Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Heavy media menstrual flow

February 16th, 2016 by David Linton

It seems we’ve reached a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it, or perhaps a paradigm shift, as Thomas Kuhn might say, in the level of acceptance of menstrual cycle references in mainstream media. As re:Cycling demonstrated recently in the time line of coverage of the de-tax the period campaign that is ongoing around the world, there is an abundance of material on this topic alone.

Now, to add to the accumulation, consider another four references within a few days of each other in two major publications, The New York Times and New York magazine.

Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 2016, Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine, Smirking in the Boys’ Room

In an interview-based article about her new show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, the soon-to-be-late-night host casually mentioned that the stress of putting together the show had made her stop getting her period, “I guess I’m doing a good job of pushing the terror onto my innards.” This was in the context of the fact that she will be the first female host of a late-night comedy show.

Feb.8, 2016, Editorial, The New York Times, p. A-24, End the Tampon Tax

The editorial page of the most august newspaper in the U.S. took a position on the taxation debate under the headline “End the Tampon Tax.” The piece reviewed the history of the campaign with emphasis on the efforts of two members of the California State Assembly and cited President Obama’s support.  It then went on to endorse efforts in New York City to provide free tampons and pads in the schools and closed with the statement, “Getting rid of taxes on these products is an important first step toward making them affordable for all.”

Thinx_2016-02-15Feb. 8-21, 2016, Noreen Malone, New York Magazine, p.70, Panty Raid

The magazine gave six full pages of coverage to the controversy surrounding the advertising campaign for Think period underwear, including a full page picture of the company’s head, Miki Agrawal, modeling a pair of her Thinx Hi-Waist items.  The fuss surrounding the ads concerned whether it was acceptable to the advertising guidelines of the transportation agency to include mention of the period in ads carried on the trains and in the stations.  The restrictive response of the authorities was a boon to the company, as the lengthy coverage here and elsewhere in the New York media environment demonstrated.

Feb. 14 2016, Sharon Mesmer, The New York Times-Sunday Review, p.10, All Praise the Women of Menopause

The Sunday Times receives broader distribution and attention than the daily issues and is read widely read around the world, so it is noteworthy that nearly half a page was given to Sharon Mesmer’s essay. The piece takes a playful look at the fact that there are plenty of special rituals and ways of celebrating when girls begin to menstruate but nothing for women when they transition to becoming non-menstruators. Mesmer suggests some celebratory actions that might be taken, and though they are exaggerated and humorous, she makes an important point about how menopause is still a closeted phenomenon.

Clearly, we are likely to see more and more menstrual stories in the coming months.  And with all the attention being given to the fact that women are increasingly visible in the political area, it’s likely to be a mixed batch.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

MENSTRUAL MISCHIEF: South Park Meets Judy Blume

December 31st, 2015 by David Linton

Note: Inspiration for the following observation came from research and writing done by a former student of mine, Bob Newman, whose thorough analysis of the menstrual elements in adult TV cartoons is the source of the critique.

It is likely, at least for women who grew up from 1970 onward, that the most widely known menstrual reference in popular culture is Judy Blume’s path breaking 1970 kid-lit novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (For men and the general public the most widely known is probably the 1974 novel by Stephen King, Carrie, and its several film adaptations.)

southParkMore recently, the venue in which menstrual details appear most frequently is surely the long-running TV series, South Park. As befits a program whose very raison d’être is the evisceration of social taboos, received wisdom, cant, and established beliefs (not to mention a random selection of celebrities and customs), menstruation has repeatedly come in for its share of attention. So it is no surprise that Trey Parker, one of the series’ creators, would write a script that brings together the well known Judy Blume novel with menstrual taboos and ignorance in the Season 3, Episode 16 show titled Are you there God? It’s me, Jesus.

Readers familiar with the famous novel will recall that, among the many pubescent concerns they have, the girls in the book are anxious to the point of competitiveness about getting their periods, the crucially important indication that they are becoming women. They gossip and even fib about who “got it” first, and important story elements concern their school viewing of a menstrual education film and shopping for menstrual products. With this in mind, the South Park episode offers what might be seen as a raunchy version of Gloria Steinem’s essay, If Men Could Menstruate. It starts off this way (script slightly edited for length):

CARTMAN: You guys!  You guys!  Guess what?

KYLE: What, fatass!?

CARTMAN: I’ve become a man! I started puberty, you guys!

STAN: No you didn’t!

CARTMAN: Yes! I really did.

STAN: How do you know?

CARTMAN: Well, because yesterday I got my period.

KYLE: You got your what?

CARTMAN: My period, you guys.  You see, there comes a time in every child’s life when they grow up and nature takes its course by having you bleed out your ass for a few days every month.

STN: You’re making that up! (women enter from behind Eric) Miss Aliton, what’s it mean to get a period?

MISS ALITON: Well boys, ah-I don’t think I can tell you.  Ah-

STAN: Please, it’s important.

MISS ALITON: It’s when puberty hits and you bleed, you know, down there.

KYLE: Holy shit, dude! Cartman’s right!

CARTMAN: Well guys, I’m afraid I won’t be able to hang out with you on New Year’s Eve.  I have to hang out with the older crowd because now, I’m ma-ture.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.  I got my period, and you guys didn’t.

STAN: Dude, Cartman can’t hit puberty before us.

KYLE: Well, maybe we’ll get ours soon, too.  I’m gonna go and see if I’m bleeding out my ass.

It turns out that the reason for Eric Cartman’s condition is a stomach virus that causes rectal bleeding; however, all of the boys are so envious of Cartman’s new status as a pubescent young man that the rest of the episode is spent charting their anxiety at not also having blood coming from the ass and trying to find out what a period is and how to deal with it.  One of the boys, Kyle, even lies about bleeding so he can have the status that it bestows.  And the “Margaret” of the show becomes Stan who goes about his days asking adults to explain to him what “getting your period” means, only to be met with confusing or evasive answers.   The adult who is usually the most helpful in explaining the mysteries of adulthood to them, Chef, sings a song about the period but it is of no help in dealing with Stan’s fear of being left behind his menstruating friends.

Again echoing a scene in Are You There God?, the boys go shopping for menstrual products only to become even more confused when faced with the plethora of products that line the shelves of the store. Kenny, the boy who gets killed in every episode, tries to follow the directions for tampon use and inserts it in his anus, causing him to eventually explode as he fills up with feces.

Finally, Stan becomes so frustrated in trying to get an explanation of what the period is and why he has not yet gotten one himself that he prays to Jesus for an answer. But Jesus, being a man after all, is of no help either. Finally, God intervenes and answers Stan’s questions as well as telling him that Cartman really has a virus and Kyle is faking.

The program accomplishes several of its satiric intentions by creating a parody of Judy Blume’s novel and at the same time laying out the various ways the menstrual cycle continues to be a taboo topic that children have a natural curiosity about but that adults turn into a dark mystery, particularly for boys. I wonder how the designers of health education curricula and lesson plans would feel about showing this piece in tandem with the usual corporate sponsored “Becoming A Woman” videos that are the major source of sex education in most schools.

Mediated Menstruation: The period in books, TV, film, comedy, etc.

December 3rd, 2015 by David Linton

Perhaps one of the most useful barometers of the social status of the menstrual cycle is the frequency and nature of its representation in public media. In the 1950s the three major TV network forbade the airing of ads for menstrual products, or “catamenial devices,” as they were called, before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. in order to protect children and men from exposure to these unpleasant objects. In the ensuing decades as the ubiquitous blue liquid was sopped up by quilted pads and puffy tampons, a few daring programs included menstrual elements as plot devices or elements of humor, most notably episodes of All in the Family in which Edith enters perimenopause and another in which Gloria misses a period prompting a pregnancy scare.

