Most biological women remember their first lessons about their menstrual cycles. Many probably learned (literally) painful truths about their own bodies from trusted matriarchs—mothers, sisters, aunts, or teachers. However, some women who were approaching womanhood in 1946 may have learned about menstrual cycles (colloquially referred to as periods) from a man: Walt Disney.
Walt Disney’s Disney Company started taking film commissions from The United States government and large companies, such as The Electric Auto-Lite Company and General Motors, because the Disney Company was rapidly losing money and prestige. Though it is now heralded for both its animation techniques and its cheeky juxtaposition of high and low culture, Disney’s, Fantasia lost the equivalent of what would now be over fifteen million U.S. dollars upon its 1940 release. The start of World War II also affected The Disney Company’s commercial viability, since Walt Disney could no longer access the lucrative European cinema industry. Apart from Fantasia‘s commercial failure, Disney also made 1940s films that weakened his status as an American cultural icon, such as Nazi propaganda shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and Song of the South, a 1945 film featuring slaves joyfully singing while they worked. Also, in 1941, The Disney Company unionized, despite Disney’s strong opposition. The union didn’t make the company’s structure more egalitarian, but it did require Disney to consistently pay his employees for their work. By 1946, Disney was willing to tell the story of menstruation, or any other story that could earn a profit.
The ten minute educational film, The Story of Menstruation, was commissioned by a company now called, Kimberly-Clark, manufacturer of Kotex tampons and sanitary napkins. While the calm, female narrator’s description of the biological processes that cause a menstrual cycle are accurate, she isn’t unbiased. She also addresses the social difficulties that might be caused by menstrual cramps. She instructs young women to smile serenely even if their cramps are severe, because their compromised mood should not affect those around them. This point is illustrated through animation, when a woman dances with her happy husband or boyfriend, giving no indication of whether she is suffering from pelvic pain. The narrator also reminds women to dress well, regardless of whether or not they’re feeling well.
The film is arguably a piece of propaganda, since its release was accompanied by the release of Kimberly-Clark’s booklet, Very Personally Yours. In many cases, the book contains the same information as the film, since a biological woman’s bodily functions remain consistent. However, it also contains an argument that, should a woman decide to try a tampon, she’ll doubtless find that Kotex is the most comfortable brand. There are no statistics available for how many classrooms showed the film, how many women watched it, or how it affected female baby boomers’ relationships to their own bodies, if it did so at all. Still, perhaps this film deserves a more prominent place in the Disney canon, because it still has continued value for contemporary viewers.