A Primetime Show Talked About Tampons and, Sadly, That’s News

Last night, I caught a new episode of 2 Broke Girls on CBS. I’ve felt a little conflicted about this show because, while it is hilarious and tackles race and class issues, many of the supporting characters are also racial stereotypes and I’ve caught more than one rape joke, which makes me uncomfortable.

Last night’s episode, however, was spot-on. The two titular broke girls, waitresses Max and Caroline, become infuriated after realizing their boss, diner owner Han Lee, has raised the price of tampons at the tampon machine from $.25 to $.75. When a customer ends up in crisis as a result, they decide to take action. Caroline uses coupons to buy a ginormous multi-pack of tampons, and Max uses them to stock the diner’s straw-holder and passes them out to customers like candy with their checks. Eventually, humiliated, Han agrees to lower the price once again.

It's not a "cotton mouse." It's a TAMPON. Say it with me.

In many ways, Han is a portrait of Asian stereotypes. However, in last night’s episode, I saw him acting out the feelings of the international everyman. Confronted with tampons, he cringes and responds, “this is not a man topic,” calling periods “inappropriate” and “private.” In fact, he’s not the only man in the diner that cringes when forced to address the topics of tampons. Only Oleg, the stereotypical Eastern European cook, shines when discussing the topic. Turns out, he always carries a tampon because he “like[s] to be the hero.” Given what we should know about how women worldwide suffer because of their periods, an event that makes the very continuation of the human race possible, this plotline connects to a larger dialogue.

Jezebel did a blog today about this episode, and I also think it’s worth celebrating. The big question here is, given that half the population has, does, or will menstruate every month, why don’t we talk more about this? An earlier Jezebel piece on period horror stories is comic and tragic at the same time, and highlights how awful a job we do of talking to young women about what’s to come. I never used a tampon until college, because I didn’t know how. I remember my father and brother, in a bygone era, talking about how feminine products shouldn’t be advertised on TV. Now I have to listen to an erectile dysfunction drug commercial every five seconds, but I can’t mention tampons in mixed company? It gets even worse. Recently, a newly pregnant friend confessed to me that she’s afraid to give birth, doesn’t know what to expect, and is reluctant to ask her best friend (who gave birth last year) for advice, because it’s embarrassing. If menstruating or giving birth shouldn’t fit our definition of normal human experiences, I don’t know what does. It’s time to change the paradigm. Men: We give birth. We have babies. Vaginal tears happen. Get over it. Isn’t it time we updated the definition of what it means to man up?

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