With 5,000 Euphemisms For Periods, Can We Expect Representation That Normalises it?

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

Periods have always been a very hush topic in society, even more so in India. Men often have zero ideas about the nuances and the very natural aspect of it, and internalised misogyny often forces younger women to be embarrassed. A worldwide survey found that 37% of people have never actually seen a reference to periods on TV.

One writer points out how “Female characters are much more likely to be sliced in half by a chainsaw than shown asking their friends for a tampon or towel because they forgot one.”

Another study found over 5,000 euphemisms in 190 countries for periods. It ranges from Alarmstufe Rot (Code red alarm) in Germany to Kommunister i lysthuset (Communists in the gazebo) in Denmark. No wonder around 50% of women feel there is a stigma attached to periods. A lot of the taboo around periods can be done away with if we have a more active conversation around periods in pop culture.

A still from Carrie, where the titular character starts menstruating in the shower and is bullied for it.

Hollywood has been progressively getting better at its portrayal and discussions around periods on screen. One of the first portrayals on-screen was the Stephen King horror, Carrie (1976). The titular protagonist is shamed for getting her period in the shower and then she goes on to take revenge.

From this being used as an origin story for a serial killer, Hollywood has grown by leaps and bounds. Black-ish, a sitcom that started in 2014, had one of its characters deal with her first period.

A still from the sitcom Black-ish where all the women in the house come together to talk about periods.

There is still a lot to be done though. The on-screen portrayal is usually about the apexes of menstruation and is usually always made into some ‘big’ event. It’s usually made into a plot point and more often than not isn’t depicted as a normal routine event.

We have had so many scenes in movies or TV shows of men peeing into urinals and even talking throughout the entire scene. It’s a normal bodily function, and its portrayal is treated as such. Why can’t we have more shows with characters just discussing the pain that accompanies periods? Discussion about periods has been one of the cornerstones of female friendships, and on-screen portrayal of just this discussion can help the discourse a lot.

Bollywood isn’t exactly known for its positive portrayals of women. More often than not, I would say it has been infamous for misogyny and sexism that comes across in all aspects of the movies, be it the plotline, dialogues, music numbers, etc. A study by IBM, IIIT-D, and DTU quantified this rampant sexism and had a range of conclusions. They ranged from the words used to describe women (attractive, beautiful) versus the ones used for men (strong, rich), to the fact that women were always introduced as a relative of a male member as opposed to men who are introduced with their profession.

A still from Pad Man

This entrenched misogyny results in absolutely zero mentions of periods across Bollywood whatsoever. The first proper portrayal of periods on-screen was Pad Man, a biopic on an entrepreneur who made low-cost pads after realising the struggles his wife went through. An Akshay Kumar-starrer, it’s another in a long line of inspired-from-true-stories-but-actually-having-zero-substance movies that seems to have become his forte.

While the very existence of this movie must be lauded, the fact that it’s more of an inspirational story than one which aims to destigmatise periods should be kept in mind. Myths and misconceptions are still widespread across the country with only around 20% of women having access to sanitary hygiene in India. Around 70% of girls aren’t aware of menstruation or menstrual health until they get their first period.

For representation only.

Media and pop-culture shape how society thinks. Movies drive conversations and can have an actual effect on what people believe and how they think about the world. Filmmakers and screenwriters thus have an immense responsibility towards normalising taboos, especially ones that can directly influence policies around menstruation, and also around the opinions that women have about their bodies.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured Image For Representation Only.
Similar Posts

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below