Our recent launch of organic pads and tampons has us tapped into the period world with a bit more frequency than the usual once-a-month gig. Fortunately--or maybe unfortunately--we didn’t have to look very far this week for a meaty menstruation (we promise to never put those words together again) story. All it took was a quick trip to Calabasas.
This week on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, brother Rob “I Don’t Fear Pain” Kardashian squeezed onto a modestly sized California King with his sister Khloe, who was seeking bedrest due to some intense period cramps and other menstrual symptoms. In between provocative, and disturbing, banter about which Kardashian lookalike contest winner Rob would sleep with, the siblings shifted the topic of discussion to the shedding of Khloe’s uterine lining, in response to which Rob said that “the menstrual cycle doesn’t exactly sit right” with him. Now, as someone who is both a fairly consistent endurer of the menstrual cycle, and as someone who generally only watches this show with one eye on the TV and another on literally anything else, this line managed to capture all of my attention. It doesn’t sit right with him, eh? Fascinating. Let’s see where this one goes.
As the show progressed, Rob continued to make light of menstruation and of Khloe’s cramps, later claiming that he needed rest because he was on his “meriod” (Man Period. Just let this phrasing sink in, y’all). To her defense, Khloe refused to let this one slide; instead, she brought onto the show a medical professional who came with an electric “muscle simulator” to actually allow Rob to experience the pain of period cramps firsthand by manually contracting the muscles in his lower abdomen. In hopes that the pain--one I’m sure most of us are at least a bit familiar with--would prove to Rob that being on her period is a legitimate reason to take some bedrest, Khloe’s use of this machine sent a clear message to all who poke fun at the period: think before you leak (ignorance).
Alright but seriously, watching Khloe stand up for herself and her period (albeit with a similarly silly demeanor--she didn’t seem to be genuinely upset by Rob’s lack of sensitivity for those who menstruate) made me proud. But it also had me thinking about a whole host of other things, including what it means for such major celebrities to talk about periods at all on a TV show of this size, how men in 2017 should definitely know by now that periods and issues of women’s health in general aren’t just punchlines anymore, how we shouldn’t need to literally experience the pain of someone else to take their concerns seriously, and lastly how wealthy, privileged folk like the Kardashians have the luxury to take time off whenever they please (or whenever their bodies decide to host a mosh pit in their uteruses), while most women and menstruators who suffer from the same symptoms and much worse often cannot afford to do the same.
What does this episode of KUWTK mean for our culture? Just the existence of such back-and-forth on TV is, arguably, evidence that some progress in the realm of wiping out period shame has been made. As many have recently written, the last two years or so have seen an epic shift in the way that periods are talked about in the public sphere--in that, they’re talked about at all. Let’s hope that this is an upward trajectory, and that period conversations on TV in the future continue to improve, and to move beyond the trivialization of women’s health, pain, struggles, and realities. The Kardashians may not always make the best examples for progressive feminism, but Khloe sure knows how to stand up for herself, and her uterus.
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes