The Oscar-award winning short documentary Period. End of Sentence tells the story of Indian sanitary-pad makers. But it’s much more than that.
The half-hour documentary, streaming now on Netflix, features a group of fiercely determined young women in rural India who decide to install a sanitary-pad machine, combat the stigma of menstruation and discover their independence.
A documentary about period pads might not seem like a big deal to those of us living in places where we can buy tampons without shame, but women and teen girls in other countries don’t have the same luxury. In many cases, they are made to feel inferior and ashamed for even having periods in the first place.
Since sanitary products aren’t readily available in places throughout India, women and girls are forced to use dirty rags, newspapers and even leaves. This can often lead to infection.
If that wasn’t bad enough, some girls are forced to stay home from school when menstruating. This leads to missing a week of school each month, making girls fall behind on their education. Some girls end up dropping out of school altogether.
The documentary, directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by Melissa Berton, shows what happens after a sanitary-pad-making machine is installed in their village of Hapur, India. Thanks to The Pad Project, which supplied the machine, the girls start to see a profound, positive change among the females in their community.
Watching Period. End of Sentence, I couldn’t help but think about the shame I felt when I first got my period. At around 11 years old, I was younger than most girls when my first period arrived and thought I was dying. No one thought to tell me about menstruation and I wrote a will leaving all my comics and toys to my little brother thinking death was inevitable. When you bleed that much, surely death is just around the corner.
Luckily, a babysitter figured out what was up and gave me a box of pads with comforting-yet-geeky words of encouragement: ‘Don’t worry, all women have their periods every month, even Wonder Woman.’
But my period shame just got worse when I realized I bled more heavily and for longer than most of my friends. While they told me of having light periods with a few spots, my periods looked like the river of blood flooding out of the elevator in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
I didn’t stop feeling endlessly embarrassed about periods until I was in college in the ’90s and started hanging out with riot grrrl bands. These unapologetic lady rockers would not only write rebellious songs about their periods, but they’d throw tampons into mosh pits to make the guys scurry away so girls could move closer to the stage.
Suddenly, tampons and pads weren’t a source of same: they were brazen feminist symbols.
Flash-forward to a couple of years ago, I was writing my book Crafting With Feminism and decided to add a few projects that would celebrate periods. I included a craft on how to make a giant uterus body pillow that included a heating pad insert so you could hug it when suffering from cramps.
But my favorites were Tampon Dolls, which transform ordinary white cotton tampons into tiny little dolls and puppets using colored embroidery thread, yarn, felt scraps and googly eyes.
I also included an optional craft on how to make a Tampon Mouse, since a tampon already has a pull-string that can double as a mouse tail.
When my book hit store shelves in 2016, I was asked to do a craft demo at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. So I picked the tampon dolls as the tutorial.
Crafters of all ages and skill sets sat around tables transforming tampons into tiny superheroes, princesses and animals — and not a single person or kid cringed when crafting with tampons. Yes, that included guys who came into the craft tutorial not having ever touched a tampon in their lives.
As far as I’m concerned, that was my version of winning an Oscar for Period Pride.