Written by Dotty Winters


Period dramas

Periods are no longer a taboo subject, says Dotty Winters, so why are we still not making jokes about them on telly?

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I recently found out that one definition of heavy periods is a period in which you need to use a sanitary towel as well as a tampon to avoid leaking onto the furniture. This was news to me, as I don’t think I’ve ever had a period that wasn’t in that category.

In fact, regularly using multiple sanitary towels, setting my alarm once every hour through the night, and only ever buying tampons that feature the words ‘super’, ‘extreme’ or ‘storm force five’ in the title has somewhat reset my calibration on heavy periods, so that any downstairs-weather event which doesn’t leave me resembling the final scenes of Carrie is a bit of a win. Before you write in – yes, I am under the care of doctors.

Anyway, my point is there is no way I would have known this because we don’t talk about it. Even the NHS website disguises information about periods in millilitres. Have you ever tried to squeeze a tampon out into a measuring jug? Have you? I will tell you this for free: you will fail your home economics exam right there and then.

Periods are among a wide range of things which aren’t discussed in polite company, and that’s fine. The restrictions of polite company are why we need comedy. Standup and sitcoms have taught us many normalising things (did YOU know men and women are different?). The unique ability of comedy to combine the shock of confronting a taboo with the recognition that we are all insecure flesh bags who make unexpected noises, is of vital importance.

Comedy releases the tension and allows us to realise that we are not the only person who has ever farted in a yoga class, fallen asleep on a stranger on a bus, had a sudden and urgent poo emergency or got the giggles during a funeral. We know that sitcom characters drunk-text, fart, fall over, masturbate and occasionally do the kind of poos that deserve a certificate.

“One of my strong early memories of starting standup is being told that female comedians are always talking about periods. I was excited; there was a lot I wanted to learn.”

A whole range of taboo-bubbles have been casually burst by the attention of sitcoms, and yet periods rarely merit a mention. The mentions they do get too often fall broadly into the following categories:

• Someone accidentally drops a tampon – hilarity ensues.

• Someone argues with a woman and accuses her of being on her period – hilarity ensues.

• A woman misses a period, a man panics – hilarity (eventually) ensues.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom’s Period Sex song is one of a small number of exceptions which spring to mind. Although, in the same episode she fell asleep on a cream sofa wearing a flimsy sun dress before leaping up and running to the airport, a combination of activities which could have ended very differently in my experience (still, #AllPeriodsMatter).

Here are some additional scenarios that I have never seen in sitcoms, but would welcome:

• Woman is unable to find tampon, improvises with increasingly inappropriate absorbent items. Working title: What happened to Snowy?

• Woman pretends to new partner that she has done a murder to explain why they have both awoken in a pool of blood.

• Woman on heavy period sneezes in swimming pool. Sharks attack.

• Woman has coil fitted, becomes unexpectedly magnetic.

• CSI operative forced to revise conclusions from preliminary blood spatter/luminol analysis when they realise home-owner is a Mooncup user.

In 2017, is a bodily function affecting a huge number of the population for several days per month really the battleground of what we can, and can’t talk about? One of my strong early memories of starting standup is being told that female comedians are always talking about periods. I was excited; there was a lot I wanted to learn.

Only, it turned out not to be true. I went years without ever hearing anyone talk about periods other than the people telling me other people would be talking about them.

I worry that we’ve talked so much about periods being hack and clichéd, that we’ve never really given the topic a chance to become old hat. Old, like the hat I once sat on during a six-hour bus journey with no toilets and no planned stop, to protect the bus seat.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.