Go With the Flow: On-Screen Menstruation and the Crankyfest Film Festival

Article by Leigh Kolb /
Bitch Flicks /
January 30, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

 In 1978, Gloria Steinhem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” appeared in Ms. She says, answering the question of what would happen if suddenly women stopped menstruating and men began:

“The answer is clear – menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event…”Steinhem launches into a satirical list of the many ways in which “men”-struation would be lifted up and honored, and how women would be lesser-than for not bleeding monthly.

Of course, this isn’t reality, and Steinhem is brilliantly pointing out how menstruation has often been used to subjugate women and it’s certainly, at the very least, supposed to be a mark of shame and disgust. We frequently talk about how women’s stories are women’s stories, and men’s stories are universal. The truth is, women go through some serious shit in their lifetimes. The pain of periods, pregnancy, childbirth–these experiences are wholly female and contain within them the same caliber of physical pain and emotional anguish that have propelled masculine stories on the page and on the screen. These stories, however, have long gone untold.
Three Canadian women–actresses Liane Balaban and Vanessa Matsui and artist Jenna Wright–created the website Crankytown in 2010, which serves as a portal to “sensitively and intelligently demystify menstruation for teens and tweens,” and encouraging discussion about periods in general. They recently announced that they are accepting submissions for Crankyfest, an online video festival and contest for shorts about menstruation (see http://crankytown.net/crankyfest.html for submission guidelines). Money raised will go to Huru International, which provides “period packs” (reusable pads, soap and underwear) to girls in need in Nairobi.I look forward to watching submissions and seeing how periods are turned into stories (even if they are under three minutes). I must admit that I hope they’re not all lighthearted and humorous, because the experience–which is humorous at times–can also be painful and full of conflicting emotions, depending on where a woman is in her life. Their goal is for people to stop treating “menstruation” and “periods” like dirty words.
Balaban said: “It’s an exciting time for women in the world right now – and Crankyfest is part of the wave of men and women saying ‘enough.’ Enough objectification. Enough violence. Enough of this limited portrayal of the female experience in mass media. Women are people, and they have stories. And there happen to be a ton of incredible ones about periods. Now with Crankytown and Crankyfest, there is a designated place to share those experiences, and your vision as a filmmaker.”

Her optimism is incredibly refreshing, and while we’ve seen a veritable “war on women” in regard to legislation and rhetoric surrounding reproductive choice, I’ve always had some sense of glee that over and over, many a “gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut” (as Tina Fey called them) kept spouting off pseudo-science about women’s bodies. Their utter ignorance at how women’s bodies work opened up a national dialogue about issues surrounding women, rape, reproduction and abortion. I can’t help but believe the news last week that more Americans support the Roe v. Wade decision than polls have ever reported before is related to the fact that the veil was lifted on many lawmakers’ backward mythology about women’s bodies and women’s roles.

So back to periods. If this shroud of mystery was lifted from women’s universal stories (and struggles), imagine the possibilities for Hollywood (and then, for society). Period scenes aren’t non-existent–various lists and montages have been collected online, and Lauren Rosewarne, PhD, published the book Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television, which examines those scenes and messages. It should come as no surprise that Hollywood hasn’t done a great job with authentic portrayals of menstruation.
Steinhem ends her essay by claiming, “In fact, if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever. If we let them.”
Here’s to filmmakers who will step up, claim women’s stories and give them power.