The Breakthrough Voice 19th September, 2019

Still A Whisper: The Guest Appearance Of Periods In Pop Culture.

While pregnancy has been shown time and time again, depicting women as fertile beings, periods – the baseline for fertility – is scarcely discussed.

Of the billions of women in the world, approximately half of them are currently in the reproductive phase of their life. Additionally, at any given moment, millions of women are on their period. Yet, mainstream media, which is consumed by the masses, depicts menstruation minimally.

We are all well versed with the typical theatrical trope of a woman characterized by unreasonable mood swings and giving everyone a hard time because she is ‘PMSing’. At the other end of the spectrum, women in villages are excommunicated when on their period. With this black and white view, the nuanced portrayal of periods is lost. A story that is different for every menstruator. 

A Cloaked Dialogue

Menstruation is still not a focal point of discussion even among groups of women. Which is a fact that is often relayed on television. While women have been menstruating since the dawn of time, on-screen there is rarely a mention of menstruation in day-to-day life. A rare occasion when menstruation is cited is usually as a sigh of relief when a woman gets her period, to indicate that she isn’t pregnant.

Any mention of menstruation on screen is often a display of cultural requirements or as reform. A recent success at the cinema halls was Akshay Kumar starrer Padman. His on-screen portrayal of real-life Padman, Arunachalam Muruganantham, highlighted a feat of how men have managed to become a part of the menstrual conversations.

While highlighting how a man has helped in some way solve the “plight” of millions of women, there was no depiction of what a woman went through during her period. The shame of discussing periods within villages was evident, yet, the reasons why this shame was prevalent was not openly discussed on screen. 

While he managed to bring in cost-effective pads, he still received severe backlash from his own society for tackling an issue that was long overdue. 

The Needle In The Haystack

Another movie that tackled the plight of menstruators in villages was Phullu. On the similar lines of Padman (and also drawing inspiration from Arunachalam Muruganantham), this movie highlights how women have to isolate themselves, literally and through dialogue, while on their period. It also depicted how women themselves express outright disgust when money was  “squandered” on pads. 

Phullu received an ‘A’rating upon release due to its “mature content”. Considering that menstruation is a natural process every girl goes through during her puberty, this movie was restricted from an audience that would benefit the most from its content. The movie highlights topics of infection, the discreet dispensing of pads and how women are excommunicated while on their period.

While these movies are so few and far in between, they do not receive the attention or focus that they require. Even messages seem overwhelmed with drama, rather than highlighting a woman’s perspective.

The Urban Perspective

Discussions in our urban spaces are moving onto more sustainable periods. ‘Period Paatu’ by Sofia Ashraf highlighted the pad/cup/tampon urban dilemma. This wonderfully crafted song also showcased how certain classes of women are more vocal about periods and associated conditions.

A few years ago, Whisper also released a commercial on how the purchase of a woman’s pad is often a covert operation likened to the transportation of bombs. In a time when women are working towards being more aware of how their body functions, there are still taboos associated with periods and the requirement for period products. While women wish to move forward in dialogue, there are many societal stigmas holding them back from doing so.

The Period Network

Since periods are minimally discussed or displayed on mainstream television, a lot of related discussions are also kept away from the spotlight.

One such condition is infertility. Issues relating to fertility are so deeply intertwined with menstruation. While pregnancy has been shown time and time again, depicting women as fertile beings; periods – the baseline for fertility – is scarcely discussed. Irregular periods, hormonal conditions, which millions of women live through their during their daily lives have yet to make their baby steps on the screen.

We should also keep in mind that not all menstruators are women.

Another absentee in pop-cultural references is contraception. While a sexually active woman often breathes a sigh of relief when her period comes, discussions on various forms of contraception are not within consumable media. While condoms are shown as focal points of several jokes in Western screens, such discussions haven’t even made a guest appearance on our Indian screens. 

Our mainstream media has a long way to go when depicting the natural workings of a woman’s body. From showing period blood as blue to showcasing period poverty in villages, media still has many lengthy steps to take to incorporate the day to day happenings of a woman’s period which includes pain, self-care and mood changes. Our period stories today only speak of vast reform but do not do a great job on the day-to-day changes women experience while on their period.

Yes, with the wave of discussions on the rise, it is about time there are more pop-culture references to menstruation. We should also keep in mind that not all menstruators are women. So we need more inclusive steps forward with scriptwriting and on-screen depiction of menstruation. Strides have to start as steps. And these steps have to start now.

Also Read: Period. End of Sentence: A ‘Taboo’ Topic, An Oscar-Winning Film


Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Clue

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