Menstruation, 1946, Disney-style

by Philippa Willitts // 27 January 2013, 14:37

Tags: Disney, education, menstruation, periods, video

menstruation.jpg

I got most of my information about periods when "The Tampax Lady" came to my school. Boys and girls were separated out and the boys were told about sex by our Home Economics teacher. We girls were given a talk about menstruation, my main memory of which, while it was not at all graphic, involved several girls fainting and being taken out of the room.

We were about 13, I think, when we had the talk so it was already too late for many. We also got given some tampons and a booklet called A Time For Answers which I scoured avidly for explanations of why my periods were much longer than everyone else's and found nothing (although, to be fair to them, it took numerous doctors and surgery to work that out).

Through Lisa Chalkley at Live, Madness, Art, I found an intriguing video made by Disney in 1946, The Story of Menstruation. This intriguing document wasn't much different to the education about periods that I received in the 80s and 90s, and although some of the advice would be given differently now, it is impressively straight-talking and myth-busting for its time. The most disturbing aspect of the video is certainly the baby which is over-feminised to the point of seeming to wear lipstick and mascara.

Open Culture explains that,

From 1945 to 1951, Disney produced a series of educational films to be shown in American schools. How to bathe an infant. How not to catch a cold. Why you shouldn't drive fast. Disney covered these subjects in its educational shorts, and then eventually got to the touchy subject of biology and sexuality.

What was your education like about menstruation? How did your school or parents handle the topic? Feel free to share your story in the comments!

[The image is a drawing of a cis woman's reproductive system, done with marker pens and pencils. It is called Menstruation and was created by Areta Ekarafi and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

The Goldfish // Posted 28 January 2013 at 22:43

When I started my periods, I had very little information - I didn't even know it was a monthly thing (although my Latin education would have got me there sooner than science would). I had the idea that it was a single dramatic bleed (I remember a friend speculating about getting your periods in a field of white flowers and whether you'd be able to get out of the field without leaving an obvious trail of blood...).

I had read some Judy Bloom and asked my mother and older sister, but nobody would tell me a thing - Mum said she hadn't started until she was sixteen, so there was no point worrying about it as a curious eleven year old. This was a lie and I started just before or after my twelfth birthday. I didn't know about towels or tampons, and it wasn't until I requested it that a household with three women in it began to have a bin in the bathroom - I have no idea how they managed before that point. Nor do I have any clue why both of them were so embarrassed. We're not a family where bodily functions can never be discussed.

Some months later, it came up in biology, along with the mechanics of human reproduction. The Disney video would have been better than what we had in some ways - I remember getting the impression that everyone had a light bleed and a slight tummy ache for precisely five days out of every twenty-eight. This was not my experience - I had very irregular, heavy and painful periods. I remember asking the biology teacher why a person might have period pain, and she didn't have an answer.

I really wish that education about menstruation would cover varying experiences - not just healthy deviation, which is important to talk about, but also when things are a problem. For example, endometriosis is not an uncommon problem, but averages eight years from the point a person goes to the doctor and the point they get a diagnosis.

It was not until I had my Mirena inserted, aged 29, a procedure that has to be done during a bleed, that I finally felt vindicated for reporting my periods as particularly heavy, ("A very small amount of blood can look like an awful lot, dear.") as the doctor was genuinely shocked at the amount of it, and had to abandon the whole thing midway and start again when everything got covered in blood. (I have no periods now - hooray!)

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