It happens in a moment. Her eyes flick down, she takes a quick peek, and I start laughing. My friend Brian is sitting next to me at the Angelika going, “What? What’s funny? What?” I don’t expect him to understand. It’s never happened to him, never will, the lucky bastard. Vivian Abromowitz has just gotten her period all over her father’s new girlfriend’s tapestry chairs.
There are so few movies that get it right about being a girl; Slums of Beverly Hills, starring Natasha Lyonne as Vivian, absolutely does. Her brothers are annoying, her romantic prospects dismal, and her body is totally freaking her out. As bad as things got for Molly Ringwald in the 80s, you never got the sense that she ever worried about smelling weird, or that she ever got razor burn from using an elderly disposable, or ran out of tampons and had to ask Ally Sheedy if she had one to spare. Since Molly was as close to a real girl as I ever saw on screen growing up, I didn’t stand a chance. My daily life was definitely so much ickier than Molly’s. My greatest fear was that Everybody Would Know how gross I was, even though I went to a school with all girls, who were presumably just as gross as me.
The only other period scene I’d ever encountered was the opening of Carrie, but the problem was that Sissy Spacek’s character was just too weird to relate to, girl to girl. I empathized deeply with her desire to be loved and understood, but in that opening scene I felt the same revulsion that the other characters felt towards her, and I believe this was Brian de Palma’s intent. I didn’t want to inhabit a body like Carrie’s, monstrous and alien. Nancy Allen and PJ Soles would never have something like that happen to them, because normal girls aren’t icky. I always did have the sense, however much I yearned for normal, for clean, that becoming a woman meant acknowledging that horror is intrinsic to life. St. Francis of Assisicalled his body “Brother Ass,” which means almost the same thing, but adolescence for men, while fraught with its own perils, lends itself far more readily to comedy than to horror. There are humiliations, but there is no blood.
So it’s no wonder that the next time I felt understood by a movie was when I was watching Katherine Isabelle’s Ginger get her period after getting bitten by a werewolf in Ginger Snaps. In the bathroom stall, with blood running down her leg, she says to her sister, “I have these urges, and I think they’re for sex, but really I just want to tear things to fucking pieces.” Some realities are too hideous to deal with because they’re just so relentlessly inevitable, every 28 days bringing a new opportunity to horrify and disgust. It can make you want to lose your mind, like Fairuza Balk’s Nancy in The Craft, just open your mouth and scream and let people know that there’s nothing scarier than a teenage girl who won’t stop screaming, because there’s always something to scream about. Every 28 days.
But that’s no solution, is it? And that’s why Slums is the only one that truly understands. Vivian didn’t scream. She just dealt with it, even though dealing with it meant that Everybody Would Know that she had her period. Her brothers would make fun of her, her dad would not know what to say, the new girlfriend would be upset, but none of that would change the fact that she just needed to get cleaned up and get through the rest of dinner. Some girls can burn things down with their minds; the rest of us just have to live with the ick.
By day, Annie Frisbie is Senior Editor of Zoom In Online. By night, she’s the Superfast Reader. This is her first piece for The House Next Door.