Strictly Edutainment? Decoding Short Films on Menstruation on YouTube
The short film genre of filmmaking has become the new, coveted way of engaging audiences eager to learn and educate themselves on social issues. One glance at the number of menstruation-related short films available on YouTube will reveal the diverse range of movies on the subject. From addressing changing attitudes to menstruation in families, exploring sexuality during periods, periods and relationships, the long list continues.
In their study of YouTube as a site for critical pedagogy and media activism, Kellner & Kim (2010) observe that going beyond the conventional modes of learning, learning through dialogues, "active participatory communication", modes of self-reflection and a decentralized and democratic space has become available to users on the Internet. Yet, the democratization of YouTube and other social media platforms remains incomplete owing to the vast digital divide globally and in India. In Keller and Kim's study (2010), out of eighty-one video postings, seventy-seven belonged to white creators, and sixty-five postings came from men alone. Suffice to say that similar results would surely come up if a study took place for the Indian YouTube scene.
In this blog, I examine some of the short films and movies that focus on menstruation to analyse the messages and narratives that shine through the movies. Understanding the nuances in depiction in these movies will help identify lacunae and ways to make the on-screen portrayal of menstruation more sensitive and empathetic.
A Brief Description of the Short Films
I decided to use language as a filter for my selection of movies. I specifically chose four movies in Tamil (She and Periods), Telugu (Gowri), Malayalam (Menses) and Hindi (Mahina) - the four languages that I can understand with varying degrees of ease, and proceeded to watch, unpack and analyze the awareness-raising short films. In this section, to better equip the reader with the plot, themes, and crucial symbols/imagery of the movies, I briefly describe the four movies. Following that, I attempt to critically analyze the movies, address shortcomings and present my thoughts.
The Tamil short movie, She and Periods (2021) is set in an urban locale in Chennai and aims to bring men into the conversations on periods. The video opens with a young woman asking a stranger to help her get pads since she left her wallet at home. He hesitates and says it would be better if she asked a woman instead of him. He also advises her that if she was menstruating, she should have stayed at home instead of travelling - “imagine how would I go buy the pad from a medical shop” he chastises and walks off. A few months later, the same stranger, Mr Vivek, is sitting for a job interview when he receives a message from his sister to bring him pads as he comes home. He retorts that since she is at home, she can get those herself. Vivek's interviewer turns out to be the same woman he had refused to help at the beginning of the video.
She questions him on premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and periods and asks him to demonstrate his skills by selling her a single pad. Vivek begins to get visibly flustered and hesitates even to touch the packet. Flipping the blame onto her, he questions if she is doing this to get her revenge and why the marketing job requires him to know about periods and PMS. She states that she is not asking unnecessary questions, and if he remained so unconcerned about these basic things, he wouldn't be able to understand his co-workers. Despite more what-aboutism from Vivek, the interviewer responds calmly to his patronizing questions. She adds that it is completely his choice to educate himself on menstruation. Rejecting his job application, the woman requests him to leave. As the video pans out, Vivek comes out of the interview a "transformed person" and enquires about the pads his sister had asked for.