My own research has taken me from Prince Charles’ menstrual media mishap and the period’s presence in various Carrie incarnations  through a wide variety of literary, cinematic, and televised incidents and all the way back to biblical stories that included menstrual elements.

Presently, though far from frequent, the period now makes regular appearances in TV series and feature films. From being employed as “the menopause defense” in a murder trial on Law and Order to palace intrigue and marital plot in Game of Thrones to adolescent disgust in Superbad to a challenge to one’s masculinity in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to family drama on nearly every sit-com that has a young girl character, the menstrual cycle has steadily gained acceptance as a subject worthy of inclusion on tube and screen.

That is not to say that all of the period appearances are enlightened or lacking in previous eras’ negative slant. This month’s explorations of menstrual media will strive to examine the full range. This is not a new topic for the SMCR blog as over the past five years we have often posted many commentaries on this very subject. In fact, because we consider this topic so important, and because we believe that some of those earlier posts deserve more exposure, this month’s posts will include several of those items, among them Laura Wershler’s three-part examination of how menstruation underscores the plot of Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder.

So let us begin with a look at what, at one time, would have been the most unlikely setting for frank–even rude and racy–period references: the animated cartoon. Once a genre exclusively designated for children’s entertainment, animated films and TV series have become popular venues for adult viewing, echoing the rise of the graphic novel in print media. Shows like King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and, most path-breaking of all, South Park, are designed for adult consumption, mostly young male viewers. All four of these series (and their less successful genre companions) focus mainly on male characters and their struggles with authority, identity, and a general bewilderment in the face of a perfidious world. All of them are comedies, so when menstrual elements are introduced they are played for laughs, though the laughter is often nervous and insecure.

Family Guy Raggidy Ann DollConsider one small example that a former student of mine, Robert Newman, discovered. In a 2007 episode of Family Guy, the baby Stevie Griffin is playing with his “On the Raggedy Ann” doll.  Here’s the exchange:

STEWIE: Oh look, an On-The-Raggedy Ann doll. (pulls the string)

DOLL: It’s water weight you bastard! (he pulls the string again)

DOLL: Get off me, I’m not your whore! (he pulls the string again)

DOLL: (crying) I’m sorry, I’m just so sad.

STEWIE: Well, I guess I can still play with it three weeks out of the month.

This simple scene both sends up the PMS stereotype and legitimizes the notion of its existence. Yet at the same time it puts the period into play as a topic for satire, drama, and commentary.

This month’s posts will try to give exposure to the full range of period presence in popular media. However, it will be far from encyclopedic in its coverage as topical research in popular media is notoriously difficult and invariably omits items worthy of inclusion. So, readers are invited, urged in fact, to send it their own sightings of the period’s presence you have encountered.

Menarche on Degrassi: The Next Generation – Emma’s Dilemma

September 30th, 2015 by David Linton

Emma and Manny from Degrassi: The Next Generation

Menarche month began at re: Cycling with reference to the brilliant first period talk Roseanne gave her daughter Darlene in a 1989 episode of Roseanne. We’ve chosen to end it with another TV reference from the beloved Canadian series of series named for the fictional street near which it is set–Degrassi. 

The word “menarche” is commonly defined with reference to the biological changes that occur within a female’s reproductive system at the point when the menstrual cycle begins to function. However, the onset of menstruation is also a social occurrence that has been layered with significance in every culture and time. In contemporary societies with “advanced” media of communication, menarche has been depicted in a wide variety of ways, sometimes reflecting prevailing taboos and superstitions, and at others in ways that are informative or even liberating. The focus is often on what I have labeled “menstrual transactions,” that is, the way interactions with other individuals, frequently boys or men, structure the meaning of menstruation for both the girl and others in her surroundings. This post explores one example of how this transitional moment in a girl’s life has been represented in a broadcast television series.

