The Deuce isn't generally what I'd consider a super relatable show. It's not really meant to be as a drama exploring the beginnings of the porn industry in 1970s Time Square. But last night's episode, "I See The Money," featured a moment so universal, I burst out laughing.
It's just another morning at the diner when Barbara, one of the girls working under Larry, comes in for breakfast. He takes her money and counts it, frowning: she's a little light. "I'm on my period," she explains — not every man is into that. He replies that she has to find another way to earn, like by giving blowjobs at one of the peep show theaters springing up on The Deuce.
But rather than take that as her cue to move on from a subject usually considered unsuitable for polite conversation, Barbara doubles down. "Right now my room looks like the Manson family moved in," she jokes. "Anyone got a tampon?"
Melissa, sitting at the next table hands her one, and picks up the cue: "I love fucking on my period — why is that?"
Ruby, aka Thunder Thighs, chimes in: "Don't need lube — some johns ain't up to that mess," she says. "Hear about these sponges. Stick it up there, stuff the blood long enough to fuck, johns can't tell the difference. But you need to be careful, gave me a yeast infection once."
Barbara asks how she gets it out, to which Ruby replies: "Got me a pair of needle-nose pliers from the hardware store."
At this point, Larry, who's been cringing this whole time, drops his spoon and gets up to join the other pimps at the counter. "Y'all need to keep your lady business to yourself," he says.
With her boss out of earshot, Barbara thanks Ruby, cementing the idea that this was all an unspoken ploy to get Larry to forget about the money.
It's the kind of lighthearted yet deeply human moment that can only come from having women in the writer's room. But it also highlights a troubling irony: Larry is a man who literally makes a living off of women's bodies. And yet, he, like most men, is truly uncomfortable talking about them outside the context of sexual objectification.
Men hate talking about periods. It doesn't matter if it's your dad, your boyfriend, your husband, your Tinder date, or your best friend in the entire world — it's not something they generally enjoy even thinking about, let alone discussing. Part of that is because menstruation has long been considered "abject," meaning it acts as a visceral reminder of the female body. This theory, formulated by psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, can be broadly applied to all sorts of "distasteful" bodily fluids (pus and vomit, for example), but period blood is pointedly gendered.
But beyond the intellectual explanation, there's also the fact that men (then, and still for the most part, today) tend to be vastly ignorant about menstruation, willingly or not, as demonstrated by the conversation between Larry and Gentle Richie and Rodney that follows the initial exchange. ("It's all about the lunar cycle man." "Like they're werewolves or some shit?")
Ultimately, it's unclear if Barbara actually did have her period or if she was faking to get some alone time with Melissa, her lover. But the scene gives us a glimpse into the nitty gritty concerns that female sex workers — and all women — have to deal with regularly, even if men can't bear to hear about it.
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