It’s Time to Talk About Tropes #4: Menstruation

Periods. Surfing the crimson wave. Getting a visit from Aunt Flo.

Lady characters getting their periods doesn’t come up in a lot of stories, and that’s fine. It’s a completely normal bodily function that can safely be ignored in many cases. It happens, everything is fine, the reader doesn’t need to see it.

But when it does get mentioned? Boy, do I hate how it’s usually handled. So we’re going to talk about it.

So when does it come up?

When a woman is concerned she might be pregnant. Okay, this one’s pretty fair.  Missing a period is an obvious first sign of a potential pregnancy, and depending on the situation and the person in question, this can cause a lot of different reactions.

Did you hear that, everyone? A lot of different reactions.  Not just the two extremes I usually see, which are giddy hope when pregnancy is the goal, or abject terror when it’s not.

And there are a lot of reasons a woman might experience a missed or delayed period that have nothing to do with pregnancy.  Stress alone can be enough, as can recovering from surgery, taking strong antibiotics, or switching birth-control medications–all reasonably common and totally unalarming causes.  Why don’t we ever see these? Because media has taught us that a missed/late period = a pregnancy scare.

Next, when a woman is using it as an excuse to avoid sex. Whether the state of her uterus is the truth or not, it’s definitely something I’ve seen. I remember a scene from Showgirls (yes, I’ve seen Showgirls, it was hilarious and terrible) where the main character is basically “Oh, I’d totally have sex with you, except it’s that time of the month.” And Mr. Not Getting Any slides his hand into her pants and checks.  I was horrified on so many levels.

Why isn’t “no” enough? (Rhetorical, that’s a dissertation in and of itself.) Why didn’t he take her word for it? And past that, why is “I’m on my period” automatically a “no”, anyway?  Why are women taught to assume no one wants in their pants during their period? (Also rhetorical, because just about everything about feminine hygiene product marketing is centered around concealing the existence of menstruation.  Shh, ladies, keep your dirty secrets to yourself.)

And, lastly, when the period causes embarrassment.  Yes, high school is often a cruel place, and teasing can be merciless.  No girl I ever knew wanted to be caught unprepared at school, and believe me, it happened.

But the problem with this is that, in my experience, it’s always portrayed wrong.  (And I admit, this is only my experience, so this is a biased opinion.) I always read about the boys teasing the girls about their nuisance periods, but my memories of that time of my life were all about girls who didn’t like me teasing me when they saw me head into the bathroom stall with a pad, or if I had to ask around for one.  The boys never did.  In fact, I can remember a few conversations where boys asked me and my female friends what periods felt like, so they could (attempt to) understand why we all hated having them so much–but they were respectful and curious, not degrading or disgusted.

Maybe I just had a lot of guy-friends who weren’t complete morons. Maybe it was because the catty, popular girls didn’t like me.  But it was always the girls who would chant “Aunt Flo” at me while we were running track in gym class, or who would loudly blame PMS if I stood up to them when they picked on me about something else.

Not the guys.

Just something to keep in mind if you have to embarrass a lady character.  Or, you know, you could find some other way to do it, that doesn’t shame her for an entirely normal bodily process.  (Thank you, again, mass media, for teaching us our bodies are gross. Wow, I’m really snarky today. Must be the PMS, right?)




2 thoughts on “It’s Time to Talk About Tropes #4: Menstruation

  1. 100% agreed on the teasing thing. From my experience boys don’t even want to TALK about periods, much less openly shout and harass girls about it. If any teasing happened at all, which was also far more rare than media has you think, it was from other girls.

    Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

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