From Rags to Riches

31 August 2012

We all know pop culture is prone to exaggeration. There has been one particular issue, however, that takes the cake. Warning: I’m about to say something that will make most of your cringe, possibly want to run away in terror, or at the very least close the magazine in a fit of disgust.


There, I said it.

The skies didn’t fall. The horsemen of the apocalypse didn’t appear. Although, the rivers did turn to blood.

A recent study at our university has examined the representations of menstruation in Hollywood, looking at shows and movies such as The Big Bang Theory, Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, Anchorman, Carrie, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and several other popular genres. The conclusion was that menstruation was the worst possible thing to ever happen to womankind. It is well documented that once a month all women will we incredibly unstable and are to be avoided at all costs. Not to mention they bleed everywhere and should never go swimming. Which is why this study was conducted, because – and this may come as a shock to some of our male readers – getting your period is not the end of the world.

To find out more I interviewed Dr Lauren Rosewarne, who conducted the study.

“Television gave me my first exposure to these things [menstruation],” she says, “[but] knowledge came from other women and friends and books … not television. It was curious that film and television told me nothing about menstruation.”

Rosewarne’s office is covered wall-to-wall with posters from movies and television shows. There is little doubt that she knows her pop culture. Yet she was surprised to find that references to menstruation were actually quite common in the media. She gave me a list of over 200 examples, the majority of which were unfortunately negative. They depicted girls being traumatized by their first period (such as in the film Carrie), claimed that periods are the cause of all women’s bad moods, and that menstruation is embarrassing for men. It also reinforces a fear of leakage, which is encourage by advertising and embodied in a scene from Sex and The City, where one of the characters ‘ruins’ a set of expensive sheets.

The worst perpetrators, according to Rosewarne, are comedies. “You’ve got that humour element – men’s secret nod, the ‘isn’t this so horrible’…it feeds into the stereotype that menstruation is disgusting and synonymous with femininity and is worth laughing about.”

To combat this negative stereotype, Rosewarne suggests that we should seek a variety of representations that are closer to reality, instead of seeking out a dramatic narrative.

“I would love to see more accurate representations of women just getting on with life…it isn’t always life disrupting or ruling. It’s the same as with body shapes. People complain that all they see is thin women in the media. The problem is not presenting thin women, it’s not presenting women in their diversity. I would advocate we see menstruation as we see body shapes, in its broad spectrum.”

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