 


Emma’s Dilemma

One of the most positive and explicit portrayals of a girl’s first period appeared in the popular Canadian series directed at a young audience, DeGrassi: The Next Generation. Emma, the main character in the series, a girl known for her activism and responsible behavior, gets her period while sitting outside of school talking to her best friend. She is wearing a light-colored skirt and in several shots a bright red stain is visible on the back. On this particular day Emma and her friend, Manny, are scheduled to give an oral book report in front of their class and the only thing they can find for Emma to wear is a pair of gym shorts that are much too large for her. As they give the report, two young boys sitting in the front row tease her for her baggy shorts asking, “Has Emma peed her pants?”  She silences and stuns them by frankly responding, “No, I just got my period, for the first time.” They shrink in their seats. However, a somewhat more mature boy sitting in the back of the room, one who Emma has a flirtation with, is aroused from his torpor to a state of interest and appreciation for her courage as well as her implicit sexuality.

The DeGrassi clip demonstrates a rich variety of menstrual transactions. Emma’s close girlfriend comes to her rescue and even another girl, who is normally antagonistic toward Emma, gives her a pad and some “womanly” advice. Menstrual needs supersede social competition or status differences–a classic case of menstrual bonding. Perhaps most interesting is the behavior of the boys. The two young kids who tease Emma are silenced and stunned by her blunt assertion. I think of this as an effective use of her WMD–her Weapon of Menstrual Destruction. In contrast, the more mature boy, appreciates her for her assertiveness.

Missing from the four-minute clip of the transaction described above is an earlier scene in which Emma and her mother are seen walking through a shopping mall eating ice cream cones where a leering man says as they pass, “Hmmm, I’d like to lick that.” Emma shrinks away but her mother turns and confronts the man saying, “Don’t you ever talk to a woman that way!” The scene acts as a role modeling moment for Emma who replicates it in her response to the teasing boys.

Unfortunately, not all TV menarche moments are this positive. But let’s hope for more first period talks from moms like Roseanne and more socially significant, self-structured menstrual experiences from girls like Emma.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Menstrual representations in religion, bible stories, TV comedy and menstrual education films

May 19th, 2015 by Editor

Four presenters discuss Menstrual Representations on Friday, June 5th at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

1) Menstrual Mystery: Female Bodies in Catholic Theology
Doris M. Kieser, St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta

A good deal of contemporary Catholic theological focus has to do with women’s capacity to control their bodies regarding reproduction (e.g., various contraceptives, abortion, reproductive technologies). By contrast, feminist and other liberation theologies (e.g., mujerista, queer, womanist) face the moral questions regarding reproduction from the direction of the whole health and flourishing of particular women, autonomy and choice in decision-making, and the place of intention and conscience in personal faith life. However, between these two perspectives, mysteriously little mention is made of menstruation, particularly menarche, as an embodied aspect of female sexuality.

In this paper I suggest that more meaningful consideration of actual menstruating female bodies could bolster both the traditional and the feminist theological perspectives on control and reproduction while, most importantly, empowering young females through their sexual development. Regardless of future choices regarding birth control, females who learn the practicalities of menstrual awareness have the opportunity to experience an embodied sexual self, based on the connection of body and spirit in their reproductive lives.

2) Biblical Blood: Image Representations of Menstruation in Bible Stories
David Linton, Professor Emeritus, Marymount Manhattan College

How do you tell important stories that involve a detail fraught with taboo, a detail that might discomfort the narrator or embarrass the audience? Such a challenge confronted artists and illuminators faced with the task of illustrating Biblical stories that involved mention of women who were menstruating. Social engagement by menstruating women during that phase of their cycles was (and in many settings still is) severely restricted. This paper describes how Biblical menstruators were treated in image art.

There are only three specific references in the Bible to an actual woman’s menstrual flow, two are explicit, the other somewhat veiled. One is found in the Genesis story of Rachel’s confrontation with Laban, her father, regarding her theft of his household gods. Another is in the story of King David’s sighting of Bathsheba taking a post-menstrual bath. The other is embedded in the brief recounting, told in three of the Gospels, of Jesus’ healing of a character who has come to be known as “the bleeding woman.” This paper traces the various treatments the three menstrual stories have received.

Illustration by Elizabeth Kissling

3) All Postfeminist Women Do: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Television Comedy
Elizabeth A. Kissling, Eastern Washington University

This essay explores how women’s sexual and reproductive health issues are represented in four television comedies by, for, and about young women – Girls, The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls, and New Girl – in ways that fill in some of the gaps of abstinence-only sex education that has been dominant in U.S. public schools since the passage of Title V of the Social Security Act 1996. Simultaneously, these shows reproduce the postfeminist sensibility of late 1990s television programming and align with the same neoliberal values.

Citing multiple specific scenes from these four current television series, and using a material-semiotic analysis and a critical, feminist lens, I show how postfeminism is deployed and reinforced, along with important information about women’s sexual and reproductive health. Examples include characters from Girls discussing the transmission of HPV, the gradual realization among characters on New Girl that PMS is socially constructed, Dr. Mindy Lahiri of The Mindy Project educating high school students about birth control, and more. This health information is frequently presented in realistic interpersonal scenarios and is largely medically accurate, leading to the conclusion that it may be a valuable source of information about sexual and reproductive health for viewers.

4) Menstrual Documentary: Menstrual Education Films of the 1970s
Saniya Ghanoui, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Menstrual educational films are used widely in American school curricula to educate and prepare girls both practically and emotionally for the changes they are about to undergo. This presentation explores the mediated treatments of the first period and examines the ways girls are told to prepare for its arrival.

The 1960s produced little new sex and menstrual hygiene films aimed at girls since The Story of Menstruation (1946) and Molly Grows Up (1953) were both used in schools through the decade. However, the 1970s saw a rash of menstrual education films with new form and configuration.

This paper examines the social underpinnings of menstrual education films and how they were directed at young girls to exemplify the evolution of menstrual hygiene education that embodied the public sphere. By focusing on the 1970s I conclude that the new style of menstrual hygiene film mirrors the new style of sex hygiene instruction.

Say Yes to Rick Scott Sanitary Napkins

October 20th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

For those who have yet to see, the College Republican National Committee has a new advertisement out that is intended to reach women, particularly younger women, to lure their vote for several GOP governors. The advertisement is the same for several governor races, save for the name changes, and the one that is getting the most attention concerns the Florida race between Rick Scott (R) and Charlie Crist (D). The ad is a parody on the popular reality television show Say Yes to the Dress where women try on different wedding dresses and debate the merits of each until they find “the one.” In this case of “Say Yes to Rick Scott,” Brittany, an undecided voter, tries on the “Rick Scott dress” and immediately falls in love with his “new ideas that don’t break your budget.” But Brittany’s mother is not having any of that as she wants Brittany in the “Charlie Crist dress” that is “expensive and a little outdated.”

There are already several write-ups on the stereotypical nature of this advertisement—that it serves the same jaded discourse that all women care about weddings and dresses—and that there could have been a more intelligent way to reach Republican women. What is most interesting is Stephen Colbert’s response to this ad. In typical Colbert fashion, he hilariously rips apart the wedding dress metaphor and decides to contribute an ad of his own: Rick Scott versus Charlie Crist sanitary napkins.

Equating “that time of the month” with mid-term elections, one female in Colbert’s parody is supported by Rick Scott napkins in her “private sector” and is a happy and peppy woman while the other is still using Charlie Crist napkins. Take a look at the side-by-side comparison for the blue liquid that has come to serve as symbolic blood in many advertisements and the mockingly way it is poured on each candidate’s napkin.

What is so great about Colbert’s satire is that he is not only addressing the humor of the “Say Yes to Rick Scott” piece but he is also ridiculing the traditional napkin and tampon advertisements so prevalent on television. Are these the only ways to speak to women? Colbert thinks not and this segment is a testament to that.

Remember, vote for “The Best Candidate—Period!”

