#558) The Story of Menstruation (1946)

#558) The Story of Menstruation (1946)

Directed by Jack Kinney

Class of 2015

This is another film with a subject matter I am definitely not qualified to discuss at length: the female menstrual cycle. As always, I am just here to watch the movie, and comment on the information as presented, which in this case is a streamlined, simplified version of the process geared towards young girls.

The Plot: Narrated by Gloria Blondell, “The Story of Menstruation” is a straightforward presentation of what young women can expect when their bodies start developing and they experience their monthly menstrual cycle. Great lengths are taken to remind female viewers that this is a normal, natural part of life, and nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, nor should it prevent you from your everyday activities. Sponsored by Kimberly-Clark (the makers of Kotex), and produced by…the Walt Disney Company!? Well this just got a whole lot more interesting.

Why It Matters: The NFR mentions the film’s “friendly Disney-style characters and gentle narration”, but is also quick to quote from film scholars who “take issue” with the film’s approach to such a delicate subject.

But Does It Really?: A tip of my hat to whoever got this little gem out of the Disney Vault and into the NFR. Disney is always quick to sweep anything that contradicts their current image under the rug, so I’m thrilled that this short has not only been salvaged, but placed on a historical list ahead of many of Disney’s better known classics. “The Story of Menstruation” makes the NFR thanks to its sensitive take on its subject matter, as well as for its standing as one of Disney’s more unique and obscure treasures.

Everybody Gets One: Like her sister Joan, Gloria Blondell was a performer, though she was typically relegated to such minor roles as “Secretary” and “Lady Bill Collector”. “Menstruation” was not Ms. Blondell’s first foray with Disney; she occasionally voiced Daisy Duck when the character spoke without her partner’s famous impediment. Fun Fact: Gloria Blondell was briefly married to Albert Broccoli, about 15 years before he started producing the James Bond film series.

Wow, That’s Dated: My assumption was that some of this movie’s science would be incorrect or antiquated, so I watched a YouTube video of an OB-GYN reacting to this short. Turns out that the science is accurate (albeit simplified), making the only thing truly dated about the film the belief that a woman still needs to look her best during her period in order to feel better. Screw that: you do you.

Seriously, Oscars?: Unfortunately, no theatrical release, and therefore no Oscar love for “The Story of Menstruation”. Disney’s nominee at the 1946 Oscars was the far more conventional Mickey and Pluto short “Squatter’s Rights“, which lost to Tom and Jerry’s “The Cat Concerto“. I will point out, however, that “The Story of Menstruation” received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Other notes

  • So how did a family-friendly image-conscious company like Disney end up making a short about periods? It’s important to remember that in 1946 Disney was far from the mega conglomerate it is today, and WWII depleted a lot of their funds. Disney spent most of the ’40s digging itself out of financial debt, mainly by producing sponsored shorts for various companies. Other Disney shorts of the era include “The Building of a Tire” for Firestone, “The ABC of Hand Tools” for General Motors, and “Bathing Time for Baby” for Johnson & Johnson. 
  • I appreciate that Disney does not shy away from using the actual biological terminology. Some film buffs cite “The Story of Menstruation” as the first film in history to use the word “vagina”.
  • Perhaps the film’s most controversial artistic choice, the animation of the menstrual blood leaving the uterus is colored white instead of red.
  • As someone who has never experienced a period, anyone who can carry on their life under those circumstances has my respect.
  • While this film does put certain rumors to rest (such as the falsehood that you can’t bathe or exercise while on your period), it does add its own share of problems, like suggesting you shouldn’t throw off your cycle by being “emotionally upset” or “catching cold”. Again, I’m no expert, but surely that can’t be right.
  • As this film was commissioned by Kimberly-Clark, I kept waiting for “the hard sell” about Kotex. While there’s no obvious product placement in the short, there is mention of the booklet “Very Personally Yours“, which the narrator encourages young ladies use to track their periods. In addition to a mini-calendar, the inside of the booklet contained, you guessed it, ads for Kotex.
  • Every character in this short looks like a cross between a Precious Moments figurine and a Margaret Keane painting.
  • And they say “rectum” too? Wow, Disney must have been really strapped for cash.
  • This short really goes out of its way to refer to the menstrual cycle as a “normal and natural” part of life. The phrase “normal and natural” gets repeated a lot. I assume previous discussions of the menstrual cycle were either nonexistent or filled with shame.

Legacy

  • “Menstruation” was one of the last educational shorts Disney was commissioned to make. A series of cheaper animated films (the “package features”) helped bring in money for the studio, with financial gamble “Cinderella” being the hit that got Disney out of the red.
  • Following its run in schools up through the early 1960s, I assume “The Story of Menstruation” settled down in a cozy corner of the Disney Vault, locked away next to “Song of the South” and the WWII propaganda. 

Further Viewing: Disney’s other long-gone journey into the uterus: “The Making of Me”, which played at EPCOT’s Wonders of Life Pavilion from 1989 to 2007. You get a cartoon sperm courting a cartoon egg, as well as Martin Short giving the vaguest description of “making love” that could be uttered in a theme park.

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