Art and feminism #1 - Periods in movies: from Sleeping Beauty to Orange is the New Black

Media consistent with society: hide this blood which I can’t endure to look on

Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor for puberty, here is a fascinating idea. The terrifying vision of this (menstrual?) blood drop at the end of the spindle, and here we are, dived into adulthood, after our coma from teenager and the rescue of our brave prince who crossed the forest to give us our first kiss. A very nice story, that made me reflect on all those implicit links that the movie industry made us create with periods.

Periods have inspired many horror films, and it is not that surprising. This blood coming from the inside of our bodies was surrounded by myths. For example we thought that a women on her period could turn the wine and disturbed the preparation of Mayonnaise. If this is not the devil’s work, what is? The most mentioned film when it comes to horror is Carrie, the bravest can go and have a look. Regarding the mainstream cinema, periods are often just a disruptive element that puts the characters in awkward, humiliating, painful situations. So between Sleeping Beauty that depicts period as a coma originating from a witch that makes the women wait passively for the brave knight and today, not much has changed. Or has it ?  

Netflix, come and save us

One of the most socially engaged and largely distributed show on feminism, racism and LGBTQ+ subjects is Orange is the New Black (OITNB). This show enables a change in the perception we have of periods. For those who aren’t familiar with it: the story follows several women in a prison in the US, and traces back each and every lives and roads in their most human, tragic but also common and endearing aspects. And when we fight to reduce the tax on period protections, they have to face a shortage of menstruation products, first sacrificed in any budget cut, which leads to a black market of pads and tampons, as well as a rise in alternative methods to soak up that blood.

If we go beyond the considerations we can make on the potential economies they could make if they all had washable pads, we have to admit that it’s great to finally see periods treated as what they are. They are neither great moments of pillow fights in white panties, nor a stigma of women explaining their inferiority. And by bringing the subject in a concrete way, we realize how essential it is to achieve this subtle equilibrium through which periods are considered to be a central sanitary question while not being taken as the major element to define women (not every woman have their periods, and some men do, for example in the transgender community, and periods are just a phenomenon among many other). OITNB starts deconstructing the subject from the beginning by showing that the prisoners use the pads and tampons as shoes, curlers, sleeping masks…  And by making these objects common, by making them come out of the embarrassed whisper “do you have a tampon?” it enables the subject to be taken seriously. It is also a symbolic way of showing their importance and legitimacy as a first necessity product. We need to keep in mind that the budget restriction in the prisons in the US do end up cutting access to free feminine hygiene products, this fundamental right becoming accessible only to those willing to pay 5$ for a pack of pads.


When pop-culture still has progress to make

OITNB is a show that is watched by a majority of women that are aware of those issues. The only way for the subject to be truly demystified would be to see it appear in movies in a neutral manner. The idea is to influence future generations to feel more comfortable with the subject. To have a larger view on the link between art and feminism and have a glance on women in pop-culture, you can go and have a look on the channel Feminist Frequency that is both funny and instructive. Things change with social media, even though there’s a gap between the censorship and the blogs/videos on periods.

               For the anecdote, here is a short-film made by Disney The Story of Menstruation, made in 1946  (we may say that periods at the time were not the easiest subject to discuss). However this video for children is surprisingly well done and we can imagine that it has been useful for the little girls who had the opportunity to watch it. The video was massively showed in middle schools and high schools. The blood isn’t red, but apart from that, it was one of the first educative media clearly explaining the feminine biological process. Before that words like “vagina” were never heard in a video for children. This shows the ambivalent relationship we have with periods that are linked at the same time to sexuality and to violence, while being a fundamental natural phenomenon to build a society on the concept of family. And even though I have rarely seen a baby with so much mascara and lipstick, girls are encouraged to exercise and not to give up, enjoy watching it!



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