Hollywood Thinks Your Period Is Scary

We all know that Hollywood makes a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to bleeding from your snatch, but Dr. Lauren Rosewarne at the University of Melbourne says that the media has so consistently turned periods into horror stories that it’s traumatizing teenage girls.

i made this for you

According to Rosewarne’s website, this study “examines and categorizes representations to unearth what they reveal about society and about our culture’s continuingly fraught relationship with female biology” by analyzing hundreds of representations of menstruation in film and television. The analysis includes television shows such as Madmen, The Big Bang Theory, Friends and Grey’s Anatomy along with movies such as Annie Hall and Anchorman.

The conclusion? Hollywood sucks at representing Aunt Flo. “The regularity, normalcy and uneventfulness of real life menstruation is rarely portrayed on screen. Instead, it’s treated as traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic,” argues Rosewarne. Carrie won for most traumatizing portrayal, but it is far from the only sensationalized example. And in her new book, Periods and Pop Culture, she says such representations girls may be unnecessarily scared about first experiencing their first shark week. “There is this issue of girls feeling anxious about it or even over-estimating things like how much they will bleed,” she said. “And when men are actually asked about menstruation they assume it’s a Niagara Falls of blood, because it’s not something men necessarily know much about and our culture doesn’t encourage them to.”

Considering that our culture doesn’t encourage men to know much about our periods, they sure do a lot of writing about it. The examples that have been made public before the book’s release were overwhelmingly written and produced by men, who probably don’t have an idea of what a period is/feels like/looks like. In fact, most stuff in Hollywood is pretty much dominated by men, and only by one kind of man. So yes, having an entire locker room full of terrible girls throwing pads at a character when she gets her period is much more dramatic than what actually normally happens, which is you just getting your period and going about your day like a normal human being. But the other thing that makes for a nice, dramatic story is your mom taking you out of school for a holiday when you bleed from your hoo-ha to bake you a womanhood cake and make you feel awesome. Why don’t we see any stories like that on television? Oh, that’s why.

And as a result, “girls in real life are viewing menstruation as a hassle, women are happily filling prescriptions to make it go away, men are mocking it, loathing it and rarely understanding it,” according to Rosewarne. And we need a whole study, analysis, and book about it because it’s so entirely normal for us to do so. How many women do you hear berate their period, dread it, complain about it, tell horror stories? How about we take today, in honor of not making a Friday the 13th out of our panty carnage, and combat the bad rep with some good solid Menstruation Information. The less we fear and loathe our liquid womanhood, the more we understand Dr. Rosewarne when she makes the assertion “TV is seen as being some kind of mirror on society. When it comes to menstruation, it is not.”


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Geekery Editor for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

Ali has written 494 articles for us.

88 Comments

  1. 0

    Media representation of menstruation is just another way that a patriarchal society shames people who have periods into hating themselves and their bodies. Period shame is a tool of oppression.

    I just have so many period positive feelings! Why is her book $70?

  2. 0

    “But the other thing that makes for a nice, dramatic story is your mom taking you out of school for a holiday when you bleed from your hoo-ha to bake you a womanhood cake and make you feel awesome.”

    The AV Club actually just did a thing about how The Cosby Show did basically this and was awesome for it!
    http://www.avclub.com/articles/when-the-cosby-show-dealt-with-menstruation-and-wo,81897/

    But, of course, The Cosby Show is frequently awesome at handling the things, so it’s not surprising that they’d be an exception to this general trend.

    • 0

      Yes! I was thinking of that episode when Vanessa got her first period while reading this article. My mom was very impressed by how the show handled it. Having said that mine is horrible. I wish women could have sick days every month. I feel like this is a time for us to rest.we do so much in our daily lives it nice to take some time for pampering and resetting. Plus I am the Niagara falls and would prefer to deal with this privately.lol.

  3. 0

    “girls in real life are viewing menstruation as a hassle”

    In what way should I not view it as a hassle? Tampons are an extra expense, if you aren’t lucky enough to have one that shows up on a regular basis then you never know when you’re going to have to deal with it, and it causes pain.

