In most cases, things are portrayed in movies as we see them in real life or our society and vice versa. Menstruation has been perceived as taboo and shameful to acknowledge for a long time. In movies and TV shows, the media also have their fair share of responsibility in continuing this attitude towards periods. Menstrual hygiene or menstruation, in general, was always considered shameful to discuss openly.
Periods have historically been portrayed on the silver screen as a subject of embarrassment because of societal pressure. This attitude continues even today in some parts of the world, especially India. However, if the media portrays it as reality, it can positively impact young minds.
The movies and TV shows are compelling media to change perception and attitude. In fact, until 1972, it was banned to show advertisements on pads and tampons on televisions. Even after the ban got lifted, there were hardly any realistic portrayals of periods on the silver screen, and it took almost 13 years for show business to even refer to and utter “period” in a Tampax commercial.
However, there has been an evolution about how periods are perceived and society’s attitude towards it. This change brought about a change in attitude and the shift in depictions onscreen. Let’s look at the portrayal of menstruation in some movies which might have influenced a mind-shift among the viewers:
- Carrie – Released in the pictures in 1976, this film is well-known as one of the first movies to show menstrual blood onscreen. The main character Carrie believes she is bleeding to death as blood flows down her leg while her classmates throw tampons at her and scream, “Plug it up!” It depicts menstruation perceived as something gross and embarrassing.
- The Blue Lagoon – Then comes this romantic survival drama in 1980 based on the 1908 novel of the same name. It shows the growing up together of two Victorian children shipwrecked on a tropical island of the South Pacific. The movie depicts how Emmeline panics when she gets her first period and panics Richard. It shows the girl’s coming of age.
- My Girl – Another coming-of-age film came to the theatres in 1991, where the main character Vada mistakes periods to be a hemorrhage. The film shows how her father’s girlfriend placates her mind and explains to her the basics. It shows how sex education in our society is a gendered role in quite an endearing way.
- Beverly Hills: 90210 – Coming on the theatres in January 1994, this movie also depicts the first period of Erica. It shows that the movie’s main character, Dylan McKay, takes his little step-sister Erica out for surfing when she gets her period. Feeling unsure of what to do, he takes his sister to Casa Walsh, where Cindy helps the little girl with all the support she requires.
- Period. End of Sentence – More recently, this movie about periods won the Oscar as the best short documentary that follows girls and women in Hapur, a rural village outside Delhi, India. The women in the region fight against the age-old stigma of menstruation. It shows how girls and women of this region had no access to pads for generations, leading to health problems and girls missing out on education. However, when a sanitary pad machine finally gets installed in the area, the women learn to manufacture and market their pads, thus empowering themselves.
These international movies impacted how ‘that time of the month’ is viewed in society. Let’s look closer to home and find a couple of films that have a realistic depiction of periods:
- Kanya – This is a recent coming-of-age Indian movie depicting the first period of a teenage girl ‘Kanya’ training to be a professional swimmer to compete at the national level. The drama depicts her getting her first period in the swimming pool and being forced to give up her dreams. This movie also handles the topic of gender inequality through Kanya’s bother’s answer that “only girls go through this” to her question on why he doesn’t have to undergo these rituals.
- Pad Man – This is another relatively recent Indian movie that deals with menstruation and menstrual hygiene in a realistic way. This movie is a true story and the life of the Indian entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham. The story begins with him discovering that his wife uses old rags during periods instead of sanitary pads to save money, with sanitary pads being costly. The story revolves around his struggle to develop a machine to produce low-cost sanitary pads. He focused on how women in the lower economic strata can save themselves from health problems without any concern for his reputation.
In the end, we can say that women’s hygiene forms a big part of women’s empowerment, especially in a country like India. In many parts of India, girls are forced to stop going to schools after coming of age. We need to collectively take part in the drive to empower girls and women by fulfilling their essential hygiene requirements to continue with education and living their dreams. Society needs to understand that menstruation is a natural process and is not embarrassing. This issue needs to be addressed at all levels to overcome it and move towards a great future for women.