Your Moment of (Menstrual) Zen

September 9th, 2014 by David Linton

Every night Jon Stewart closes his DAILY SHOW with the sentence, “And now, your moment of Zen,” which is usually followed by a clip of some cable news program in which people say dopey or inane remarks. The purpose is to remind viewers of just how much stupidity is out there and the target is commonly self-inflated pundits on the FOX or CNN system.

Tuesday night, September 2, the clip consisted of a young woman reporting on a new line of underwear while holding up a pair of panties and saying, “Our underwear is actually functional; it’s fantastic for moms, and believe it or not it’s actually great for that time of the month. I bet you didn’t expect that.” A reaction shot includes a stuffy looking man who seems to hesitantly accept the fact that, since the show is about the “modern man” that means they’ll have to learn to tolerate “period talk” on TV news and consumer programs.

Is this a peculiar form of progress or just another adolescent period joke? Should we enjoy our moment of mockery of those up-tight men who are so-not-hip, unlike us Comedy Central fans?  Or is the real joke on Jon Stewart and his producers for thinking that someone else making a casual period reference is something to poke fun at?

(Note: to watch the brief menstrual moment you will probably have to wade through an ad and a plug for the show itself.)

It Is Gross, but Why Is It Gross? Adventures in Grossland

October 28th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

For me, that’s always the question.

Gross is a decision. It is a judgment based on a set of values derived from a particular perspective. And because of this slipperiness, some things are more widely deemed GROSS that some other things.

Readers of this blog are well aware that bleeding lady parts often end up in Grossland. And they end up there more often than other body parts doing their body part thing. So why is this?

It’s been a busy few weeks in Grossland— dizzying days upon days of seeing the obvious contradictions embedded in what we, as a culture, deem gross and what we see as just- bodies- being- natural-bodies. Sometimes these bodily functions are FUNNY and other times only mildly yucky, but still okay to talk about.And sometimes, in the case of menstruating bodies, we are socialized to keep the whole thing quiet and hidden.

My most recent trip to Grossland began with the uproar over the newly-released (and nearly sold out) American Apparel masturbation-period-vulva T shirt flap. The flap just barely died down when Kristen Schaal’s brilliant satire (on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) delivered a bit on the proliferation of sexy Halloween costumes for women. In it, Schaal suggested that women “take it to the next level … get everyone thinking about sex (by) dressing up as the place where sex happens!” (and in walks a 6 foot high vulva! With Stewart-as-straight-man remarking “I don’t know if we can show that….” )I love what she did there, but the piece is not ONLY funny for its feminist take down of the hypersexualization of women’s bodies. The costume is outrageous because it  is gross, right? “Sexy Vagina” (vulva, of course, more accurately, but this is not the time for anatomical correctness)  is funny because who-in-their-right-mind-would dress-up-like-that?  That’s disgusting. Welcome to Grossland.

Petra Collins, the 20-year-old artist commissioned to produce the t-shirt image for no-friend-to-women retailer American Apparel gets this (even if her check was written by a corporate entity who could care less about the social message she has in mind). Collins speaks compellingly about the objectification and containment of women’s bodies that her work endeavors to challenge. And she reports that the controversy swirling around a line drawing of a hand stroking a menstruating (and hairy!!!) vulva was “awesome” because

“it totally proves my point…. that we’re so shocked and appalled at something that’s such a natural state—and its funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently.”

And appalled we are! One commenter on a TIME article about the t shirt controversy remarked: I….would equate her imagery with a straining rectum expelling a painful, post-digestion steak dinner.” And there it is. We can’t seem to have a menstrual moment without someone rushing in to equate menstruation with defecation. Liz Kissling has taken it on. Breanne Fahs has, too, more recently, but we still haven’t gained much traction in showing that

1) menstruating and pooping are not the same thing, and even if they were,

2) menstruating IS  more shamed than pooping

Menstruation is gross (throw in masturbation and pubes to make it really beyond the pale) because we say it is. And those that hasten  to compare uterine-lining shining with expelling feces are missing the fact that while the processes do overlap in some ways, we are NOT, culturally speaking, as hellbent on silencing the poop (or the farts and certainly not the piss) as we are the menses.  and why is that? Perhaps it it matters who is doing the business.  I assert that it ain’t no coincidence that  bleeding LADY parts are the Grossest of Them All.