    It’s a hassle. It is. I don’t fear it. I understand it and the biology behind it. I’m not ashamed of it. But it IS a hassle. Don’t make me pretend that paying for the privilege of shoving a wad of cotton up my vagina and having cramps is somehow making my day simpler.

    • 0

      Yeah, that was my reaction, too. How is it not a hassle? The only women I’ve ever known for whom it wasn’t were those who were scared they were pregnant! Since that’s never been an issue for me due to The Gay, periods = mild to moderate annoyance and hassle, with occasional pain and depression thrown in for fun. Not terrifying, but sure as fuck not something I look forward to. If I had health insurance and no phobia of doctors, I’d be looking for one of those “make your periods go away” prescriptions right now *in spite of not needing it for any other reason*.

    • 0

      Yeah, getting your period can be annoying, especially if you had the intention to do something active that the cramps won’t let you do, but I have a suggestion for women everywhere! Evening primrose oil is THE BEST STUFF ANYONE HAS EVERY MADE when it comes to making shark week seem like there are fewer sharks in your uterus. You’re supposed to take two pills a day every day and four to six when you’re on your period. Because it’s pricy to take it every day, so
      I just take it when I know it’s coming and stop when it’s over. I have virtually no cramps, it lasts 2-3 days instead of 4-7, and I use maybe two medium flow tampons for each day. It also balances your hormones so you feel less moody. You can get it at any drug store. Seriously, with evening primrose oil, your period is no biggie. (And always drink lotsa water!)

    • 0

      Also: “women are happily filling prescriptions to make it go away” – as you said, it’s a hassle, as I only really have sex with women I can’t see any point in taking the pill. However, if there was a pill that got rid of my period sign me up. I’m not ashamed, but it’s just not worth the freaking effort.

      • 0

        i was on the pill for six years and the last year i was on it i kept skipping that week and i think had like two periods that entire year. going back to having a regular period after that was HORRIBLE, it was like just a whole different ballgame altogether. and way more frequent.

        • 0

          Thank you for that Riese !
          I was wondering about it. I always had a regular, long cycle (like 32 days or so) before I got on the pill.
          I was on it for about 6 years, replaced by an implant in the last 3 years, where I stopped having my period. Since I stopped being on birth control, I have 24 days cycles. These sucks. And being back to having my period is also horrible.
          I seriously going back on the pill just for that but then the downsides were much bigger – no libido whatsoever ? No thank you.

    • 0

      one word: endometriosis. It is not a bad thing for me, as an adult woman, to pour money into making my periods go away if they are accompanied by debilitating pain. That’s just peachy for you guys that don’t have health issues celebrating it and normalizing it…but I don’t tend to think of my condition as normal. For some people menstruation /is/ a horror story.

  4. 0

    Periods are horrible, dreadful and just the worst. It’s most definitely a hassle. Why wouldn’t women be happily filling out prescriptions to make something so unpleasant go away?

    I couldn’t truly appreciate this article because it so strongly denied that periods are indeed a hassle.

  5. 0

    To be fair, my period *is* scary. Then again, I’ve got the kind that comes with ridiculous amounts of pain.

    On a side note, I ended up reading “The Miller’s Tale” just so I’d find the Big Bang clip funnier. I’m horrible.

    • 0

      Except that not everyone who bleeds identifies as being female. There really isn’t anything intrinsically about periods that means they need to be associated with women, it’s just that society saddles us with them because it views women as bad along with crotch bleeds.

    • 0

      Hahaha excellent, you’re blaming Jane Austin? I always wondered why everyone suddenly came over “faint” in her books. Code for, and then she totally got her period.

      (comment award for girlwithglasses please…made me chuckle)

    • 0

      “If you see snacks that seem like things she wouldn’t normally eat, don’t take advantage and grab them thinking she won’t notice. You may have stumbled across her secret stash of PMS snacks, and if they aren’t there when she goes for them, there will be hell to pay.” Because we should have to hide things from our significant others so they won’t judge us when we eat them! This is just such a food-negative article I can’t take it!!!

