I was ten when I read Judy Blume's now legendary novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret where Margaret and her friends ride the emotional pendulum between elation and despair over either starting or waiting for their periods. Bullshit, I recall muttering. My period was two years away from making an entrance, but I knew from the experience of friends that there was nothing to celebrate about debilitating cramps, inscrutable products, and the inevitable acne explosion. It was like opting in to a biological Fight Club--the first rule of getting your period: you don't talk about getting your period.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the inspired comic minds behind Comedy Central's Broad City, recently busted the taboo about women's periods in a huge and hilarious way.
Over the course of the show's three seasons, Jacobson and Glazer have applied a scorched earth sensibility to their smart, wry brand of comedy leaving almost no topic untouched--masturbation, drugs, anal sex, and even assault. Now they can add menstruation to that list as one more thing that women, even funny women, no longer have to feel bad, awkward, or apologetic about discussing.
The recent episode "Jews on A Plane," revolves around Abbi who gets her period unexpectedly on an international flight to Israel. With her tampons packed in the bag she was required to check before boarding, Abbi enlists Ilana's help to go on a feminine product quest. This, of course, proves far more challenging than either of them could have imagined, because comedy, but also because no one really wants to acknowledge that menstruation--its messiness, its practicalities, and its politics--is actually a thing.
The girls are comically fearless, which is one of the things that makes Broad City such a strong offering for female-driven, female-centric comedy. Their candor is unmatched, served up with a deadpan delivery that keeps things in the realm of the slightly uncomfortable real similar to the style of Louis C.K. When Abbi discovers she's started her period, the girls one-up each other describing the "first day flow:" "Like sticking your spoon into molten lava cake," says Ilana. Later Abbi remarks miserably, "I'm currently sitting in a pool of my own uterine lining." It's their willingness to speak plainly, sarcastically and even sardonically that allows them not only exploit the plot device for comedy, but to also critique the ignorant and prejudicial attitudes toward women's unique biology.
As the girls assess the gravity of their situation, Ilana states, "This is what homeless women must feel like. You have money: do you buy food or tampons?" Abbi replies, "Tampons should be free, all sizes." And Ilana buttons the conversation with: "The only reason they aren't free is because the government hates women." The overly simplified logic is darkly funny considering that only recently state legislatures introduced bills to overturn the "tampon tax" on women's feminine products. In another moment, Abbi asks a late-middle aged woman for a tampon and then realizes that she is probably too old to have her period. The woman says as much and as Abbi rushes away the woman calls after her, "Menopause isn't represented in main stream media. Like no one wants to talk about it." Well-played indeed.
The episode culminates in a literal comedy of errors when the two flight attendants overhear a frustrated Abbi, still unable to secure a tampon, tell Ilana that there is going to be an "explosion soon" and "blood everywhere." Thinking the girls are terrorists, the attendants take them down, ridiculously punctuating the point that Jacobson and Glazer repeatedly make: women's bodies are inherently hostile, dangerous, incredibly inconvenient entities that must be subdued and disciplined. Of course it's part of the comedic irony that Abbi was attempting to do just that--to manage her unruly body like she's been taught to do. It just so happens that in this case, she's forced to take everyone else along for the ride, whether they want to be in the know or not.
At a time when women and girls are still routinely made to feel degraded by the natural workings of their bodies, Jacobson and Glazer use their unique type of humor to call out this damaging mindset, to question the conversations we have about women's bodies, and to unequivocally, hilariously call bullshit on the biological shame that is not a woman's burden to bear. Period.