HBO’s The Last of Us has been breaking boundaries since it debuted, convincing us to take video games seriously as source material and injecting the emotionally resonant story of a gay relationship as a standalone episode in the midst of its guns-and-gore soaked zombie narrative.
This week’s episode took on a new apocalyptic frontier, and it’s the one least examined by any entry in the genre thus far: Periods!
In “Kin,” Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) make it to Jackson, Wyoming, where Joel finds his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). Tommy’s partner, Maria (Rutina Wesley), sets out fresh clothes for Ellie while she’s showering—and also leaves her a little silicone funnel that’s initially bewildering to the teen.
But Maria’s also left her a sheet of instructions for what turns out to be a DivaCup, and Ellie is into it; she says “gross” as she squeezes the cup but the protest is accompanied by a smile. Because she knows: What better gift could a young woman possibly get than freedom from tampon-dependence in the smoldering wreckage of society?
Maria’s also doing Ellie a solid by allowing her to handle her periods on her own, because, as showrunner Craig Maizin remarked to Vulture, Pascal’s Joel is “a very masculine guy, and you know he never had a period conversation with [his daughter] Sarah. Never! And here’s this kid who has no shame attached to it whatsoever.”
It was understandably exciting when we saw Ellie stumble upon a box of Tampax Pearl tampons in an earlier episode, and we knew this was going to be a problem for her again down the road. So if you’re wondering why the DivaCup is such a win, CNN offered a handy explainer on Monday. Rather than the one-use tampons that are still the most popular period product, menstrual cups are made from silicone and can be emptied, washed and re-used. “A menstrual cup can go up to 12 hours before being emptied (depending on how heavy the menstrual flow is and the type of cup) and can last up to 10 years. This makes it a better option from both an environmental and a financial point of view.”
This is in line with real-life prepper culture, where menstrual cups are highly recommended for anyone with a bug-out bag and a uterus. “No matter the civil unrest or pandemic, Aunt Flo is coming to visit!” notes the site Primer Peak.
The preppers at Primal Survivor also warn of that potential reality. “Despite all of the progress we’ve made, menstruation is still a very taboo subject,” they state. “So taboo that it often gets overlooked—even in situations where it is of dire concern. For example, the FEMA and Red Cross disaster supplies lists don’t mention menstruation anywhere… It should go without saying that getting your period during a disaster could be very different than in regular times. We owe it to women to discuss hygiene options during disasters so they can be prepared.”
Especially when they’re on the run from horrifying human-mushroom hybrids.
The DivaCup cameo in Last of Us was a delightful surprise to fans, who aren’t used to incredibly normal female problems being considered worthy of inclusion in action-heavy sci-fi fare.
a menstrual cup finally the last of us showing how it works having a period in a post apocalyptic world #TheLastOfUs
— noelle (@noelle2k10) February 20, 2023
The way The Last of Us addressed an issue that every woman watching was thinking about lol by introducing the menstrual cup.
— Maritza (@mjimenz33) February 20, 2023
Me, trying to womansplain the diva cup last night to my husband and brother-in-law on The Last of Us:
Me: “Do you guys know what that is?”
Them, indignant: “Yes! It’s a menstrual cup!”
— Jennifer Public Radio 💎 (@AmbientSynthy) February 20, 2023
As Polygon points out, this plot point isn’t only a step forward for dystopian womanhood, it’s also a stark reminder that we don’t talk about periods much on TV, full stop. For much of the medium’s history, even mentioning menstruation or its associated products was verboten:
“Tampons and pads were banned by the National Association of Broadcasters from TV advertisements until 1972 — TV was deemed an unsuitable place to talk about a product essential for all people who menstruate. It took years for people on TV to even talk about what tampons were used for — saying the word “period” — and longer for any major companies to stop using the mysterious blue liquid to demonstrate absorbency. Even that is a new phenomenon: Kotex only switched to red for an ad in 2020.”
Maizin told Vulture he’s been thinking about women having to deal with this stuff in adverse circumstances for a while now. The pandemic got him wondering how the menstruating demographic would handle a shutdown of the supply chain.
“These are basic items that we’d need or would want. In a postapocalypse, it’s annoying to have to deal with that and have a shortage of options. Why wouldn’t we show it? Especially because our co-lead is a 14-year-old girl. This is part of her life!”
Oh, Craig Maizin, you continue to be a national treasure.
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