      • 0

        This for example?

        “I must stress this for obvious reasons. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship, or are engaging in casual sex with the bucktoothed girl that helps you get rid of a load or two every now and again, then I suggest you wear a condom at all times.”

  6. 0

    all i want is for it to not be embarrassing if a tampon falls out of my bag okay that’s all i really want. JUST A TAMPON, MILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE USE EM k its just some cotton and plastic stop acting like a severed finger just fell out of my backpack instead of a sanitary device.
    also flower scented pads/tampons/sanitary wipes WHAT THE FUCK guys scratching their sweaty balls in public isn’t offensive BUT MY JUNK HAS TO SMELL LIKE FUCKING GRANDMA PERFUME TO NOT BE OFFENSIVE K THANKS

  7. 0

    As much as I would love to be massively positive about my period, I’d also quite like to see men come down with wild mood swings and stomach cramps for one week of every month, and possibly ruining at least one pair of underwear each time.

  8. 0

    Hello, I’m crying at a reality cooking competition show and am full of painkillers. I hate my period, and I don’t think it’s the fault of the men in charge of hollywood. I think there are undoubtably problems with the way men and/or Hollywood talk about periods, but I sort of disagree with the idea that it’s their ‘fault’ I take the pill to get rid of it most months. I feel like that ignores the fact that I made a very educated decision to say ‘I really fucking hate mood swings and cramps and I’m going to do something about it so I can function’ and gives way too much power to the men writing terrible PMS jokes.

  9. 0

    I’m seeing a trend in the comments here that I can agree with, and that is that periods are not awesome for a lot of us. Mine bring pretty horrible cramps every month and sometimes a heavy dose of depression, too.

    I can appreciate that some folks have lovely periods that they don’t find troublesome or even find spiritual in some ways. Good for you! But I do wish more people (on both sides, really) would acknowledge that everyone’s experience of periods is not the same, and that sometimes has to do with biology rather than the patriarchy.

  10. 0

    Hi, Am I the only one that thinks as the article. I am not bothered about the period. I even like the idea of having it, it reminds me how wonderful it is to be a woman. It is something very special and personal that a man can never understand.
    I also think media has to change portraying it as the worst part. but we aught to educate men about it, it’s our chance to change things. So I agree with Vanessa. I am not an overly open person about this issue, but I think we could make a change if we spoke about it at least with our friends, and I intend girl friends. I don’t know in the US but in Milan it’s not a common thing (or at least between my friends)to speak about it. Ironically I spoke about it more with my male straight friends than with my female friends.

    What has also changed my life and i hope the same to you,it’s using a Mooncup. Mooncup is just a brand. the web page is http://www.mooncup.co.uk/home.html
    I also hope Autostraddle will publish an article just for it and change the life of so many women.

    Now what is this magnificent thing that will change your life? (I swear I’m not paid for this advertisement). It is a menstruation cup. It’s a natural silicon cup that you put inside and it attaches to your vaginal walls (i hope you call them that way) so everything falls inside it. You take it out every 2/4 hours you clean it and put it back again. Those last days where you don’t have much you can keep it up to 8 hours. It sounds to be like a tampon but it’s really not, but muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch better.
    1)It does not hurt, irritate etc when you have it in 2)you forget you have it while on 3)no more menstrual smells 4)it’s much cleaner than tampons and pads 4)it does not have any special additives that are harmful to your body (my menstruation changed from 7 to 5 days) 5)cheaper, you buy one and it lasts 10 years 6) you really feel free.
    I personally was very skeptical of buying and using it, so was the friend to whom I introduced to. I bought it after reading many sites and forums. And now I feel so foolish that I did not try it on before. My friend even told be she want’s to tell the feminine world about it
    Sorry for this mega comment but plz Autostraddle give it a try and if it works for you, write an article on it. You are going to make a difference. It is a product that not many people know about because it can bring down the big tampon and pad companies. Remember they think about the money they lose, but you should think about the benefit it gives you.
    I also want to apologize about my English i’m italo mexican and i have not used my written English in a long time!!
    best wishes and day

    • 0

      yes, this. I use a diva cup, no risk of TSS, less changing it, it’s helped my cramps, and helped with the shit of GID because I don’t feel it and don’t think about it as much. and it’s cheaper over the long run, initially $40, but lasts several years.