To wit, I submit the following:

A colleague put the new film Movie 43, a blend of edgy and puerile vignettes acted by a star studded ensemble cast, on my radar. The film includes the segment: “Middleschool Date” (written by Elizabeth Shapiro. Elizabeth: If you are out there, will you be my friend?).

Amanda (Chloë Grace Moretz) discovers she just got her first period and tries to hide it, but when Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) sees blood on her pants, he panics and kicks immediately into naïve crisis mode, abetted by his older brother, Mikey (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who races around the kitchen in search of suitable plugs (he produces a purple kitchen sponge at one point and a Swiffer© mop. Painfully ignorant Nathan is sure Amanda is wounded…lethally. Then When Dad (Patrick Warburton) enters:

Mikey, hysterical: Nathan’s date is on her period for the first time and she is bleeding EVERYWHERE!

Dad: …ugh…disgusting…I mean…congratulations.

Soon, Amanda’s Dad (Matt Walsh) arrives. He is disgusted by periods too, of course, and says so, though under his breath.

Ultimately, Amanda takes control by normalizing the situation and calling out the craziness (“I am just a regular seventh-grade girl getting her period and it really sucks that I had to be in front of you idiots”). Amanda and her disgusting leaky body leaves and order is restored. Dad plays “pull my finger” with Nathan who admiringly praises his Dad’s resulting “epic” fart and Mikey announces he is off to take “a massive dump” to the thumbs up of little brother.

Menstrual Phobia on the History Channel

September 17th, 2013 by David Linton

One of the biggest changes in TV programming in the last 20 years has been the rise of programs collectively known as “Reality TV.”  The primary stylistic device in nearly all of these shows consists of cross cutting between “real” moments that the participants are engaged in and their direct address to the audience via the camera during which they comment on the experiences they are having. Whether it’s Mafia Wives or one of the Real Housewives spin offs or a home make over effort, we are meant to believe that the arguments, conversations, redecorating efforts or struggles to survive in the wild are actual, unstaged events that the camera has happened to capture in a documentary kind of moment. The commentary that the participants provide is intended to help the viewers comprehend the motives and inner feelings of the “characters” and to give them opportunities to add editorial interpretations on each other’s behavior.

Despite the fact that many of the reality shows feature women in intimate situations, very few of them include references to the women’s menstrual cycles. The rare exceptions, such as a single episode of Jersey Shore or Sorority Life, are noteworthy not just for their very existence but, as in both of these cases, because they depict menstruation with a smarmy leer.

A show on The History Channel called American Restoration gives the cycle a different spin by focusing on how freaked out men can be about any contact, no matter how distant or benign, with menstrual products. This show consists of weekly stories about a repair and restoration shop called Rick’s Restoration which specializes in restoring broken or antique objects such as cars, antique toys, or equipment to a pristine condition.

In this episode, a woman named Kelly who is part of the family that owns the business arrives with an old 1940s Kotex dispenser that is dinged and scratched and the mechanical innards are broken. A client wants it repaired and painted pink with a red ribbon to be auctioned off at a charity event.

The men who are given the task are appalled. Rick Dale, the head of the company, responds to the challenge by saying, “You gotta be kidding!” and adds, “It’s the first, and hopefully the last, feminine napkin dispenser we ever have to do.”  It goes down hill from there. One man grumbles, “Well, I’m not touchin’ that,” and another carps, “Hell no, I ain’t touchin’ that Kotex machine. Kelly is out of her mind.” Yet he sets about refurbishing the device under full coverage of the camera crew while announcing how shameful it would be if anyone saw him, “I got to get the hell out of this room before anyone finds out I helped Kelly with this one.”

