A Documentary About Menstruation Won an Oscar, So What?

We’ve heard it all before. The “that time of the month” nonsense people use to invalidate and dismiss women’s emotions because they’re on their period. It comes up in political discourse, the workplace, even self-proclaimed feminist Katy Perry wrote, “You PMS like a bitch, I would know” in her hit song Hot N Cold. It’s annoying, it’s degrading, it’s downright sexist, and in a large portion of the world, it’s more than just ignorant comments. It’s the end of a girl’s academic life.

Last week at the 91st Annual Academy Awards, an LA-based English teacher named Melissa Berton accepted the Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for her film, Period. End of Sentence. The documentary brings light to the serious issues surrounding menstrual inequality in many Eastern countries. What started as The Pad Project, an initiative she started seven years ago with her students to provide low-budget pads to girls in India, was suddenly an internationally acclaimed film. With tears in her eyes, Berton proudly held her Oscar stating, “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education”. That statement encompasses the entire basis of the film.

According to the We Are Water Foundation, 113 million girls in 2015 were dropping out of school after reaching puberty. Underdeveloped countries like India and Afghanistan are so desolate for proper sanitary products like tampons and pads, even functional toilets, that when girls reach puberty, they drop out of school solely because of a lack of resources. Going to school means facing harassment and embarrassment without anything to stop their bleeding, and they run the risk of assault when they retreat to the outdoors to relieve themselves without an actual bathroom. In some countries, menstruation also means that girls are ready to be arranged for marriage because they’re physically capable of child-bearing. It is the end of their education and the end of their youth.

So, what happens now? Thanks to the tireless work of Melissa Berton, her students, and the production team behind Period. End of Sentence, open conversations about periods are now possible. Filmmakers have a platform to speak to an international audience about something women have been told to keep secret and to be ashamed of for centuries. An article in the Hollywood Reporter called out an anonymous voter who wrote on Period. End of Sentence in his ballot, “[I]t's well done, but it's about women getting their period, and I don't think any man is voting for this film because it's just icky for men”. Take a second to gag, then take another second to realize that this man’s comment is precisely why we need this film in the first place.

This major win for women is just a small step in the marathon for menstrual equality, but its win proves the world is moving to a place where something completely natural being seen as “icky” doesn’t have to ruin millions of lives.

If you’re interested in supporting the cause or learning more about the project behind the film, check out https://www.thepadproject.org