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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Di Sanza

The Portrayal of Periods in the Media

Updated: Aug 9, 2019

If it was up to Hollywood to dictate our feelings towards menstruation, we would all go about life believing that periods were gross, dangerous, scary, and meant to be kept a secret. Our media has been plagued with ‘periods are gross’ scenes and messages; to the point of an epidemic of menstrual aggression from all sides of the argument.

These negative menstrual messages are sending people an incredibly damaging message about female’s bodies during a completely normal biological process. A few examples of these horrifying portrayals of periods include:

The horror film ‘Carrie’ is possibly the most famous menstruation reference on screen, but also one of the most problematic. A girl is not only shown to be incredibly terrified, and uneducated about her menstruation, bit it onset unleashes her telekinetic powers, and, in turn, evil.

In 2005, Jenny McCarthy vehicle ‘Dirty Love,’ the lead character goes on a tampon run but starts bleeding before she can get to the checkout line. She floods the grocery store floor, causing another to slip and fall.

Episodes of ‘Entourage’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ displays men accusing women of being irrational or idiotic while menstruating.

When menstruation does appear on screen, it is treated as drama as opposed to inherent aspects to some people’s existences. Menstruation is either seen as traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic, or thoroughly catastrophic.

But the real problem with these depictions revolves around the impact of those receiving the media. Christina Bobel, an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Boston Massachusetts, explains that establishing clear links between media exposure and women’s real world behavior and attitudes is very difficult, but research in other areas may provide some insights. “Research has shown that exposure to media - across types - depicting very thin models and actors significantly increases women’s own body dissatisfaction and the likelihood of engaging in disordered eating,” she informs.

In addition, psychological professionals across the globe have found that menstruating people tend to have more negative and uneasy feelings about their periods, but support and validation can make them feel more positive.

“When you put these findings together, you can see the potential power of menstrual representations,” Bobel tells the Huffington Post. “What we say does make a difference. If most of our exposure is ‘keep it hidden’ and when you fail at that ‘be ashamed’ how can that encourage self confidence?”

All of this being said, there are a few examples of Hollywood getting it right. In a 1989 episode of ‘Roseanne’, Roseanne tells her youngest daughter who has begun throwing away all of her sports equipment after getting her period for the first time, that menstruation is a vital part of being a menstruating person, and she can still engage in any activities she wants.

The routinely negative way that menstruation is portrayed reminds us that we need to supplement the education of young people - of all sexes and genders - with high quality schooling that fills in the gaps the screen fails to.

But what are your thoughts? Leave your opinions and comments below!

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Nancy Legge
Dec 19, 2018

Another great post! The journal that I'm editor of, Relevant Rhetoric ( published an essay on this very topic last year. It reinforces what you wrote about Carrie and explores some other movies as well. It's an interesting piece, check it out: "Crimson Horror: The Discourse and Visibility of Menstruation in Mainstream Horror Films and its Influence on Cultural Myths and Taboos" link:


Sharon Rothwell
Dec 18, 2018

This is another example of the ways women are still poorly (and often inaccurately) represented in the media. In addition to better education for all people, we need to call out the media when they make these harmful representations. Thank you for providing a forum to help us do so.

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