Ah, women’s bodies. It’s nobody’s fault but our own that they draw cat calls, criticism and condescension on a near daily basis. Why just yesterday I felt uncomfortable walking down the street because a man shouted what he’d like to do to me. But it was all my fault! I shouldn’t have been wearing that dress or I shouldn’t have left my apartment or I shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
The subject of women’s position in society—namely their dual purpose for male pleasure and reproduction—has come up time and again throughout Another Period’s second season. But increasingly the larger topic of women’s rights has given way to the specific topic of women’s bodies, and how patriarchal systems (especially at the turn of the 20th century, but, let’s face it, still today, to a large extent) seek to control what isn’t theirs to control.
Although I didn’t get a chance to focus on it in my piece on the episode “Harvard,” Lillian (Natasha Leggero) learns about a newfangled product available on the sexual black market: the condom. “I can have sex for pleasure without spawning a child, like I’m some kind of man?” she exclaims, and at the mere thought brings herself to orgasm. But it doesn’t turn out to be quite so easy. Regular stores won’t sell Lillian a condom because she’s not a man, and she ends up having to go to a back alley clinic called “Abortion Deb’s.” Two can play the game, but really only one bears the consequences, which is why Lillian has eight children.
In the show’s latest episode “Lillian’s Wedding (Pt. 1),” Beatrice’s (Riki Lindhome) body becomes the site over which first her brother and later the Church stake their power. If women had recourse to their own physical decisions… Well, perish the thought. Women can’t possibly have the intelligence to deal in matters relating to their own biology.
After being blackmailed over sexual photos revealing his incestuous relationship with his sister, Frederick (Jason Ritter) banishes Beatrice to a nunnery to save face. Before reaching that decision, however, he blames their entire relationship (all thirty plus years of it) on her. “Why did you create the situation where over the course of several decades I was tricked into engaging in consensual and, if I’m being honest with myself, extremely enjoyable incestuous sex?” he asks. She takes offense at the accusation, but his defense rests on an excuse that still exists today. “Oh it’s so evil that women have bodies that force men to do terrible things to them,” he tells her. It’s the antecedent to the contemporary justification that women must be “asking for it” if they dress a certain way. Men simply cannot control themselves in such instances, and, more importantly, shouldn’t be asked to.
Later at the nunnery, Beatrice finds that her body is further beyond her control. In attempting to convert her, Father Black Donahue (Jemaine Clement) illustrates what she must give up to join the Church: drinking, dancing and sex. “It is very important that the Church control what a woman does with her body,” he says. Why exactly? “You can’t be trusted with that thing,” he explains. Really, it’s quite the reverse. It’s men who can’t be trusted with women’s bodies, whether that’s deciding on the health care options they’re entitled to or restricting their sexual activity to procreative purposes. The idea that women can (and do) have sex for pleasure has become more normalized in recent decades, but they are often still vilified for it. “Slut shaming” continues to occur, whether that’s shaming a woman for her sexual activity, her behavior or her clothing choice. Women’s bodies, in these instances, are very much within their control, as long as that control originates from what men deem acceptable and attractive.
With every episode Another Period has underscored—through a hyperbolized blend of comedic and critical lenses—how much hasn’t actually changed over the last century. Women have come a long way since the early 1900s, but when it comes to the expectations placed on their bodies and who does that placing, it sometimes seems like we’re all stuck in another period.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.