Those of us watching Mad Men on Sunday night saw a young character, Sally Draper, get her period for the first time. Like, really saw it. A lot of times, moments like these are shown indirectly, but Mad Men showed it directly, with a shot of Sally’s underwear, where there was a bright red spot of blood.
As soon as I saw it, I thought “Oh, some people are not going to like that!” And then I thought, “And that problem is exactly what U by Kotex is trying to stop!”
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the recaps I read mentioned this moment, along with some kind of “gross-out” commentary. One of the worst was this TV Guide recap, where writer Damian Holbrook complained:
OK, not be all indelicate or anything, but come on. Did we really need to see that? ….last night, the always stylish (and sometimes sluggish) series did something we just can’t get behind…they had to go and give us a shot of Sal pulling down her panties to gaze at the situation, apparently so we could all feel as ill as she did at that moment.
He then went on to say that he envied the character who hung himself later in the episode.
Really, Mr. Holbrook? Really?
It’s interesting to me that he brought up the dead body in the episode, because that was what I had a real problem with in that episode. I am 26 years old and I had nightmares that night about the scenes that featured Lane Pryce post-mortem. Why is he OK with showing several shots of a lifeless body hanging from the office ceiling, but not OK with showing a moment that is totally normal and natural for much of Mad Men’s audience? Why is the blood, and not the black and blue corpse, the “gross-out shot”?
For what it’s worth, Sally was frightened by the blood in her underpants too; she ran home to her mother, with whom she has a tense relationship. When Betty explained to Sally that she was a woman now, it was exactly the kind of sweet and awkward moment that so often happens when a girl gets her period for the first time. I know exactly how Sally felt when she told her mother she didn’t want to talk about it, and I understand why Betty kept on talking. But unlike the TV columnist, Sally — and all of us women — will eventually come to accept the reality of an unexpected spot of blood in our underwear. It happens. It’s what our bodies do. Get over it.
I’m not sure how we can make people — and especially young women — understand that women’s periods aren’t scary, bad, or shameful if we don’t talk about them openly and depict them in a realistic way in popular culture. I was glad to see that most of the comments on the article echoed that sentiment, but I’m still scratching my head over what editor allowed it to be written in the first place. Immature articles like this simply reinforce the idea that there is something shameful about getting your period. And there’s nothing shameful about it.