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From Carrie to Superbad: What Do Periods Look Like On The Scarlet Screen?

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From Carrie to Superbad: What Do Periods Look Like On The Scarlet Screen? Photo

by Mia Abrahams | January 04, 2018

Greta Gerwig in 20th Century Woman

We talk a lot about the period taboo here at THINX, but sometimes it can feel like an abstract concept, especially in our day-to-day. That got me thinking, how often have I seen actual periods, menstrual cycles, or — *gasp* — period blood in a TV or movie? Whether it’s good or bad, the way periods are represented in TV and movies say a lot about our cultural feelings around periods. Periods in movies can be used for comic effect; or as an embarrassing,  shameful secret; to show a woman is ~craaaazy~; or to indicate that someone is coming of age; or as a moment of shock, horror, or gore.

So, we’re looking back through some memorable menstruation moments in pop culture history to see what they tell us about the period taboo (and also because I get to revisit some of my fave movies from the last 25 years, and who doesn’t like doing that?)

Superbad (2007)

Ahh yes, who could forget Seth (Jonah Hill) at a party full of drunk frat bros saying, “Someone perioded on my fucking leg?!?!” This scene, in which Seth dances with a girl at a party and ends up with a mystery stain (period blood) only to be confronted by the girl’s boyfriend, who has a matching stain, was funny to me at the time, but on a rewatch ten years later (yeeeesh) I’m not sure. Is it kind of badass that the girl is like, yeah that’s my period on your leg, or is there some obvious period-blood shame in this scene? I do know I am thankful for the introduction of “perioded” as a verb! What do you think?

Watch it here.

Sex and the City, “The Power of Female Sex” (1998)

“We’ve been waiting 45 minutes,” says Samantha. In this episode, Samantha and Carrie can’t get past the hostess at New York’s hottest restaurant, Balzac, until Carrie finds herself in the bathroom with her. “And then,” Carrie’s voiceover muses, “the most powerful woman in New York asked *me* for a favor.” Carrie hands over a tampon, and, voila, the ladies never have a problem getting a table at Balzac again. Who hasn’t experienced the solidarity of a tampon swap in a nightclub/airport/office bathroom before? Nothing like periods to bring people together!

Watch it here.

Carrie (1976)

Any of you who did “Intro to Cinema 101” in college probably touched on Carrie at some point, and it’s definitely the most famous depiction of periods in pop culture, which probably says a lot about the depth of period stigma. In this scene, Carrie, terrified, soaking wet, bleeding, is surrounded by her classmates screaming, “Plug it up!” She has no idea what’s going on, except that she might be dying. This traumatic scene is probably *the worst* first period ever, and a reminder that education is the key making your first period not extremely horrifying.

Anchorman (2004)

The Channel 4 News team stand around an office discussing why new reporter Veronica Corningstone shouldn’t be allowed on the team (because she’s a woman) — Brick (Steve Carell), yells, “Their periods attract bears, and bears can smell the menstruation!!!” While this might seem like a silly one to include, it’s actually kind of an interesting one to unpack. Firstly, I’d just like to note that bears *can’t* smell periods — that myth has been well and truly busted (for the record, neither can sharks). But, it’s also interesting because periods have long been cited a reason to not let women in various spaces, whether that’s the military, space, the great outdoors, or even the presidency. Even this throwaway line hints at the stigma that links periods to women’s unreliability or weakness.

Watch it here.

Clueless (1995)

I just *had* to include this because it includes one of my favorite lines from movie history: “I was surfing the crimson wave, I had to haul ass to the ladies.” Feel free to use that anytime you’re late to anything, ever. But seriously, shout out to Cher for being open about her period (even if it was probably just a way to get out of all those tardies).

Watch it here.

Broad City, “Jews on a Plane” (2017)

Leave it to Abbi and Ilana to make periods on a plane (aka the woooorst) hilarious. When Abbi gets an unexpected period with no tampons or pads in sight (this is why we *always* travel w/ THINX btw) they have to search the plane. And when a flight attendant overhears Abbi describing the impending disaster, (“Any second there’s going to be an explosion and there’s going to be blood, like, everywhere!”), they think the girls are planning a terrorist attack. Did I mention this episode is called “Jews On A Plane”?

Watch it here.

Honorable mentions:

Curb Your Enthusiasm, “The Divorce” (2011)

Inserting a tampon for the first time can be confusing and awkward, but I can safely say having Larry David reading you the instructions through the bathroom door probably doesn’t make it easier. But, have to s/o to Larry for not freaking out in the face of a first period, and having a stash of Kotex in the house!

Mad Men, “Commissions and Fees (2012)

Sally Draper gets her period in the very picturesque Natural History Museum, which results in one actually touching moment between her and her mom, Betty.

20th Century Woman (2016)

A dinner party where people go around the table saying “menstruation”? Uhhhh, yes please. As Abbie (Greta Gerwig) says, “It’s not gross!” — she also reminds all the men at the table that if they want to be in an adult sexual relationship with a woman, they need to be comfortable with the fact that the vagina menstruates. Hear hear.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, “Coming of Age” (2001)

OMG thisssss. Emma gets her period, gets helped out by the popular girl in the bathroom, and goes on to make badass inspirational speech in front of her idiot-boy classmates: “Menstruation, you may have heard of it, it happens to, oh, 50% of the population.”

So what are your best and worst pop culture period moments? Share them in the comments!

by Mia Abrahams

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