Transcript: EP 303 – Period Poverty with Emma Branderhorst
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Dr. Taz: Welcome back, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Super Woman Wellness, where we’re determined to keep every woman super-powered. And in that spirit, I have a very special guest with me today. We are going to talk about period poverty. Now, many of us focus on the topic of wellness, and we’re thinking about the best diet, maybe the best fitness routine, what supplements or herbs or medicines or hormones we should be taking, but for some women across the world, they don’t even have the opportunity to take the wellness conversation quite that far. The basics of managing their cycles and many of their very basic fundamental needs as a woman are simply not met.
I want to call awareness to this, and that’s why, today, I have joining me Emma Branderhorst, I hope I’m saying that correctly, who’s a 26-year-old director from Amsterdam. I told you guys this was an international platform, and she is here from Amsterdam. She is talking about the work that she’s doing to call attention to this particular issue and how she’s been very focused on women’s health themes and women’s rights themes. And I am so excited to bring her here on the show today. Welcome, Emma.
Emma Branderhorst: Thank you so much. What a great introduction.
Dr. Taz: Oh my goodness. Well, this is close to my heart, because we talk about so many things, so much of the story of being a woman, and while we are all very similar in some ways, I learned that in some of my travels and my journeys, whether I’m doing mission trips in Africa or whether I am working in my clinic with the wealthiest of the wealthy and very famous women, many of our stories are similar. But you have chosen to highlight some of the big gaps when it comes to women and girls’ rights. How did you even get involved in this particular niche when it came to filmmaking and directing and producing? Very curious about your story and your own journey.
Emma Branderhorst: So, I love to make films from a female perspective because I think there are many untold stories from female perspectives. And what I mostly like is to focus myself on stories about young teenagers and young girls who are growing from child to adults. I think that’s a very interesting period, and I don’t think many films are about that age.
So, I made a film about period poverty. So, it’s a short film, 15 minutes, about a girl who doesn’t dare ask her mother to ask for sanitary products. And for me, first of all, I want to make a film about periods, so about having your period as a girl, because when I was young, I saw all the blood in the films or commercials is like blue or it was with glitters or anything like that. And I just couldn’t really compare myself to that blue stuff because my blood really looks different. So, I wanted to create a film about the taboo on having your period as a young girl.
And always before I make a film, I do a lot of research, and in my research, I found this article about period poverty. So, I think that was the start of this journey for the film.
Dr. Taz: That’s incredible. And so, when we say period poverty, we’re talking about the fact that young girls around the world don’t have access, correct?
Emma Branderhorst: Yep.
Dr. Taz: To sanitary napkins, or tampons, or ways of taking care of themselves. What do they do? What do they do in those situations where they don’t have the materials they need to manage their period? What are some of those girls doing?
Emma Branderhorst: So, what you see is they use newspapers, or the towels you use in the kitchen.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, blood clots and towels, not-
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah. And what you see is they ask a lot of people for help, but they don’t say that they are experiencing period poverty, but they just ask for a tampon, or at school they ask for a tampon. That’s what you see mostly. And it’s mostly girls between 12 and 25, or as the research here in Holland, it’s one in 10% between 12 and 25.
Dr. Taz: Wow.
Emma Branderhorst: And I don’t know the exact numbers of every country, I have to say, but I researched it in Holland. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Is there a region in the world that is more impacted by this, or is Holland pretty representative of what’s happening globally?
Emma Branderhorst: I think Holland is really pretty… Yeah.
Dr. Taz: And Holland’s a developed country, right? A developed, educated country with I think one of the better healthcare systems throughout the world. And so, if it’s happening there, you’re saying almost 10% of women, 12 to 25 years of age, are struggling with how to take care of their period, I can’t imagine what it’s like in other countries.
Emma Branderhorst: I think it’s even worse. Imagine America. I forget what the numbers are, we have to look into it actually, but I’m so curious, because also, the poverty is much bigger in America.
Dr. Taz: Yeah. Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Your work, and as you made this film, were you able to dig into why talking about your period, getting your period, why is it such a taboo? It was definitely a taboo for me, for sure. It was almost sad. My mom was sad when I got it.
Emma Branderhorst: Really?
Dr. Taz: Yeah. It wasn’t like a celebration. It was like, “Oh, no.” So, for her mind, it meant all this stuff, like suddenly I’m going to start having sex every five minutes.
Emma Branderhorst: Yep.
Dr. Taz: And all this other stuff. So, it wasn’t seen as a positive thing. And then on top of that, what I’m seeing at least in the clinic is more of that age group, we’re seeing so many issues with your period, a lot of pain with your period, heavy periods, PCOS, some of these different conditions. When you’re thinking about Holland, any sense of why there’s a taboo around this?
