restricted access Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television by Lauren Rosewarne (review)
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Reviewed by
Lauren Rosewarne. Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. 257p.

In Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television, Lauren Rosewarne looks at menstruation as the familiar punch-line as well as its significance on screen as part of the narrative arc of both film and television. Throughout, we [End Page 113] are reminded how easily menstruation, PMS, cramps, and “the rag” are littered into dialog from both actors and actresses. Rosewarne is careful to debunk the intended comedy of these moments and offers insight as to how these terms can be read, whether they are a form of an emasculated male--one whose friends try to dilute his testosterone by offering him a tampon and Midol for his cramps—or an isolated female whose first period throws her into the position of an unsanitary other through the deviousness of biology.

According to Rosewarne, these first periods force a separation between women and men for a few reasons. First, the woman officially becomes “not-man,” and the genders are strictly separated in that menstruation is something that every woman does but no man can do. Secondly, the stigma of menstruation – the “blood,” the “odor”—forces it to be concealed and performed in private. Misogynistically, the “vigilance and concealment” (9) of this privacy are also a form of protection for men, who are illustrated most often as either derisive in their references to menstruation (see above) or completely oblivious/frightened by the thought of menstruation. Chapter 4, “The Menstrual Mess” thoroughly explores the various forms of emasculation with dozens of examples.

Rosewarne’s exploration of menstruation in pop culture is an important addition to the studies of sociolinguistic and gendered barriers that we place between the sexes. And throughout, she offers a far-reaching number of television shows and movies that span the Americas, The United Kingdom and Australia, which reveals a potentially epidemical treatment of menstruation rather than a trope common to one genre or country. While Periods in Pop Culture is a stew of brilliant analysis when it comes to the privacy of periods (Chapter 1) and as a supposed affront to masculinity (Chapter 4), it also contains a wealth of anecdotal connections that offer an idea but fail to fully invest in the analysis. Rosewarne frequently notes the fear and anxiety around periods – as well as around missed periods, late periods, and no periods – but the discussion often elides the rest of the narrative arc within the television program or film. Loose connections are made between telekinesis and menstruation, or the first period and demonic possession in Carrie (1976) and The Exorcist (1978), respectively. While menstruation is obviously present in Carrie, it’s not linked to the cause of Carrie’s ability or her status as outsider. It’s clear that she was an outsider well before this moment, even though it’s the first time we meet her. Regarding The Exorcist, menstruation is non-existent, so it’s difficult to limn a connection between it and Regan’s possession, and while it’s symbolic as Regan stabs herself with a crucifix, the moment occurs after the initial possession.

Many times, Rosewarne provides strong references to television shows that use the first period as a focal point of a storyline (Roseanne, The Cosby Show, and [End Page 114] Blossom for a few examples) that illustrates and quells a young woman’s anxiety over becoming “different” or points out a man’s general fear and anxiety of emasculation. At the same time, she uses shows like King of the Hill or the Sopranos as examples that mystify menstruation. In one sense, she is correct in that King of the Hill’s Hank is pretty oblivious, referring Connie’s first period as “incontinence,” but this is the satirical point (72). Hank is not the epitome of man, but the satirical look at the façade of the hypermasculine. Something similar might be said for Tony Soprano who exonerates his own extramarital transgressions, believing that he has been kicked out of his house because his wife, Carmella, was “having a hard time because of the change” (192). Clearly, this is...