In India, it is unsurprising that people still follow archaic traditions and hold backward beliefs. Talking about periods is considered a social taboo in several households. And like other important issues, there is a daily fight to change society’s perceptions and normalize the existence of menstruation by having necessary conversations. Recently, we at GiveHer5 found ourselves discussing the impact television has on our exposure to critical topics, menstruation being one of them.
Streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and several others, are increasingly becoming a part of our daily routines. Now it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that television and film actors have a certain amount of influence on us through both – their real and reel lives. The perceptions and behaviours of certain characters towards real-world issues play a significant role in shaping the audience thinking patterns and their actions towards social problems. To illustrate this better, below is a list of television shows that have attempted to normalize the idea of periods, enabling menstruators to find some levels of relatability to a shared and natural experience.
In an episode titled “Menzies”, Jess gets her period and is a relatable mess like so many menstruators when it gets to that time of the month. The episode shows the struggles that one goes through during their period. Jess has mood swings and says things like “I feel like I want to murder someone, and now I also want soft pretzels.” She lugs around a hot water bottle to ease the pain. In just one episode, we know that Jess has mood swings and is so irritable that she could kill someone. She requires tools for pain management and has serious hunger cravings. In other words, she is just like any of us would be on our periods.
In an episode titled “First and Last”, one character Diane gets her period for the first time. She is lucky to have a reliable support system through a family of women. Her mother, sister and grandmothers, are all more than happy to share their experiences and advice, guiding her through what could have otherwise been an isolating experience. Each of these women does their bit in explaining the concept of periods – some adding a little bit of humour to the situation or being matter-of-fact about it. In contrast, we meet Vada, another character who doesn’t have the same infrastructure that Diane has when she gets her period for the first time. And just like that, we realize that having someone to lean on when we don’t have access to information or resources can make all the difference in the world.
Photo Credit: Screenshot from Amazon Prime.
Sue Heck gets her period for the first time on a family trip in an episode aptly titled “Forced Family Fun”. The whole family goes on a camping trip in the woods. While roughing it out at camp in a place where access to toilets and sanitation is limited, it can be quite a daunting experience to get your first period ever. However, Sue handles the situation well. Could you imagine yourself in the same situation? Chances are you have felt the same way. We all have had the “uh-oh” moment when we realize we desperately need a bathroom to change and avoid a leaky problem. You have to wonder what is it like for the many menstruators out there who don’t have the privilege of privacy or access to toilets and basic sanitary requirements. Over and above, they rarely have someone who can help them understand what their bodies are going through during their first period.
Episode: The Next Generation, Season 1, Episode 9
(Relevant scene – 11:20 onwards)
Another relatable situation arises when Emma, a girl in middle school, gets her period in class. She stains her white skirt and is really embarrassed, leading to her borrowing a pair of basketball shorts to wear for the rest of the school day. Her classmates’ curiosity piques when they notice the change in wardrobe, and teasing ensues. Emma bravely announces that she got her period and then goes on to petition for having tampon dispensers installed in the school bathroom. The episode is called “Coming Of Age” and is a must-watch. After all, a young girl who comes to terms with the changes in her body and tackles her period without any fear or shame will empower any 14-year-old watching the show to do precisely the same.
20th Century Women:
Abbie, played by Greta Gerwig, is at a dinner party when she gets her period. She relays this information publicly and suddenly conversation stops and the silence is deafening. Dorothea, another character is furious with Abbie for being so open about her periods. Responding to being hushed, Abbie keeps repeating the word ‘periods’ in an attempt to normalize discussion about the concept. Menstruation is part and parcel of life, yet people are shamed for talking about it as if it is a dirty topic. This is a common occurrence, and a lot of viewers will remember times when they have been told to lower their voices in fear of being heard talking about their flow. Next time someone tells you to watch your volume, feel free to take a leaf out of Abbie’s book.
Episode: Spirit Animal, Season 2, Episode 9
Photo Credit: Screenshot from Netflix.
A classic “explaining periods” scene wherein Alice needs Kate’s help as she navigates one of life’s important teenage milestones. With a touch of humour thrown in, Alice understands what periods are and how they work in a very relatable and memorable scene.
When researching content for this article about the depiction of periods in the media and people’s perceptions of it – it was quite challenging to find specific content made for the Indian audience. For a country that is poised to overtake China in population numbers, we haven’t been able to find a single television show in India that talks about periods. It’s quite shocking that it is almost impossible to find even a mention of menstruation through any episodes or scenes across the Indian television landscape.
Are characters on Indian television exempt from getting periods? Why are we ignoring a basic tenet of life knowing full well that more than half the population bleeds once a month? It is time to give periods their due and talk about them the way we discuss adolescent boys and their cracking voices. Television is a tremendously powerful medium of communication and on-screen representation matters, especially to the viewers who turn to TV for entertainment as well as information.
While we were unable to find Indian television shows that depicted periods, there has been an increase in empowering advertisements for napkin brands. These ads aim to motivate and inspire women to continue with their 9 to 5 jobs even while on their period. (You can also read our previous blogs about the history of sanitary products & periods through the last 50 years of advertising).
Photo Credit: Screenshot from Amazon Prime.
Note – The paragraph above was written late last week. As a testament to how times are changing right before our eyes, the newly released Amazon Prime show ‘The Family Man’ depicts an interesting scene in which the protagonist is out shopping in a supermarket with his children. His son picks up a packet of sanitary pads and asks his dad what they are and what they are used for. Brushing his son’s curiosity aside, the male lead tells his son that they do not concern him. However, in a refreshing turn of events for Indian television, his daughter corrects her father and tells him that there should be no shame in discussing something as natural as periods and sanitary products.