- Postmodern Periods: Menstruation Media in the 1990s
In the 1995 Tambrands production, Kids to Kids: Talking About Puberty, one girl describes her first period openly and without embarrassment: “I didn’t really know what it was at first because when you first get it, when it first comes out, it’s actually not red—you know—your blood’s not red yet, so I thought I just, like, went to the bathroom in my clothes or something like that.” This girl’s narrative of her own menarche, typical of those in contemporary menstruation media, illustrates the openness with which girls talk about their own sexual development in 1990s sponsored films, books, and even television shows. 1 Like the Tambrands film, Mavis Jukes’s book It’s a Girl Thing: How to Stay Healthy, Safe, and in Charge makes public some ideas that have traditionally been discussed in whispers among girls. Jukes offers the following recommendation to girls who find themselves without a pad on the first day of their periods: “Any small, absorbent, clean, washable piece of cloth or clothing can be used as a temporary pad—even a clean sock will do in a pinch” (25). Though addressing a much wider and more public audience than either sponsored films or young adult literature, television has also begun to handle these topics more directly. After two agonizing days, fourteen-year-old Blossom, protagonist of the NBC television sitcom of the same name, finally shares with her dad that she has gotten her first period. “This is wonderful!” he finally says. “It is?” Blossom responds. “Well of course it is,” he replies. Before Blossom can stop him, he calls her two older brothers into the room and energetically announces: “Blossom got her period!” Later that night, she dresses up, and the three men take her out to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate her menarche with a dinner of moo shoo pork.
Such refreshing openness is important not only because frank communication about pubescent development helps teens to make the transition from childhood into adulthood more smoothly but also because menstrual [End Page 395] education is the first stage of sex education for many girls, since menarche signals their emerging sexuality. Whether designed primarily for entertainment (such as television shows and novels) or for education (such as sponsored puberty films), 1990s media offers polyphonic and intensely personal perspectives on female sexuality more generally, which communicate to children and young adults more positive messages about the female body.
In terms of audience, the books, films, and television programs in the following analysis might be considered either private (that is, designed for home viewing) or public (designed for use in schools and similar institutions); and their purpose either instructional (to teach preteens and teens about puberty) or entertaining (to amuse viewers). 2 Because they target children and young adults, none of these—not even those intended solely for entertainment—are void of didacticism. They all teach something. But our awareness of both audience and purpose can help to distinguish differences in discourse conventions for different puberty genres. The Proctor & Gamble film Always Growing, Always Changing (1995) and Tambrands’s Kids to Kids, for instance, are designed to educate school students. As school films, they come to school nurses gratis with free sanitary and hygiene products to distribute to children during puberty education programs. A by-product of blatant advertising and product promotion, these films generally avoid controversial topics that might deter the most conservative school systems from using them. The film What Kids Want to Know About Sex and Growing Up (1992), on the other hand, is designed for home viewing. The Children’s Television Workshop even gives the following caution before the film begins:
This videocassette is licensed for private home viewing only, not for use in the classroom or for performance before the public . . . the following program presents information about puberty, human sexuality and reproduction. It contains illustrations of human anatomy and is not intended for children younger than 8.
Both this film and Jukes’s informational book, It’s a Girl Thing: How to Stay Healthy, Safe, and in Charge, contain information on topics such as homosexuality...