The Condensed Cinematic History of Periods in Movies
Updated: Jan 7
The strange taboo surrounding menstruation isn't just seen in our daily lives. It's reflected in our culture, from TV shows to children's novels, and even in song lyrics. But if there's one part of popular culture that seems to hold the patent on periods, it's film.
Movies reflect our real lives, and offer valuable insight into each generation's views on certain topics. For this article, we'll examine the most memorable and influential period scenes from the movies, and see what they say about society's relationship with menstruation.
The only period scene on this list that isn't about menarche, Superbad explores the male reaction to menstruation. At a party, an amorous woman begins dancing provocatively with Jonah. Jonah later realizes the woman's menstrual blood has stained his jeans, and hi jinks ensure. Though comically exaggerated, it touches on the basic belief that men find periods gross, especially displaced period blood.
Ginger Snaps, 2000
This film's period scene involves the school nurse explaining menstruation to Ginger and her sister. The smiling nurse calmly explains, in graphic detail, what Ginger's period will be like. When the girls get up to leave, she hands them each a condom, saying cheerfully that now they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDS.
Seven years before Juno's nonchalant pregnancy speech, Ginger Snaps shows 21st century audiences the clinical clarity with which health care professionals could now talk about things that no doctor would tell a grown mother half a century before.
My Girl, 1991
The comically understated Vada gets her first period and believes she's hemorrhaging. Her father's girlfriend explains the situation to her, and Vada's response is simply, “It's not fair. Nothing happens to boys.” She then proceeds to push her friend Thomas to the ground and shouts at him to not come back for 5-7 days.
The takeaway moral is that growing up isn't really fair, but it's pointless to fight against the inevitable. Oh, and women go crazy on their periods.
Of course, the most famous period scene of all time comes in the 1976 film Carrie.
Carrie's hyper-religious mother (who famously referred to her daughter's breasts as “dirty pillows”) never told Carrie about periods. The result is that Carrie finds herself bleeding in the shower, and panics. The girls in the locker room laugh and humiliate her, throwing handfuls of tampons into her shower.
Carrie grew up in a home where all things corporeal were seen as sinful, especially anything that could lead to the ultimate sin of having sex. When Carrie gets her first period, she's frightened due to her ignorance. It also puts her in a more precarious position with her mother, who sees Carrie's progression into womanhood as dangerous.
Though Carrie's mother is an extremely amplified example, she does embody some of the feelings parents had in the 70's. Sex had violently transitioned from something that was never spoken of outside the bedroom to something that could be seen everywhere. The over-sexualization of youth was a real concern for many, and menarche signaled the beginning of it.
It's a positive sign that movies are becoming more and more open to the idea that menstruation exists. Even the scene from Superbad, though far from being pro-period, shows we're at a point in time when periods are such an accepted and well-known part of life that movies can use them as a reference point in a joke. Hopefully, we'll continue to move in the right direction.