It is arguably the greatest time in history to be a writer and to be a woman. Stories that are penned by women and tell their life stories are abundant and are actually getting commissioned. We have more women scriptwriters, directors and producers than ever before and yet, I can’t help but notice that something pretty common to the life of most women is still being under-represented.
Periods. Where the hell are they?
We have decades of progressive TV and film and yet the best chance periods have of getting a mention is either when a girl is being shamed for having one or men are ridiculing other men about their emotions with the worn out ‘is it your time of the month?’
The only time periods get referred to in a mildly desirable light is when a character might be pregnant and they don’t want to be. How ironic – women on screen give menstruation the most attention when there’s an absence of it.
“What I am asking is for one of these dynamic, powerful and talented writers to give one of their dynamic, powerful and talented women actors a bloody period.”
I understand that we now have contraceptives that can stop periods; many women suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other syndromes that affect their ability to menstruate; hysterectomies exist; and trans women won’t get periods, but given that 800 million women and youth are menstruating right now as you read this, I don’t think it is too far-fetched to question why none of the women we see on screen bleed.
I’m not necessarily asking for Eve Polastri to whip her tampon out and dangle it in front of the camera lens but what I am asking is for one of these dynamic, powerful and talented writers to give one of their dynamic, powerful and talented women actors a bloody period.
If 1.1 million viewers tuned in for the first episode of season three of Killing Eve, I think it’s safe to assume that at least someone was on their period. From everything that we have learned about the importance of representation on screen, having the lead character of a critically-acclaimed programme get their period could do some serious good.
Put yourself in the period pants of a menstruating person: you’re buried underneath a duvet, surrounded by a selection of painkillers and feeling like the only solution to your misery is to eat your bodyweight in chocolate. You’ve waited all day for the new episode of Killing Eve and it’s the only thing that has stopped you from making a hot water bottle and crawling into bed.
As the episode begins, the pain of your contracting uterus fades away and the excitement creeps in. You gaze at the brilliant women on screen, jealous of their thrill-seeking and fashionable lives and you consider whether you yourself could murder another human being in exchange for a life of expensive shoes and international travel. As you reluctantly admit that the career path of ‘assassin’ is probably not for you, you see something on the screen more shocking than when Eve chose an axe for her first murder weapon: Villanelle just got her period.
“I want to see Villanelle, in all her meditated madness, tell Konstantin that she isn’t feeling up to a double murder today because it’s day two of her period and she has the cramps from hell.”
As she snoops around Eve’s house, the familiar feeling between her legs catches her by surprise and her stunning hot pink dress exposes one of its flaws: no pockets. She rolls her eyes and makes a frustrated noise that we bleeders know all too well as she begins to rummage through the draws of Eve’s bathroom in hot pursuit for a tampon.
Now, I’m no Phoebe Waller-Bridge but I’ll challenge anyone who says that wouldn’t make sense as a scene. Villanelle has broken into Eve’s house on multiple occasions; observing and touching her belongings as she goes and as a viewer, I certainly wouldn’t feel like Villanelle getting her period was too implausible.
But honestly, whether it makes sense or not isn’t really the point. The point is that we want to see the women we love to watch on screen have periods like we do.
I want to see Villanelle, in all her meditated madness, tell Konstantin that she isn’t feeling up to a double murder today because it’s day two of her period and she has the cramps from hell.
“What could help us to empathise with Villanelle’s character more than having her leak through one of her designer dresses?”
Alternatively, I want to see her complete an exquisitely executed fight scene full of high-kicks and whipping ponytails to then have the camera cut to her sat on the toilet changing her tampon; this isn’t to create a feeling of inadequacy in those of us for whom that would be physically impossible, but to remind us of how people with periods all over the world continue to achieve incredible things despite the fact they have every right curl up on the sofa if they wanted to.
Authentic representations like this (minus the murder, of course) will help us to change the way we view periods.
Although Villanelle is a psychopath, the impression I get is that the writers want us to see her humanity; as Eve becomes more like Villanelle, Villanelle becomes more like Eve. What could help us to empathise with Villanelle’s character more than having her leak through one of her designer dresses?
Although her moral character is so far removed from our own (one would hope), she is also like us in many ways; showing her as a woman who is trying to navigate her life/responsibilities/relationships all whilst having a period would add a further dimension to her character that writers so rarely tap into.
“We know that bringing uncomfortable topics right into the nation’s living rooms works: it sparks conversations that haven’t been had before and helps us to tug the cloak of mystery back a little further. The argument that the audience might feel squeamish is hardly relevant…”
On top of this, I urge you to think of the impact seeing periods on screen, with all their mundane and realistic splendour, would have on the viewers who don’t have periods. We know that bringing uncomfortable topics right into the nation’s living rooms works: it sparks conversations that haven’t been had before and helps us to tug the cloak of mystery back a little further. The argument that the audience might feel squeamish is hardly relevant to a show where ‘blood’ could win Best Supporting Actress. If there is an issue with having periods on screen, I bet you a box of luxury tampons that blood has got nothing to do with it.
“I can only speak for myself when I say this but I know that if I had seen one of my favourite characters get their period while I was growing up, I would have felt the same kind of inner glee that I felt when my granny slipped me a chocolate bar behind my parents’ back.”
TV and film are celebrated vehicles for change: we’ve witnessed first-hand the ability that story-telling has to open people’s minds to new ideas, challenge their way of thinking and most importantly, break taboos. What better show to get the ball rolling on the period positivity movement than Killing Eve?
I can only speak for myself when I say this but I know that if I had seen one of my favourite characters get their period while I was growing up, I would have felt the same kind of inner glee that I felt when my granny slipped me a chocolate bar behind my parents’ back. It would still be shrouded in secrecy of course (seeing an idol get their period wouldn’t have single handedly caused the menstrual taboo that has suffocated generations to miraculously disappear) but it sure as hell would have left me feeling excited.
I’d have felt excited that there were women out there that were living incredible lives while also staining the sheets once in a while. Excited that having a period wouldn’t stop me becoming an actress, S-club 7 member or whatever it was I wanted to be that day. Excited that the women I wanted to be bled just like I did.
It wouldn’t have detracted from their ability to inspire me. It would have added to it.