brings me every month. If my life were a movie, my menstruation would be a constant source of embarrassment, humiliation, and hysterical outbursts, followed by embarrassing explanations about how “you know how it is, I’m in those days, hey.”

I’ll be frank here. The way the media addresses menstruation is not only offensive, but ridiculous. From the absurd blue liquid in the advertisements of absorbents to possessions and jokes in films and series, it brings nothing but misinformation and the reinforcement of a taboo based heavily on misogyny, which harms considerably the lives of women around the world.

In 2012, Lauren Rosewarne, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne, has researched more than 200 menstrual bleeding scenes since the 1970s, and found the obvious academically: there are very few positive menstruating portraits in pop culture. According to her, in most cases menstruation is seen as a traumatic, embarrassing, hopeless, offensive, catastrophic or hilarious situation.

For a long time, the fashion was to associate menstruation (particularly the first menstruation) with supernatural and demonic events. In Carrie the Strange, for example, the constant presence of blood on the screen creates this association between menstruation, dangerous powers and violence (although the film brings a necessary questioning about female repression). Something similar happens in the movie Audrey Rose, which shows the possession of a twelve-year-old girl just hours after she talks about menstruation with her mother.

In addition, the girl’s possession also brings a good deal of sexualization – something that brings her own terrors, since female sexualization is understood as something bad, constantly repressed by society. Not to mention, of course, it strengthens the idea that menstruation marks the beginning of sexual activity in a girl’s life – a very troublesome one in a society with so many problems related to pedophilia and childhood eroticization.

In a similar vein to this we have the film My First Love. In one of the scenes of the film, Vada, a girl of almost twelve, gets her period for the first time. In the following scenes, we see Vada passing lipstick for the first time and suggesting to her friend, Thomas J., that they practice kissing in the mouth.

In addition, what happens soon after Vada gets her period also reinforces some bad stereotypes. After demonstrating displeasure at the unfairness of the fact that boys do not menstruate, Vada pushes and knocks down Thomas J. on the porch when he shows up to call her to swim. And he still shouts, “No! Get out! And do not come back for five to seven days! ”

Not only do we have in this scene the idea that menstruation is a sign of inferiority and injustice, but we also see repeated wearisome stereotype that menstruating women are irrational, violent and uncontrolled.

Later, the trend shifted to parking on what we see on television nowadays: menstruation as a source of embarrassment, disgust, discontent and feminine hysteria – all of which are often used in comedy situations.

In Superbad, everyone laughs a lot about a character who, after dancing with a girl, notices that he has menstrual blood in his pants. Disgusted, he exclaims, “I’m going to vomit!” In Family Guy, Stewie reads a book on menstruation and announces that “it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!”. In Bigger, a girl has her first menstruation during a meeting at a boy’s house, to the general panic of the men of the house. In more series and movies than I would be able to tell, men constantly accuse women of acting uncontrollably, aggressively, stupidly or irrational because “they are in those days.” And the worst: they often verbalize it themselves.

In very few cases menstruation is portrayed as a neutral element of the female reproductive cycle. On the contrary, through pop culture the absurd taboo of menstruation is reproduced and reinforced, bringing countless negative consequences for women in real life.

All over the world, thousands of women are discriminated against because of ridiculous beliefs that menstruation leaves them unclean or contaminated.

And do not you think that these beliefs are the exclusive property of isolated villages on the other side of the world. The taboo of menstruation in our society exists, moreover, as a result of centuries of disinformation and demonization of menstruation in Europe, courtesy of literal readings of religious books such as the Bible and the Torah. Over the past five centuries, European women have had their freedom restricted because their menstrual blood was regarded as “poisonous,” making them “impure and dangerous” during the menstrual period, capable of “souring wine, Fruit and rust bronze and iron. ” Until the twentieth century, there was a belief among doctors that getting pregnant during menstruation would cause a woman to beget a monstrous child.

Although they are still strong in many parts of the world, these beliefs are no longer part of our society today but persist in other ways. Women still feel dirty, embarrassed, inadequate, and somehow disabled because of their menses. Likewise, they still have their grievances, claims and arguments often ignored or ridiculed because of this belief that their biology causes them to act irrationally.

It is important to discuss and combat the negative representation of menstruation in the media and pop culture. It is not only another face of machismo and misogyny, but also the manipulation, policing and control of the female body. And even in this it is good that everyone knows: our body, our rules.