With each passing day, TV creators are getting more inclusive with their content. Diverse shows discussing taboo topics and those that don’t shy away from sexual exploration are winning audiences over. Unfortunately, the discussion around menstrual hygiene is seemingly still out of bounds. Even more so in media that centres around apocalyptic/disaster situations, creators conveniently ignore the concept of menstrual health. It doesn’t make much sense to do so. Menstruation is already very painful and tedious, having to go through that while the world around you is a literal deathtrap? Now that sounds like a plot.
That is why a hit show like The Last of Us nonchalantly showing menstrual products is so important. The HBO series is an apocalypse drama based on the 2013 video game of the same name. The plot centres around Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in 2023, twenty years into a global pandemic caused by a mass fungal infection.
In Episode 6 The Last of Us, Ellie and Joel arrive at the Jackson compound to meet Maria. Maria lays out some essential supplies for the 14-year-old Ellie. One of those items is a DivaCup. DivaCups came out in 2003, so in this world, the products had barely touched the market when the pandemic began. An unused menstrual cup is very much a rare find and a priceless gift here.
For the unversed, a menstrual cup is a cup made of silicone that’s inserted into the vagina to collect period blood. Unlike tampons and pads, cups are reusable so they are sustainable, both environmentally and financially. Menstrual cups can also be kept much longer than other products, with many lasting as long as 10 years. Tampons expire in five years and possess a high risk of toxic shock syndrome, a fatal infection. Earlier in the series, while scouring through an abandoned convenience store, Ellie finds an untouched box of ‘Tampax Pearls’ and exclaims, “Fuck yeah!”. This casual reminder that ‘yes, the world is ending, but people still have to deal with menstruation on top of that’ is especially important in a show with a major audience of teenage boys.
Shout out to everyone who learned what a menstrual cup was while watching yesterday’s ep of The Last of Us.
— Hanna Brooks Olsen (@mshannabrooks) February 20, 2023
As far as menstrual representation on TV goes, the conversation has barely started. The US banned menstrual product ads on tv until 1972. Even today the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) in India receives complaints from families regarding such ads on tv. “People find it widely offensive to watch ads featuring sanitary pads. We have had people writing to us and telling us how uncomfortable they are to watch such stuff in front of their kids,” a spokesperson told Campaign India.
The very few conversations surrounding menstruation that do take place on TV are mostly in an effort to undermine or mock the people who are menstruating. Just a few days ago, Tiger Woods faced criticism for giving fellow golfer Justin Thomas a tampon as a ‘joke’ after hitting farther than him. Media traditionally uses periods as symbols in storytelling, usually to signal a character’s grand coming of age. But in reality, menstruation is something that just happens to most of us. Films and TV shows should portray that reality as well. The Last of Us does exactly that.