Emma Branderhorst: I think there’s just a big taboo in having your period. Because the world was so long ruled by men, I don’t think there was enough space for women to talk about their periods. And I think… A period can smell. It can cause pain. You can have pain. It’s blood. There are a lot of things. I think it’s the same with having a poop. There’s still a big taboo on having a poop, but everybody has it. And I also think because people don’t like to share those very personal things, I think. Still, when I talk about it, I really don’t understand, because all women have it.
Dr. Taz: Right.
Emma Branderhorst: And I don’t really understand why there’s still such a big taboo on it. But what I try to do is really open the conversation about having your period with my friends. But I think at a young age, when you’re going through so much insecurities, you’re just finding out your own body, you’re just growing up to be a woman, I think when you also have to talk about your period and the things you’re going through, I think that’s just very hard. But it shouldn’t be hard. That’s just the thing I want to say. But, I think at school with all the boys, and you’re experiencing sexuality, and I think that’s just… Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Yeah. It’s a really tough phase for a girl’s life, a woman’s life. There’s so much there that can happen. There is so much to understand about your body. I think there’s some shame. And I think one of the things that we’re understanding as we look generationally is that we as women carry a lot of the shame and the guilt of our previous generations with us. And so, for young girls, many of them are mirroring or copying what they’ve seen from their mothers and their grandmothers and things like that. So, it’s going to take a long time to unwind that universal sense of shame that I think all women have been gifted, indirectly, whether they wanted it or not. So, I think a lot of that plays into the conversation.
Now, talk to us about the movie itself. How is the movie set up? Who are the characters? How does she solve this problem for herself? What happens here?
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah. So, the film is called Spotless.
Dr. Taz: I love it.
Emma Branderhorst: And in the film, we follow Ruby. She’s 15 years old. She goes to school, and she has best friends. But one day, she wakes up having her period, and she finds out there are no sanitary products anymore in the bathroom. So, she tries to be in touch with her mom, but her mom is very busy because she’s talking with all the DEP programs because they are on DEP, and then she tries to solve it herself. So, she goes to the food bank, because they’re clients of the food bank. She asks her friends, she asks at school.
And during the whole film, we follow her process finding tampons to get through her periods. And this is, how do you say? This is the end of the film, actually. But then, when she’s having her gym class, she gets her period, so she’s bleeding, and then the whole class is laughing at her, of course. Then she decides to steal tampons in the supermarket.
Dr. Taz: Wow. Okay.
Emma Branderhorst: I will send you the film so you can-
Dr. Taz: Okay, send me the film. I don’t want you to give everything away. Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: I’ll send you the film. But, yeah, so it’s about a young girl who is really struggling with not having tampons, and really trying to solve it herself, not to be a pain in the ass for her mom because her mom already has enough problems to solve. And, for this film, we did a lot of research. So, I work at the food bank here in Amsterdam. I talked to the women, and yeah, it was a very interesting period, and also… Period. And also very heartbreaking to see all those women like that. It was very intense. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Yeah. How long did it take you to make the film?
Emma Branderhorst: We did it pretty quick. From funding till delivery, I think two years.
Dr. Taz: Two years. Got you.
Emma Branderhorst: And that’s actually pretty fast for a… but it’s only 15 minutes. But I think from creating to film and from everything, we did it in two years. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: And what sort of reception is the film getting? Are people excited to talk about it, or are you getting that same sense of, “I don’t want to talk about this. This is not an interesting, entertaining topic?” What’s the feedback?
Emma Branderhorst: So, in the beginning, when I started to make films, I mostly made films from a female’s perspective, what I told you, and mostly about subjects that are in the society, but they’re still unseen. And with this film, I thought it’s such a feminist theme, so I didn’t thought there was a lot of space for it. So, I was like, I’m just going to make this film. I want to create awareness. This is really a film I would like to see and I want to make it.
And then, we… I don’t know. And I don’t know how to describe it. But we got this amazing, amazing feedback from everywhere. I think the film played at 50, maybe 60 film festivals. We won a lot of awards, in Berlin, in Cannes, in Canada. And now we’re just now qualifying for the Oscars.
Dr. Taz: Oh my goodness. Wonderful.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah. So, it’s just amazing. So, we’re doing an Oscar run actually right now. We need to be on the shortlist, so just very, very, very excited. Because I think this problem should be addressed worldwide, because-
Dr. Taz: Of course. Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: … Now in Holland, it’s going pretty well, and we’re also in touch with the… How do you say it? The States secretary and stuff, because I really wanted to create a difference. But it would be amazing if we had a bigger audience. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Yeah. Absolutely. This is pretty-
Emma Branderhorst: So, yeah, I’m pretty excited.
Dr. Taz: Have there been other films on this issue? Do you know, anywhere around the world, has anyone brought attention to this issue?
Emma Branderhorst: There is a documentary, and I think it was in India, and I think it was five or six years ago at the Oscars as well. I don’t know if they won, but it was a documentary, so it was also different, but it was also about having trouble with your period. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: So, there’s this rich history… I think this is your third or fourth film, right? How many films have you done?
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah, so it’s my first film after school. Yeah, I made two films at school.
Dr. Taz: Got you. Where did you go to school?
Emma Branderhorst: At Utrecht.
Dr. Taz: Okay. Got you.
Emma Branderhorst: Do you know it?
Dr. Taz: No, I don’t know all of them, but I’ve heard some of the better film schools are in Europe, right?
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Germany and Prague, apparently, have good film schools too. So, wonderful.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah, Berlin.
Dr. Taz: Yep.
Emma Branderhorst: And Prague.
Dr. Taz: Excellent. So, with the female perspective as the focal point for many of your films, and I’m assuming that’s what you’re going to continue to do in the future as well, what was your motivation for telling that story, and has there been a common thread? This one’s on period poverty. I’m not sure what the others were on. But has there been something common that you’ve seen when you take the female perspective on many issues that we deal with today, versus the generic perspective or the male perspective? Is there something that you’re noticing?
Emma Branderhorst: From my own work?
Dr. Taz: From your own work, yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: I think my films are very subtle. We follow maybe one or two characters, and what I hate about films, about social themes, is that they’re so dramatic. And for me, it’s so important because in real life, we don’t see those kinds of scenes. A lot of life is just going on, and things are happening, and it’s very bad, but I don’t like scenes with much music, and rain… I just want to keep it very small. And what I always try to do in my work is to keep it as close to my own heart and close to the characters, because I think then you can really touch people, instead of creating these very big films with… Yeah, I don’t know how to say it. But-
Dr. Taz: With a lot of background and a lot of noise.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah. I just tried to… And you will see it in Spotless. Because the subject is already horrible, but I don’t want people to be like, “Oh my god, it’s killing me,” but I just wanted people feel with the character and really feel what she’s going through, instead of just like, “Oh my god, this is too much drama for me.”
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: “I’ve got to get out.” So, for me, that’s very important, to keep it very small. And that’s what I also love with Spotless, because I didn’t think there was a big audience for it, but the film is going worldwide, so I think I can just trust on that. Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Well, how do you take something so routine? For example, we can talk about me for a second. I always get, like, “Hey, come try out for the show, or come do this,” but it’s high drama. People are flipping tables and cursing, and I’m like, “That’s not really me. I can’t do all that.” But how do we keep the viewer in today’s age, where they’re being stimulated all the time by social media and everything else? How do you, as a filmmaker, keep the viewer engaged in a topic without the drama? What is the secret for that?
Emma Branderhorst: That’s a very good question. I’m actually in the post-production on my new film, and I’m in the edits now, and I just really try to let the… want you to experience the same feeling as my main character. So, I really try to do it in sound or in making the screen more narrow. It’s actually a very good question. I think a lot of people want to see realness also, because there’s so much fakeness in the world.
Dr. Taz: Fakeness. Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: It’s just very important to really feel the character or really try to be close to a character. So, I don’t know if I have a formula for it, but it’s just…
Dr. Taz: Really, it sounds like you do, though. Honestly, it sounds like you’re saying embrace humanity.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: And connect to the humanity of whatever’s in front of you, and worry less about the filter and the noise and all of that.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dr. Taz: That’s probably what we’ve lost with the media and the entertainment, for sure. And I think you’re right, people are craving that. They’re craving that, “Okay, I don’t have to question this. This is a real story. This is really happening,” that type of thing.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: What are you hoping will happen with this film? What are you hoping that somebody watching it will walk away with? What should they do with how they are feeling? What are you hoping the actionable steps are?
Emma Branderhorst: So, I think when you see, for instance, the film, or your neighbor, or anyone else, I think you can already start with yourself, like putting some sanitary products on the toilets, or just keep an eye on people in your area, because there are much more people than you think experience this problem. So, for me, that is already a big eye opener. And then, I hope in politics, things will need to change. I hope this film can be a start of this movement, because in Holland, it’s still seen as a luxury product, so there’s still-
Dr. Taz: Is it?
Emma Branderhorst: It has a tax on it, and it’s probably, in different countries also, a luxury product. I also don’t know the numbers of that from every country, but I hope with this film, this just needs to stop. It’s not a luxury thing to have your period. Every woman should have a normal period, wherever you’re from or wherever you are. And, I think that’s the main goal of the film.
Dr. Taz: In Holland, is healthcare still patriarchal? Is that the setup for the most part? It’s still very male-dominated, or has it diversified some?
Emma Branderhorst: It is still very male-dominant, I think everywhere still.
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: But there is a change coming. But still, this is not on an agenda, or not on a diary at all, I have a feeling.
Dr. Taz: Right.