To show just how widespread menstrual contamination can reach, the teenaged son of the owner, a spiked hair youth named Tyler, is sent to the store to buy a variety of products to test out the repaired machine. His take on the assignment is dire, “I hate my life. I don’t know what could be more embarrassing than this [pause] Nothing – NOTH-ING.”

We then see him in a market loading various packages into a shopping cart and wheeling them to the checkout counter while his voice-over says, “I swear, I’m scared for life.” He asks the woman clerk to double bag his purchase before lugging his buys back to the shop.

As the beautifully restored dispenser is revealed, Rick speaks to the camera again, “I got a shop full of guys and getting them to work on something specifically for women was like pulling teeth.”

The show ends on a happy note as the device nets a final bid of $400.00 to go for breast cancer cure and treatment.

Of course, there’s a peculiar contradiction in the arrangements in this show. At the same time that the men protest vociferously that being seen having anything to do with a menstrual product is deeply humiliating they are gladly (we assume) participating in the filming of the show so that potentially thousands of viewers will witness their shame. The moral? Fame Trumps Shame.

(The episode first aired on 10/14/11, Season 1, Episode 27)

I’ve got Aunt Irma visiting

August 7th, 2013 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

The IT Crowd is a British sitcom that centers on three IT workers and their daily misadventures. Maurice Moss, an intelligent but geeky technician who is quite socially awkward; his friend, Roy, who goes to lengths to avoid working; and Jen, the “Relationship Manager,” serve as the core team of the IT Department.

In the last episode of season one, titled “Aunt Irma Visits,” Jen explains to the men that she is on her period. I enjoyed the list of euphemisms she rattles off in an attempt to describe what’s happening, including “its high tide,” “closed for maintenance,” and “fallen to the communists,” with Moss noting that the communists do, indeed, “have some strong arguments.” It finally takes Roy shouting “first scene in Carrie” as a means of elucidation before Moss catches on. The men subsequently begin to experience sympathy premenstrual syndrome (I’ll leave the discussion regarding the validity of “sympathy PMS” for another post). Moss, in an attempt to get a variety of opinions on the idea, sends out an email to everyone—signed by both Moss and Roy—in his address book asking, “Do we have PMT [premenstrual tension]?” He also includes a list of symptoms the guys have: headachy, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Moss remarks that the last symptom is particular to him. In an hour, after learning of Moss’s and Roy’s problems, the staff create a mocking website depicting the men as women (the website—www.ladyproblems.com—doesn’t actually exist, for better or worse). Roy and Moss decide to try to calm Jen down in hopes that doing so will also calm their own symptoms, and the three have a Girls Night Out.

The show is overtheatrical and this episode is no exception. There is the standard play on PMS stereotypes, most notably the way Jen turns into a she-devil when bothered or irritated by the men. But the humor comes from each character’s specific traits and how they react as IT people to their sympathy PMS. There is a funny bit about how IT men all across the world are suffering from PMS at the same moment, thanks to Moss’s well-distributed email. Furthermore, it is the melodramatic nature of the show that allows the storyline to work. The plausibility of this show is nonexistent, and thus the plausibility of the PMS plot is intentionally frivolous. That’s the point.

This perhaps also illustrates a larger difference in American and British humor, or at least slightly different humorous approaches to menstruation. The episode is full of irony; my favorite is when Jen, as a she-devil, talks about ordinary activities such as using a different hair conditioner or trying to keep slim. I’m sure there are many out there who find this episode to be another jaded interpretation of menstruation, but I don’t. The fact that the emphasis is not on the perceived negative stereotypes of menstruation, but rather on how a certain group of men react to having PMS takes away the insulting references about menstruation (and places them on IT men—if there any IT men out there offended by this episode I’m here to listen to your grievances).

Note: This episode is available on Hulu Plus in its entirety, but you can also find it on Vimeo or in separate clips on YouTube.

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