    • 0

      I’ve had one of those cups (Moon cup, diva cup, happy goddess-worshipping drum circle cup, I don’t remember the brand). I still use it, so obviously I find it useful and an improvement over tampons, but it does not make periods not a hassle. I find it uncomfortable to get in and out, and I really hate that my fingers get covered with blood and then I have to stand at the sink at work and wash and hope nobody comes into the restroom so I don’t have to explain how I didn’t just murder someone.

      Also, when they leak, they LEAK. For me, when tampons get too saturated, they at least still work a little bit. Cups, no. When a cup is full, it is full, and blood comes out just like I didn’t have anything in there at all.

      Also I work outdoors and let me tell you, dealing with a menstrual cup in the woods really makes me appreciate indoor plumbing. Ugh.

      With all the marvels of modern civilization, why have we not invented something better by now? Like a way to switch off our reproductive systems when we don’t intend to use them, that would be ideal.

      • 0

        “Like a way to switch off our reproductive systems when we don’t intend to use them”, wouldn’t that be the anti-conception pill? Pretty amazing invention, although I understand if not everyone wants to use it.

        • 0

          IIRC, you do still menstruate while on the pill, yes?

          I worded that wrong — I meant, like, take a pill and it’s DONE — no ovulation, no periods, no monthly hormone-based depression, nothing — until you take another one to switch it back on.

          Although I guess Depo-provera does something like that? I admit it’s not something I’ve seriously looked into. I’m too broke to afford something like that just for the convenience of not having periods.

          • 0

            Nope, if you skip the week of placebo pills, you can go on not having a period.

            Clearly the pill will sometimes come with its own set of side effects, but if you want something that will stop ovulation, stop the bleeding, and help with the mood imbalances, the good old pill will do just that.

          • 0

            Good lord, that sounds awful. And you can’t really do anything about it, can you? Just wait for it to wear off? Or is there, like, an anti-Depo-Provera drug?

    • 0

      I’ve been a cup user for years (seriously, I even helped write this) and while I love it to death and would really rather not go back to disposables, they haven’t made me like my period any more. It did nothing to reduce the length, and it did nothing to make my cramps hurt any less. I’m glad I use one and I recommend them to my friends, but they aren’t a magical fantastical period loving machine for everyone. (Although I’m glad you’ve had that experience!)

      And, in case you don’t click the link up there… Autostraddle did a cup article a couple years ago!

  11. 0

    Sorry for the following tangent.

    I have a little issue about periods that I’m not sure how to deal with. As a trans girl, I don’t, can’t, and won’t have them ever. On one hand, I hear what a lot of the above comments are saying about how much periods can, and often do, suck and I hear what the article says about how our patriarchal society and the media in particular pile on.

    On the other hand, I wish I could have them. It’s not that I think it would be awesome, or even tolerable, to ruin underwear, have cramps, and have my baseline moods disrupted. I guess this desire comes from a different place, but I can’t figure out the exact reason. I don’t want to have kids, and I would be perfectly fine with adopting if I did want them, so fertility isn’t the issue. I think it’s just that I want to understand, to feel “real,” despite how obviously problematic that sentiment is.

    Sorry again about dropping all of this half-baked, barely-related emotional baggage here. It was a tough week and my body issues played a big part in that.

    • 0

      Yep, what Lemon said. I’m in the opposite situation as yours, I have periods but I’m not a woman, and I’m somewhat bothered by the way this article and some comments here keep linking periods to womanhood – that’s cissexist, and I expected better from AS.

