Menstruation and its Portrayal in Media

What is Menstruation?

Menstruation refers to the cycle of pituitary and ovarian hormones and vaginal bleeding. It is a process that occurs to prepare the body, more specifically the uterus, for a pregnancy. The lining of the uterus thickens in anticipation of implantation of a fertilized ova, and the necessary hormones in each phase of the cycle are produced.

At first glance, the whole matter seems more biological. A standard, the regular menstrual cycle is an indication that the reproductive system is active and functioning. But the society has over years woven layers of stigma around the subject.

Media could mean anything from newspapers to movies to social networking sites, but the one common thread is that media reflects what society thinks. The media either mirrors what a majority of people believe, or it shapes what people should think.


“Whoever controls the media controls the mind.” –Jim Morrison


Menstruation and the media have a complicated relationship.


Period of Silence

The 1870s was when the first advertisements for menstrual products showed up. Suspenders held up the reusable pads.

This was also the period in which the first pamphlet on menstruation was circulated. Women were given information on how to talk to their girls.

In the 1800s, most people were convinced that women were wrecks when they were on their periods. A doctor named James Allen wrote a book called Ladies’ Guide to Health and Disease in 1891 was of the opinion girls should rest when on their periods and not engage in such activity.

Even in the 1930s, when the industry of tampons and pads began taking shape, the media was all hush-hush. Advertisements and articles in the newspaper were discrete.


Let the information flow

This is not to say all women stayed quiet and silent. Menstruating without feeling insecure, being free to talk about it and being treated equally during the menstrual phase are all things women want. All these make menstruation in the media a feminist issue as well.

One activist, Gloria Steinem, in 1978, wrote a satirical essay on social equality. She titled it “If men could menstruate.” In her book, she says:

So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much.

Visual media was less accepting of periods and menstruation. Mentioning menstrual products was banned till the 1970s. The first advertisement featured Courtney Cox in 1985 promoting Tampax.

But even after this, the stigma around menstrual products didn’t disappear. Even as recent as in 2005 advertisements the discrete packaging and hiding that a girl on their period was used as USPs.

Even early movies that menstruation was not shown in a positive light. Carrie (1976), was the first movie to feature menstruation. It is a horror movie that revolves around how periods freak the young girl, Carrie, out and causes a paranormal transformation.

Trailer of the 1976 movie – Carrie

There are also 1990s and 2000s TV shows that don’t show menstruation in the best light. Episodes of Everybody loves Raymond and Entourage talk about women acting weirdly when they are on their periods. It is also funny that in over ten seasons of the iconic series Friends, there is almost no mention of periods.


Time to Change

The 2014 movement of “always” #LikeAGirl was quite revolutionary in the relationship between media and menstruation. It aimed at breaking stereotypes by examining the different connotations the phrase, “like a girl” is used by both men and women.

Always – Like a girl campaign

The rise of social media also helped reduce the hush-hush around menstruation.

Platforms like Facebook, though initially apprehensive and not supporting advertisements of period-proof underwear, show more promise in more recent years. In 2015, Thinx, a brand of period-proof underwear, made headlines for using the word period and suggestive imagery to advertise their products.

Some recent movies like Pad Man in Bollywood, English series like Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones and Mad Men all depict periods in a more positive light.

Instagrammers like Rupi Kaur also made headlines for challenging social media policies on periods, menstruation and posts.

The rise of platforms like Instagram and YouTube not just as a means of entertainment but also as forums for expression has allowed many women to voice their opinions. YouTube channels like Buzzfeed has videos of women painting with period blood and talking about period related problems has been normalized.


Why normalizing menstruation in media is important?

It is pitiable that when over half the people on the planet, about 4 billion people on planet earth have a menstrual cycle, go through menstrual issues and buy menstrual products. It is still not accepted in most countries to talk about periods. Or when spoken about it is looked down upon or shown in a bad light. It deplorable, that in a 3-billion-dollar-a-year industry, only a few companies selling menstrual products dare to use progressive marketing tactics and not merely suggest that they are related to women.

No single person can revolutionalise the opinion of society on their own. But, one person on social media can reach a larger audience. That one person can inspire many, stir others to talk too, and most importantly tell women that they are not alone when facing menstrual problems and it is ok to talk about them. With its deindividualizing effect and the anonymity it offers, social media is quite conducive for discussing social matters.

The power of social media is that it forces the necessary change.

And with menstruation and media, it is relatively easy to see that a change is needed.


What do you think?

503 Points

Written by Sraddha Kausthub

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