For some reason, one of the very basic functions of the human body still remains taboo to even joke about in polite company, probably because it happens primarily to women. Most people with a uterus get their period and still, you rarely see periods depicted on TV, in movies, or talked about in public, while other bodily functions like pooping get entire television series built around them. Menstruation and all the issues that go along with it have, like many "women's health" issues, been uncomfortable topics of conversation for men and by extension, women, who have been taught to literally hide the fact that they get their period. A lot of that has to do with representation in pop culture.
Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, author of Periods In Pop Culture, tells Bustle via email that media representations of menstruation can help fight period stigma. But it also perpetuates it. "Film and TV provides an informal - and ongoing - education on a range of topics. While education is not it's primary function, nonetheless, we still glean information from it. This means that if we're going to get an informal education on menstruation from the screen, ideally it should not only reflect the drama of it all, but notably also the thorough ordinariness in which most women experience it," she says.
Some earlier period episodes perpetuate stigma or dangerous gender stereotypes, such as dads who "just can't (or won't) understand" their daughters or that menstruation is something to be embarrassed about. But it's been getting so much better, thanks to the sheer quantity of TV these days and more women, from all walks of life, in writing rooms.
Rosewarne says that the rise of cable TV and streaming services has "led to a greatly flexibility about what content is shown: audiences have validated their acceptance of - if not enjoyment for - more risqué content by continuing to pay for such services." She adds that this has led to not just more depictions, but conversations about menstruation. Below, you'll find 13 TV episodes that have contributed greatly to that conversation and paved the way for more to come.
'Roseanne' — Season 1, Episode 15
Roseanne and Dan know something's up with Darlene, but at first think she's just worried about basketball. Instead, she's freaked out about starting her first period and what that means. The episode is on YouTube, and the entirety of Roseanne's original run is available to stream with Amazon Prime, and to purchase via YouTube and your iTunes account.
'Black-ish' — Season 4, Episode 6
'Degrassi' —The Next Generation: Season 1, Episode 9
'Mad Men' — Season 5, Episode 12
'Big Mouth' — Season 1, Episode 2
'New Girl' — Season 2, Episode 7
'The Middle' — Season 3, Episode 1& 2
Sue gets her period during a camping trip in this episode — definitely not an ideal situation — and Frankie wakes the entire family with some less than supportive comments. The scene has been uploaded to YouTube, and full episodes of The Middle are available to purchase on YouTube and through your iTunes account.
'Broad City' — Season 3, Episode 10
'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' — Season 2, Episode 7
'Orange Is The New Black' — Season 5, Episode 1
Orange Is The New Black is another show that definitely doesn't shy away from showing women's experiences in all their glory. Remember when inmate Gina used her period to convince a guard she was injured? Crafty. And also one of the rare moments actual period blood is addressed in media as just something that's there. That episode and more are available to stream on Netflix.
'Braceface' — Season 1, Episode 8
This animated kids' show was a staple for a lot of us growing up, and who could forget when Sharon first encountered her period, and the pain of cramps, while on a first date? Yikes. The episode is available to watch for free on YouTube.
'Game of Thrones' — Season 2, Episode 7
'Blossom' — Season 1, Episode 2
Almost right off the bat, the 1990s sitcom Blossom hit its viewers with a period discussion. The titular character even gets a cake to commemorate the occasion. Watch the full episode for free on YouTube.
Working this life experience into TV and pop culture can really mean something for women's rights, even in small doses. Women and their bodies are so often dismissed altogether or seen as "inappropriate" when they're not being displayed or interacted with for the pleasure of others, and that's just got to stop. The more periods are featured as a normal part of life on TV, the more we can try and break the totally unnecessary stigma that surrounds them.