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Menstruation: it’s only as big a deal as you make it

Have you ever wondered what sex ed might have been like for your grandparents? If you have, check out this 1946 video – made by Disney – called “The Story of Menstruation.”

At first, all I could see were the ways in which it is outdated and incomplete. It debunks taboos that are completely alien nowadays, such as reassuring girls that it is safe to bathe during their periods.

The implications about sex in the video, too, are antiquated and strange. The video says that women’s eggs are fertilized without ever mentioning sex (or even men), and has a brief shot of a woman in a wedding dress (without a groom in sight) before showing her with a baby, as if wedding dresses lead straight to motherhood.

The video also shows girls participating in activities we know all too well from tampon ads today – riding bikes, dancing – showing that women are still complete human beings during their periods. Maybe this is where all those tampon ads that Meg discusses got their inspiration?

But as The Mary-Sue points out, this video includes some good body-positive messages, saying that different girls will naturally grow up to be tall or short, heavy or slight – and makes the very important point that “having your period doesn’t make you weird.” Indeed, it makes this point relentlessly, referring to periods as “normal and natural” over and over again.

Of course periods are normal and natural – half of the population of the earth will experience them at some time or other. But if girls in the 1940s worried that periods were abnormal or shameful, things haven’t changed very much. We need reminding now as much as we ever did.

Just look at magazines like Seventeen, which have whole sections of readers’ embarrassing stories about periods. The title of this page refers to uncomfortable moments involving periods as traumatic. Getting your period can be confusing, inconvenient, or embarrassing – but traumatic?

Real information is more reassuring than stories about period-related mishaps.

Some articles on Scarletteen– a fabulous resource for all things sex ed – do a good job of countering the periods-are-traumatic narrative, describing coping techniques and conversations with accepting boyfriends, and offering the sage advice that “it really is only as big a deal as you make it.”

Their period resource, On the Rag, is full of advice and information ranging from hormones to tampons, to the importance different cultures give to a girl’s first period.

Information is better than shame. Despite being released almost 70 years ago, even “The Story of Menstruation” knew it.

Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and participates in reproductive health and justice activism in the Boston area.

3 thoughts on “Menstruation: it’s only as big a deal as you make it

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  1. when i was younger, i was told to be ashamed of anything that has to do with menstruation. like if i ask another girl if she has an extra feminine pad, i should ask in a hushed tone or talk in codes. or if i will buy pads in stores i should have it wrapped so no one else sees what i bought. now i realize, what’s the big deal? all women have periods! anyone who finds it shaming or funny has a problem.

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