By Craig Butt
October 29, 2006
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A new University of Melbourne study has raised concerns that Hollywood’s treatment of menstruation could be traumatising teenage girls.
Films as well as popular televison shows, including The Big Bang Theory, Mad Men, Friends and Grey’s Ana-tomy, were all found to represent menstruation as worse than the reality.
Researcher Lauren Rosewarne looked at 200 examples of menstruation in film and television since the 1970s for the study, as well as examples in advertising and music.
She said Hollywood’s treatment of the subject had been consistently bad over that time.
“The regularity, normalcy and uneventfulness of real life menstruation is rarely portrayed on screen. Instead, it’s treated as traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic,” Dr Rosewarne said.
“It’s far more prevalent than I think people would assume but it’s done in very typical ways, whereby it’s showing women in bad moods or hostile, girls embarrassed, ruining sex lives – the standard negative portrayals we’ve grown to see.”
Movies from a variety of genres were analysed as part of the study, including Annie Hall, Anchorman, Car-rie and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Plotlines and references from shows ranging from The Golden Girls to Californication were also scrutinised.
Dr Rosewarne said Hollywood’s tendency to play up extreme rather than mundane situations and the male-dominated nature of the industry contributed to popular culture’s portrayal of the subject.
While the study did not research how people responded to these representations, Dr Rosewarne said they influenced how women and girls at the onset of puberty approached their own experiences.
Dr Rosewarne, whose book Periods in Pop Culture is soon to be published, said teenage girls could be unecessarily frightened about getting their period.
“There is this issue of girls feeling anxious about it or even over-estimating things like how much they will bleed,” she said. “And when men are actually asked about menstruation they assume it’s a Niagara Falls of blood, because it’s not something men necessarily know much about and our culture doesn’t encourage them to.”
Dr Rosewarne said the film Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel that included a scene in which a naive teenager thinks she is dying when she gets her period, was perhaps the most traumatising of those she watched.