Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

It Had to Be Done

April 19th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Menstruation appears far more frequently film and television than you might think — Lauren Rosewarne recently identified more than 200 scenes in her study, Periods in Pop Culture. Other scholars, including David Linton, Chris Bobel, and me, have also written frequently about how menstruation is represented in media and pop culture. Certain themes recur, such ideas about fear, illness, shame, secrecy, and premenstrual craziness, to name just a few.

But this scene from the independent film Rid of Me is one-of-a-kind. A woman sees her husband’s new girlfriend in the grocery, and after a moment of icy stares, she quietly slips her hand into her jeans and then wipes it on her romantic rival’s face, leaving a wide streak of menstrual blood. No words are exchanged, and when the other woman discovers what is on her face, she runs screaming from the store.

[Spoilers ahead]

Rid of Me is described on its website and on Netflix as a ‘black comedy’, which seems to mean comedy which doesn’t make you laugh. It’s the story of Meris, a socially awkward young woman who moves to with her husband to his suburban Portland hometown, where he is soon reunited with his high school girlfriend. He leaves Meris for his ex, and alone in an unfamiliar place, she makes friends in the local punk scene.

When Meris is baffled at being terminated from employment at the candy shop a few days after the menstrual scene shown above, her officious co-worker Dawn tells her that it’s because of the disgusting thing she did: not only the assault, but “touching your own menses”. But the menstrual assault gives her street cred in her new community. When her BFF Trudy asks why she did it, Meris sighs and says, “It had to be done”.

But did it? While the new punked-out Meris is more confident, the use of her menstrual blood doesn’t read as an empowering act in the way of riot grrrls throwing used tampons on stage. This seems meant to embarrass or punish a sexual rival, a reinforcement of menstruation as a stigma.

I’d love to hear what re:Cycling readers think.

3 responses to “It Had to Be Done”

  1. The meaning of what Meris did with her menstrual blood may have more to do with the psyche of the viewer and their relationship to menstrual blood, than any hard coded sociopolitical agenda by the film makers. I am reluctant to interpret the act without finding out more about what menstrual blood means to Meris. She might have done what she did as an act of assertion of her superiority over the other female, because she views her menses as a sign of sexual power. Or she may have done it to humiliate her rival because she views menses as disgusting and humiliating. Any interpretation of the meaning of how or why menstruation is represented in the media is subject to the individual’s perspective and psyche.

  2. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Excellent points, Geraldine. That’s why it’s so hard to interpet — there is no other reference to menstruation, visual or verbal, in the entire film, so we have no reference point about Meris’ feelings about menstruation (or those of the girlfriend character, whose name I’ve forgotten). And oddly, this scene is shown at the very beginning of the film, like a book end or preview, and then again when it occurs as part of the narrative.

  3. Chris Bobel says:

    Glad to see this discussion. I happened upon this film several months ago and have also wrestled with the scene and its meaning. I agree with Liz that I think the *shock and awe* nature of the attack reinforces the stigma of menstruation/menstrual blood. Throughout the film, Meris’ transformation is marked by her various transgressions. She moves further and further away from the life she knew–constrained and dysnfunctional(racist, sexist, classist) yet culturally legitimate—and morphs into a quintessential *bad girl*. Is she liberated or unraveling?– I think that’s the tension in play here, so I don’t know what to make of this act. The woman on woman rivalry trope always tires me anyway—would she have smeared her blood on her bum of an ex? No. The target of her rage is the OTHER woman. Sigh.

Readers should note that statements published in Menstruation Matters are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.