If it were up to Hollywood to form our feelings about menstruation, women would go through life thinking their periods were icky or scary, one researcher claims.
When political scientist Lauren Rosewarne set out in search of examples of TV shows and movies addressing the subject, she found plenty of periods-are-gross scenes and even menstruation-makes-you-evil sequences, but very few positive portrayals.
And that, she fears, may be sending young women very bad messages about their bodies during a normal biological process.
For her soon-to-be published book "Periods in Pop Culture," the University of Melbourne researcher dug up more than 200 menstruation scenes since the 1970s, culled from films and TV shows ranging from "Annie Hall" to "Mad Men."
Overall, the portrayals were overwhelmingly negative. But a few really stood out in her estimation as being the worst of the worst.
"The horror film 'Carrie' is quite possibly the most famous menstruation example on screen but also one of the most horrible," Rosewarne told The Huffington Post. "A girl is not only shown to be thoroughly terrified -- and uneducated -- about her menstruation, but its onset unleashes her telekinetic powers and, in turn, evil."
Scenes from other films have played up the ick factor.
In the 2005 Jenny McCarthy vehicle "Dirty Love," the lead character goes on a tampon run but starts bleeding before she can get to the checkout line. She floods the supermarket floor, causing an older woman to slip and fall.
TV portrayals have been as negative, Rosewarne told HuffPost, pointing to an episode of "Family Guy" during which Stewie reads a book about menstruation and calls it "the most disgusting thing I've seen in my entire life!"
Episodes of "Entourage" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" show men accusing women of being irrational or stupid because they're menstruating.
"When menstruation does appear [on screen], it is treated as a drama," Rosewarne wrote. "It is either traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic." (In a menstruating woman, the body prepares for a possible pregnancy -- and if it doesn't occur, the uterus sheds its lining, resulting in the flow of blood.)
But while Rosewarne's research shows that Hollywood can be overwhelmingly negative or ridiculous in its portrayals of women's periods, it is not yet clear what effect, if any, that has had on women.
Christina Bobel, an associate professor of women's studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said that establishing clear causal links between media exposure and women's real-world behavior and attitudes is difficult but research in other areas may provide some insights. "Research has shown that exposure to media -- across types -- depicting very thin models and actors significantly increases women’s own body dissatisfaction and the likelihood of engaging in disordered eating," she said.
Also, psychologists have found that girls tend to have mixed feelings about their periods but support can help them feel more positive.
"When you put these findings together, you can see the potential power of menstrual representations," Bobel told The Huffington Post. "What we say does make a difference. If most of our exposure is 'keep it hidden' and when you fail at that, 'be ashamed,' how can that possibly encourage self-esteem?"
Rosewarne did uncover several examples of what she thinks is Hollywood getting it right.
In a 1989 episode of "Roseanne," Roseanne tells her youngest daughter, who has begun throwing away all her sports supplies after getting her period for the first time, that menstruation is a vital part of being a woman and that she can still be a jock.
"'Californication' also offers a number of interesting and positive examples," Rosewarne said. "In [one] episode, a woman discloses her period to Hank [played by David Duchovny] who says he is not at all bothered by it and continues to have sex with her." In another, a husband is perfectly fine with unblocking a toilet that had been clogged by his wife's tampon.
Rosewarne believes, however, that there are limitations to how much pop culture's depictions -- both good and bad -- inform women's thoughts and opinions about their bodies. Plus, she added, "I don't necessarily think film and television [have] any specific burden to present menstruation in a certain way."
"Nevertheless, the routinely negative way that it is portrayed reminds us that we need to supplement the education of young people -- boys and girls -- with high-quality sex education that fills in the gaps that the screen fails to," Rosewarne said.
'Clueless': 'Surfing The Crimson Wave'
One of the many reasons to love "Clueless" and it's heroine, Cher, are these words from the beginning of the movie: "Mr. Hall, I was surfing the crimson wave. I had to haul ass to the ladies'." That will be the last time Mr. Hall publicly asks her why she's late. The movie was an adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma," where of course such a direct referral to menstruation would be hard to find, but it is fair to note that with so many female characters in a single novel, it is no wonder that some were "indisposed" from time to time. You can find the sound clip <a href=" http://www.hark.com/clips/bvpydfrcfg-mr-hall-i-was-surfing-the-crimson-wave" target="_hplink">here.</a>
'My Girl': 'I'm Hemorrhaging!'