      Having ovaries and being a woman are two entirely different things. Personally, while I’d be glad if my periods were to go away (for most of the reasons mentioned by other posters as to why they’re a hassle), they don’t make me feel dysphoric or any more of a woman than I am. I just accepted that they’re one of my body functions, which have nothing to do with my gender and my identity.

      You’re not any less you or any less of a woman than all the others because you don’t have periods!! Keep reminding yourself that, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise 🙂

  12. 0

    dorky period fact of the day:

    in Kaqchikel Maya (a language I’m studying) the word for period (“ch’ajon”) literally means “cleaning.” it doesn’t have a negative connotation at all and sorta screams, “oh hey there reminder that my female bod is gettin’ its groove on.”

  13. 0

    I don’t fear my period…but I can not pretend that I love its existence. What happens to me each month (when it decides to show up) can not be put in words. For some people you can continue on with everyday life and I am happy for these people but sadly I am not one. And the depression is the worse. I just wish there was a pill strong enough to stop the cramps. -__- oh and don’t get me started if you’re an anemic.

  14. 0

    In agreement with other people: periods ARE hassles. You’re never exactly sure when it’s gonna come so sometimes it hits you at the wrong place/time. You worry about leakage and stains. For the first couple days, it fucking HURTS (for me, at least) and I can’t masturbate/have sex because it just makes my cramps excruciatingly worse. It can be messy and smelly. You have to worry about changing whatever it is you’ve got down there throughout the day. Also, I get bloated and things with my body tend to go a bit haywire.

    That being said, I’m fortunate to be someone who only experiences the shitty painful parts at the beginning and I don’t have any medical reasons stopping me from taking Midol (it works for me, thankfully!). Plus, I use menstrual cups now, which really makes any smell, sense of uncleanliness from tampons/pads, and the fear of leaks vanish. I strangely enjoy the process of removing and popping it in again, too.

    I think, over the years, I’ve grown to really enjoy my period actually (after the first couple days of body meltdown). It kind of excites me to know that my body can function in this way and a part of me looks forward to it. But I guess I’m also a little in love with my vag, so anything it does amazes me.

  15. 0

    Some things…

    My period was devastatingly painful ’til I started seeing a chiropractor. This person made a statement that has stuck with me for a long time: “Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.” Cramps and backpain and water retention and stuff is normalized, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. I know everyone’s body is different blahblahblah but it is worth considering that period discomfort can in lots of cases be managed through diet*, exercise, breathing, elimiting caffeine and alcohol intake, etc.

    *i don’t mean to be food negative here. For example, dark chocolate is a big mood elevator for me. I’m just suggesting that some peeps may find it helps (if you have the time) to track food and liquid intake and note if there’s any correlations.

    Also the magic pill that makes your period go away is actually a shot called Deepo Provera or some shit and it’s highly controversial. Alsoalso the Divacup seems to make my cramps worse. Maybe the suction or something? But cloth pads as backup have actually changed my life. Sooooo much cheaper.

  16. 0

    Jesus. I do not think this is some kind of patriarchy going on, as much as i am a huge feminist. My periods are awful. Awful. I am doubled over in pain, i once broke my wrist and my periods are MORE painful than that. Yes I have seen a doctor about it. I also have so much blood that i go throught super heavy duty tampons each hour.

    I think the people writing these articles saying its not a hassle, are people who barely experience anything during their period.

    My girlfriend has super light periods, and no cramps. She always wondered why women complained about periods until we got together and saw how much pain and blood i had.

    • 0

      Yes, periods are definitely a hassle. I also go through about 1 super extra heavy duty tampon an hour during the worst part of it. And I get cramps. And turn into a raging angry lunatic a couple of days before I even start to bleed.

      I love that ad because we should be teaching girls (and boys!) that having periods is normal and not scary, but let’s not pretend it’s always a super nice and happy experience.

  17. 0

    My period’s a hassle when it’s on heavy flow for days and I become anemic due to blood lose. All periods aren’t treated equally 🙁 Some have to take prescriptions to ease the pain of abnormal cramps & duration. I’m one of those women who dreads period time.

