‘Turning Red’ makes progress toward normalizing menstruation

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Earlier this month, my Instagram Explore page had lots of pictures, trailers and short clips from Pixar’s new movie, “Turning Red.” The movie was released on March 11 and follows the story of 13-year-old Meilin Lee, a Chinese-Canadian girl who realizes that when she experiences strong emotions, she transforms into a red panda. As a 13-year-old, Meilin faces many of the awkward struggles associated with growing up and entering adolescence. 

As is true with most movies, TV shows and any other form of media and pop culture, people found reasons to complain. One such complaint that I found ridiculous came from certain parents, saying that it was inappropriate of “Turning Red” to discuss menstruation in a movie with children as the target audience. According to USA Today, parents took to Facebook to angrily talk about why this movie is inappropriate for children. 

One Facebook post read: “We watched all the way to the part where the mom brings in ibuprofen and pads. I am absolutely mortified. Luckily, (my child) was clueless. It’s safe to say I’ve learned my lesson about reading movie reviews before I let my boys watch.” 

Now, there are a few reasons why I have a problem with these comments. The biggest one, however, is with regards to the fact that menstruation should not be seen as an inappropriate topic, and it is great that Pixar has discussed this topic in a movie, treating it as it is — a normal process. 

Menstruation is a biological process that people with a uterus experience. Commonly seen as a “woman’s issue,” — which also isolates other communities that experience menstruation — it has been treated as a taboo topic. This is quite evident in our own lives; from the time we watch the video about “our changing bodies” in elementary school, people who menstruate are told to hide their menstrual products in small purses, tell teachers they have to use the bathroom because of a “girl thing” and are told not to talk about their period to any men under any circumstances. In media, such as in TV shows and movies, we commonly see stereotypical “manly” men refusing to buy menstrual products like pads and tampons altogether and those who menstruate view periods as disgusting

The shame and stigma that comes with menstruation has been ingrained in societies across the world and discussing these topics, especially in movies with younger target audiences, will help get these conversations going. Sex education in general is lacking worldwide and movies like “Turning Red” that openly talk about topics like menstruation normalize it much more, allowing those who menstruate — especially younger people — to understand that this is a completely normal biological process and they should not be ashamed or scared of it.  

Although many parents voiced their disapproval with the movie’s mention of menstruation, many experts in the fields of clinical psychology, adolescent and pediatric gynecology as well as sex education discussed how helpful this film is in normalizing menstruation by teaching children of all genders that this is a normal process. Stigma around menstruation is still widespread worldwide with people still unwilling to talk openly about periods. This is something that must change, and movies aimed at younger audiences are clearly helping people understand that this is a normal biological process. 

“Turning Red” in general brings up a lot of important topics related to growing up, puberty and adolescence that are often not discussed. When media starts these conversations, they are easier to continue as they can be used as jumping points so people can better understand that this is a completely normal process. Menstruation is a perfect example of a topic in “Turning Red” that people feel uncomfortable discussing when this should not be the case. This is a very important subject that must be more normalized, and Pixar has taken great strides in doing so in a way that younger audiences may benefit.

1 COMMENT

  1. Good article. Disney has handled this well. It’s important for girls — and boys — to be able to speak openly about issues like this. For one, it’s a natural human process, and no one should ever feel ashamed for it. There are practices where girls/women are secluded when they have their periods, and that’s not right. If menstruation was better-taught in schools, and if people were more open about these topics regarding sexual wellness, it would probably reduce domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes, too.

    I’ll admit that as a man, I still do not understand menstruation very well. I know an eighth-grade health classroom is probably not the best forum, but it would still be nice if schools properly taught their students about these topics. I read once that there is a practice where women, after giving birth, were operated on in such a way that men would have more pleasure in sex, even though it was painful for women. I don’t remember the specific details so I’m afraid I can’t be more specific here, but it was rather graphic. I can’t help but feel that if men, too, were properly taught about women’s health and hygiene, such things would not happen.

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