Looking back on 2017, there was a lot to complain about — especially for women. But there were a few bright spots in an otherwise pretty grim year in the form of a few memorable cameos by periods in pop culture.
Sure, menstruation has made appearances on TV and in movies for decades now, from Darlene getting her first period on Roseanne to Samantha thinking she's "drying up" on Sex and the City to Larry David reading tampon inserting instructions to a Girl Scout through the bathroom door on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but we've been blessed in 2017 with some great additions to the period cannon.
Here are some of my favorite pop-culture moments featuring periods from the past 12 months (spoilers o'plenty):
The Netflix adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's 1908 classic novel Anne of Green Gables, called Anne with an E, received mixed reviews and allegations the "gritty" take on the story of our favorite Canadian red-haired orphan ruined their childhood. Specifically, some viewers were upset by an episode that showed Anne Shirley-Cuthbert (portrayed by Amybeth McNulty) getting her first period.
"Tightly Knotted to a Similar String" — the fifth episode of the first season of the show — addresses the confusion and questions that come when you start to menstruate as well as the stigma and fear that caused (and in many places still causes) young people who get periods to skip school because of it. It's an incredibly made piece of television in one of the best new shows of the year and one I wish existed when I was going through puberty.
Another Netflix offering and another one of the best new shows of 2017, Big Mouth follows a group of adolescents (including characters voiced by Nick Kroll, John Mulaney and Jessi Klein) navigating puberty. In the second episode, one of the girls, Jessi (voiced by Klein), gets her first period while wearing white shorts and visiting the Statue of Liberty. After watching Jessi craft a makeshift pad out of a 9/11 memorial towel from the gift shop, we're treated to a musical performance by a tampon that bears a striking resemblance to REM's Michael Stipe as he sings a song about periods called "Everybody Bleeds" (and yes, it sounds remarkably like "Everybody Hurts"). And it's not specific to this episode, but Maya Rudolph is perfect as the hormone monstress.
OK, so Netflix is killing it in the period department this year. In the first episode of the fifth season of Orange Is the New Black, Gina smears menstrual blood on her face to convince one of the prison guards she is injured so he will let her into the electrical room. He does, and she proceeds to stop the alarm as well as cutting power to all of Litchfield. It's not the focus of the episode (although previous seasons did focus on the prison's tampon shortage), but it is a crucial and very visible detail that helps us get used to the fact that menstrual blood is thick and red — not watery and light blue like in the commercials.
I swear this isn't on purpose, but here's another one from Netflix. The second episode of the Margaret Atwood miniseries Alias Grace features the titular Grace (Sarah Gadon) discovering blood in her undergarments and like Anne Shirley-Cuthbert assuming she's dying. Anne had her foster mother, Marilla, talk her down and explain how things work, and Grace has her friend Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), who warns her that now she has to be extra cautious around men "because they think they’re entitled to anything they want." Like the previous three examples, this scene shows red menstrual blood as well and doesn't glamorize a first period as some sort of magical woman-creating event.
Finally, a period-related offering from broadcast television — specifically, ABC's Black-ish. In the sixth episode of the fourth season of the show, Diane gets her first period at school and all the women in her family try — in their own unique ways — to help her. The thing is, Diane knows what she's doing.
"I know you want to make a big deal out of this, but I've got it," she tells her mother. "We learned about the menstrual cycle in health class. I have the Flo app. I know I'm a fierce goddess, and I know how to snatch a man's check. I'm good, OK?"
In this case, it's Diane's family that needs the period talk — she's got this.
Aaaaaand, we're back to Netflix — this time, it's GLOW. In the episode “Maybe It’s All the Disco,” we get two period references for the price of one. In one scene, wrestler/model Rhonda (Kate Nash) breaks up with GLOW boss/director Sam (Marc Maron) right after they had period sex. (Sam looks under the bedsheets and comments that "it's like a murder scene in there.") When Rhonda claims Sam isn't really into her (but rather afraid to be alone), he responds by saying, "What do you mean I don't like you? I just had period sex with you."
Menstruation makes another appearance when the other Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling talk about their synched-up cycles in the locker room (spoiler: that's actually a myth) and share period products. There are the usual comments about pads being like diapers and tampons causing toxic shock syndrome. Then Ruth (Alison Brie) realizes she doesn't have hers, tipping her off to the fact that she might be pregnant. She is, which leads to one of the most honest portrayals of abortion in recent memory.
Overall, it's been a pretty solid year for bleeders. Here's hoping 2018 is even more heavily saturated with menstruation on TV.
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