  18. 0

    On a more positive note I heard a wonderful (if slightly grim) Peruvian chat up line recently:
    ‘If red is the colour of passion, let me bathe in your menstruation.’

    At least it’s a change from guys being grossed out by them!

  19. 0

    It’s not just in the media tbh, I’m still young enough to remember my early sex ed classes at 10 years old where they would actually separate us and put us into different rooms, so that the boys wouldn’t be embarrassed by seeing pads and tampons???

    It’s total fuckery either way and it would be super nice to go to a shop and buy period stuff from a male cashier without freaking out a million times during.

  20. 0

    “But the other thing that makes for a nice, dramatic story is your mom taking you out of school for a holiday when you bleed from your hoo-ha to bake you a womanhood cake and make you feel awesome.”

    April 15, 2001.
    I will never forget that was the day I first got my period. I knew what it was, but I still felt apprehensive about telling my mom. But once I did she hugged me, started tearing up, and told me how wonderful it is that I am now a woman. She called my school with a bogus excuse for my absence and she got out of work for the day so that we could celebrate with ice cream and a movie. We celebrated the anniversary for almost five years after that the exact same way.
    My period is not always a pleasant experience, I sometimes get severe cramps, achy boobs, and nausea, but I’m so happy that I have these memories to cherish.

    • 0

      Like like like like. My mom actually baked me a period cake. It was solid chocolate with chocolate ice cream. But more than that was the experience I got to share with her. That’s what makes my period positive. I actually don’t really have pleasant periods, but it was this experience with my mother that really gave it a nice connotation.

  21. 0

    To me, periods are nothing but a hassle, too. They hurt, I have to buy over-priced tampons, I feel bloated all day long, I somehow always manage to ruin either my underwear and/or my bedsheets and there is no sex for me. Because my girlfriend feels the same way about sex and periods that can result in a rather long sex-less time, depending on when we get our periods.

    On the other hand, this article has a valid point. Menstruation should be dealt with differently. Why for example is it not acceptable to call in sick and actually name the reason: period pains? Why do so many girls feel embarrassed when asking for a tampon etc? Yes, periods are unpleasant, but they happen to most of us and should not be embarrassing.

  22. 0

    I agree that there should be more honesty surrounding periods, having to call in sick at work and being able to use periods and the reason, at the moment I would be very doubtful of a boss being OK with that being why you’re off unless you work as like a lifeguard or something particularly at a beach where I assume periods would be a big problem even with tampons.

    As for me I hate periods. They’ve always been very heavy and long, the longest was about a month, maybe more with only odd days off in between. I started on the pill which did nothing really, they were a bit lighter but still long and I just didn’t want them at all.

    Then I was put on the Depo Provera injections for several years which was a dream because no periods at all! But where I’m big and it can cause weight gain and problems with bone density the doctor was concerned so now I have a 3 year contraceptive implant which expires next year. I’m definitely getting it replaced though, the short term arm pain after they put it in is way worth no periods and just no hassle with having to remember pills or book injection appointments.

  23. 0

    I actually had a straight guy friend (who was also one of my many crushes) in university who thought menstruation was cool. In his own words: “Girls BLEED for a WEEK every month, and they don’t DIE! That’s awesome.”

  24. 0

    My mum said that getting our periods was an indication of the approach of adulthood, and so from the first day forwards we were allowed to drink wine with our dinner. I was 11. Mind you, at the beginning it was barely a centimetre of wine in the bottom of the glass, but as I grew, so did the wine level.

    I wish that had translated into a set of uncomplicatedly positive feelings about periods, however the totally random arrival of mine (seriously, last “month” it took 42 day, this “month” 23–how is anyone supposed to plan around that), the FLOODS (and stains) of the first 48 hours, and the pain that I sometimes get has left me with a sense of overwhelming fury about my own period.

    On a brighter note, some serious improvements in my core muscular strength can be strongly correlated with a reduction in period pain–I’m not saying that this is a causal link, but I’m throwing it out there for anyone else who might find the observation useful.

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