Much like any embarrassing teenage memory, a 10-minute-long animation made by Disney in 1946 titled “The Story of Menstruation” has resurfaced on the internet.
Surprisingly, for the time, Disney got a lot of stuff right. At first I felt a little cheated, because I don’t remember much from the school-sanctioned reproductive health talk back in the third grade. I just remember the boys being escorted out the class and the girls watching a very boring video telling us we’d get a period soon. They gave us a pad, a calendar, and some chocolate. The boys came back with these balloons called condoms. I was pissed.
Partnered with Kotex, Disney’s animation was released as an educational video about a woman’s menstrual cycle for middle school health education classes. It was distributed at schools with a pamphlet called “Very Personally Yours,” which included details on proper sanitation and discouraged young women from using tampons —a common practice at the time— because it was thought that they only worked for women who were no longer virgins.
The first half of the film, narrated by actress Gloria Blondell, gives an excellent explanation on how the reproductive system works, advising girls on what to expect during their period, not straying from a visual display of the uterus and a egg releasing into the fallopian tube. But then, in a very 1940s kind of way, shit went left. Where was the blood? I mean, seriously, that’s kind of the most important factor in menstruation, no? The process is referred to as a “flow” and illustrated as a white liquid leaving the woman’s body. That is incredibly misleading to the target audience of adolescent girls. Imagine their surprise when that fateful day came, and they saw red blood oozing out of them. Obviously fueled by the notion of being proper and decent, the creators left that major component out. However, they don’t get a pass because it’s a health video that was aired in schools to be informative, and for that they completely failed.
Then, things continued further left in the most condescending way. After encouraging girls to stay active and debunking the myth that women cannot and should not exercise during menstruation, the narrator went on to say “just use common sense” while the video depicted a cartoon figure smiling and riding a bicycle down a hill then transitioned to the same cartoon violently bouncing up and down while riding a horse. Though the intention was to say to keep active but with minimal exertion, it’s laughable, especially with present-day women doing far more physically-demanding activities while on their period. Additionally, the sexual undertone of a woman riding a horse cannot and will not be ignored. To further drive home the point of not going to the extremes using gender roles, the same woman is now seen cleaning, lightly dusting a couch while the narrator says “when you come to think of it, most of your routine is on the mild side.” The cartoon woman then lifts up the couch as the narrator says, “it’s going to extremes that is wrong and should be avoided.”
It continues downhill as the narrator says, “lift your morale” because “it’s smart to keep looking smart.” This includes great posture and putting on make-up— remember women must always be available for male consumption. Obvi. And then finally the narrator glides by the possibility of pain, stating “Some girls have a little less pep, a feeling of pressure in the lower part of the body, perhaps an occasional twinge, or a touch of nerves. But don’t let it get you down. Afterall no matter how you feel, you have to live with people… you have to live with yourself, too! And once you stop feeling sorry for yourself and take those days in your stride, you’ll find it easier to keep smiling and even-tempered.”
The ’40s are long behind us, but sometimes, a headline will appear, and I’ll think otherwise. One can only hope that with news of Disney’s new streaming service, “The Story of Menstruation” will get a well deserved remake.
Photo: Screenshot from Disney’s “The Story of Menstruation”
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