Emma Branderhorst: We’re really trying to get the film into the politics, but there’s not much reaction to it. But now, of course, in New Zealand and in Scotland, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there, they put the sanitary products in the health insurance. So, there is a change going on. And I think the rest of the countries have to follow it.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, I think ours are still taxed and still a consumer item, not a health item, for sure.
Emma Branderhorst: Do you know how big the problem is in Atlanta or in America?
Dr. Taz: I don’t know the statistics, but I’ll definitely look them up after this particular episode. But, no, I don’t know the statistics right now.
Emma Branderhorst: Okay. I’m very curious, if you can let me know if you find it maybe. I will also look into it myself, but if you have something, I will be very curious.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, I’ll definitely… I want to see what our numbers are specifically, and I’ll send it over to you. I want this film to come here to the US. Definitely send it to me, or at least the link so we can publicize it a little bit. When do you find out about the Oscars and all that stuff? When do you get that information?
Emma Branderhorst: So, we will know if we are shortlisted, I think, by the end of December.
Dr. Taz: Okay. Got you.
Emma Branderhorst: And the Oscars are in March.
Dr. Taz: Right.
Emma Branderhorst: So, that’s pretty exciting. So, now we need some votes for the shortlist.
Dr. Taz: Okay. Well, send me a link, and maybe people can go on there and vote for you, right? Or, is it only the Oscar… It’s only the Oscar committee that votes, right?
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah, it’s like the Academy members.
Dr. Taz: It’s only Academy members. Well, we’re going to wish you the best for that. And, I would say, just keep up the incredible work that you’re doing, bringing attention to women’s issues and women’s health issues. My husband had actually said, because there’s so many wonderful stories from the patients I meet and the women I meet every single day, he’s like, “You should do a fictional version of that to bring it to life,” because it’s very difficult to get real stories every single day or get those folks to share their stories. That can be painful and intimidating. But, when we do it through the film or through fiction, it’s such a great way to get a message across. So, I think what you’re doing is brilliant, and I would say, and you’re so young. So, keep it up. Who knows what you’re going to do next? What other projects do you have lined up next, out of curiosity?
Emma Branderhorst: So, I’m actually working on a film about a mother and her daughter, and how important it is to let your child go at a certain point, when they’re like 17, 18. And also, it’s very healthy to let your mother go. It’s also a short film. And I’m also creating a feature film about alcoholism, from a young girl’s perspective, and her mother is an alcoholic.
Dr. Taz: Oh, wow.
Emma Branderhorst: I don’t want to show the alcoholics like we all knew them, like sitting in a bar, but-
Dr. Taz: Right.
Emma Branderhorst: … I found out from research that it’s very taboo also. There’s a very big taboo on it. And it’s mostly happening inside of the house.
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Emma Branderhorst: So, it’s also from a female perspective, and it’s also a society theme that it’s still very secretive.
Dr. Taz: Yeah. These are great, great topics. These are things I hear about every single day and see a lot of alcoholic women, a lot of women drinking wine, not realizing they have a problem with it, and coping that way, and they’re having the health fallout from that as well. So, definitely these are things that are repetitive in just the patients that I see. So, yeah, these are all important issues. So, you’ll have continued success, for sure, and you’ll have to keep me posted with how things are going and how all the projects are.
Emma Branderhorst: I will send you the film. Yeah, and it will be great to be in touch.
Dr. Taz: Of course. We can collaborate on a film.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah, that would be amazing.
Dr. Taz: We can collaborate on a film about women. You would be so great. So, we’ll connect on that.
Emma Branderhorst: Yeah. We will email.
Dr. Taz: Sounds good. Well, thank you so much for taking time out today to join me. It’s such a treat and a gift, and I think women like you are really going to change the story for women everywhere, for young girls everywhere, so they can start to see themselves differently, and understand that what’s happening with their bodies is not just normal, it’s really an essential part of their lives, and the sooner we all own it and embrace it, that’s a quicker path to whatever it is that we’re supposed to do. Just like you, living your purpose and living your mission in action, so to speak. So, thank you again. I appreciate it. If anyone listening or watching wants to watch the film, will you send me a link? I can post the link, or what’s an easy way? Is there an easy way for them to get there?
Emma Branderhorst: So, the link is still offline, because we can’t put it online because of all the festivals we’re going through.
Dr. Taz: Ah, okay. Got it.
Emma Branderhorst: We have a trailer, and I will send you some information.
Dr. Taz: Okay. Send it to me and I will post it up there.
Emma Branderhorst: We have a trailer… Yep. Yep.
Dr. Taz: Okay. All right. Well, thank you so much, and for everybody else listening or watching this episode of Super Woman Wellness, love the guests that we’ve had on recently. You never know what’s coming next. So, definitely stay tuned, and don’t forget to rate and review it and share it with your friends. I will see you guys next-