"My Girl's" Vada is much more knowledgable than your average 11-year-old in many ways. But the tomboy, who's mainly been raised by her father, is not ready for puberty's most dramatic act. After her unsettling discovery in the bathroom, she runs around the house in a panic looking for her father and comes across her potential step-mother. In a phrase that betrays both her know-it-all attitude and her confusion, she says, "I'm hemorrhaging." And after a little lesson from her stepmother, she assaults her poor best friend for being a boy. Oh, puberty.
'Carrie': 'You're A Woman Now'
In what is possibly the worst mother-daughter sex talk ever filmed, Carrie gets emotionally (and physically) assaulted by her mother. After telling her daughter, "You're a woman now," she tries to makes Carrie -- who is looking for a slightly clearer description of her situation -- repeat verses she has read to her from the Bible and slaps her when she doesn't comply. While this would have been extremely disturbing regardless of the circumstances, it becomes slightly more traumatizing considering the scene preceding it where Carrie gets her first period in a very unfortunate location, the shower of the locker room. As Carrie tries to figure out why blood is gushing from between her legs, her classmates realize the real reason and start laughing and throwing tampons and sanitary pads at her, creating what could only be described as the worst first period experience, ever.
'Forgetting Sarah Marshall': 'Time Of The Month'
The protagonist Peter's ex-girlfriend Sarah Marshall has a television show, "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime" in the comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." "Crime Scene" is an hilarious exaggeration of the overuse of puns and mind-bending catch phrases on crime scene shows. In the clip from the show that Peter ends up having to watch on his way to Hawaii, Detective Hunter Rush has a very unique answer to why there is an excessive amount of blood on the victim, "He was either stabbed in the aorta or it was his time of the month." Who says a little period humor can't lighten the mood at a crime scene? You can watch the clip <a href="http://www.metacafe.com/watch/an-O3S_Y4YYhubm/forgetting_sarah_marshall_2008_flying_to_hawaii/" target="_hplink">here</a>.
'Ginger Snaps': 'The Curse'
<em>(Start watching from 3:10)</em> The Canadian movie "Ginger Snaps" revolves around the high school experiences of two outcast sisters. In addition to dealing with sex, parents and the general pain of being 16, Bridgette and Ginger have to deal with another challenge: Ginger gets bitten by a wild animal and gradually transforms into a werewolf. As if this isn't enough to deal with, she gets her period. When Ginger realizes that she got her period for the first time (as they are trying to remove a dog's dead body) she says, "B, I just got the curse" to her sister who is 15 and also hasn't had her first period."Ew," Bridgette replies, apparently more grossed out by this news than the carcass in her hands. "Curse" fits nicely with the supernatural elements of the movie, but drawing a parallel between menstruation and becoming half animal probably doesn't send the best message out of context.
'Juno': 'The Rag'
It's not surprising to see menstruation included in "Juno," a movie that revolves around a young woman's first sexual experience, childbirth and motherhood. In one of the scenes, Paulie and Juno end up being lab partners with a rather tense couple. After the girl declares that she has a "menstrual migraine," they get into an argument with her boyfriend who says, "Call me when you get off the rag!" Seeing a teenager use such a dated term and Juno's expression when she hears it together make this one of Hollywood's unforgettable period euphemism moments. Watch it <a href="http://candice-accola.net/videos/films/films-juno-001/" target="_hplink">here</a>.
'No Strings Attached': 'Crime Scene'
In the recent romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," Emma and her roommates share a menstrual cycle and a "girl's night in" where there is no shortage of ice cream or cramps. Her friend (with benefits) Adam pays the apartment a visit and lends the women an understanding ear. "It's like a crime scene in my pants," says roommate Patrice as she lays on the floor. But Adam hasn't arrived at the party empty-handed; he brings a "period mix" for Emma that has songs such as "Red Red Wine," "Evenflow," and "Sunday Bloody Sunday."