"I got my period in the store!"
"I got my period on the car seat!"
"My mom talked about my period in front of a cute guy!"
These headlines from Seventeen Magazine's "Embarrassing Moments" feature reveal the humiliation many women grow up associating with menstruation. From a very young age we're taught that our periods should be covered, hidden and cleaned up. Now, a new VICE photo series by photographer Emma Arvida Bystrom, "There Will Be Blood," is challenging the taboo. (Click over to VICE to see the complete series.)
The series depicts women going about various everyday activities, like jogging, reading, texting and waiting for the bus. The photographs aren't sexual, they're nearly mundane ... except that each woman is bleeding through her clothing -- something that has probably happened to most women -- some more than once. Although I'd like to say that I was indifferent to these photos or immediately appreciated them for the dialogue they could potentially provoke, I didn't. I had an instant visceral reaction and had to step back and think a little bit harder before I could really enjoy them. My feelings somewhat mirrored those of Buzzfeed's Donna D.:
I'm woman enough to admit it. They got me. A friend sent me the link and we had a moment of outrage and giggling and disgust and moved on. But my brain didn't. It percolated over those images with niggling sense that I was being hoodwinked. And finally, like the veritable light bulb moment, it hit me. There's nothing wrong or gross with any of those photos.
It's telling that even though we're bombarded daily with graphic photographs of war and other violence -- often involving quite a bit of blood -- VICE's series still shocks. Period blood is so verboten in the public eye that the first "feminine hygiene" ad to use the color red when illustrating what actually ends up on those products was released just last summer (the ad shows a single, prim red dot), and we've come up with an insane amount of euphemisms to allude to our menstrual cycles. (Some of those are priceless, by the way -- see Cher Horowitz telling her high school teacher about how she was "surfing the crimson wave" and had to "haul a** to the ladies'.") And even when we do see menstruation discussed openly, women are often shown being emotionally and physically incapacitated by it. The 2011 film "No Strings Attached" includes a scene in which Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling are all incapacitated in the living room, moaning in pain and binging on cupcakes.
This media squeamishness about periods spills over into our everyday interactions. I'm still in the habit of tucking a tampon into my sleeve when heading to the bathroom at my office or when I'm out to dinner, and I've lost count of the number of times that a female co-worker has come over to my desk and whispered to me, "Do you have a tampon?" We may not be consciously ashamed of our ability to shed our uterine walls, and we've certainly made progress since 1981, when a study conducted by Tampax revealed that 35 percent of Americans believed that "menstruation affected a woman's ability to think," but our discomfort with the subject is still apparent.
So maybe that's why we're suprised by "There Will Be Blood." The women in these photographs aren't having a raging episode of PMS and hiding their tampons, nor are they depicted in a way that's titillating or fetishized. They're just going to have to invest in some really good laundry detergent.
LOOK: Movie Euphemisms For Menstruation
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 here.
"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.
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.
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 here.
(Start watching from 3:10) 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.
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 here.
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."
Follow Emma Gray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmaladyrose