Writer / Reader / Fandom Extraordinaire
Chiara / April 7, 2017 , Fri / feminism

It’s the thing no one likes to talk about, in person or on the internet. It’s the thing that leads to photos removed on Instagram. It’s the thing that has advertisements pouring blue liquid on pads because god forbid we actually portray it in any kind of realistic way. It’s the thing a lot of people have to deal with every single month for a lot of their lives.

It’s the period. Or periods. Or menstruation. Or, you know, the lining of a uterus ripping away from the walls of a uterus and gushing out of a vagina in the form of blood.

Ohmygod. I said the word vagina. I said uterus. I said blood. And I’ll say them again because this is something that is real, and it sucks, and I am sick to death of the lack of talk about periods.

I could go into the reasons why society as a whole is so terrified of the thought of blood coming out of a vagina, but I wanted to talk specifically about books today. About the fact that YA books (because this is 99.99% of what I read) never mention periods, and if they do they only mention it in passing, using a reference to tampons.

Now, I was a mere, wee twelve year old in my first year of high school when my period arrived and settled in as a permanent, and quite unwanted, fixture in my life. I hadn’t been taught a lot about periods, and when the first day was over and there’d been hardly any blood and no pain I thought: that wasn’t so bad.

Oh, my poor little baby self.

Cue onslaught of period pain so bad that I couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to school, couldn’t sleep. Cue a heavy enough flow that I didn’t feel safe enough unless I was wearing night time pads all the time.

Throughout high school there were many days where I simply could not go to school. But when I reached senior years, and I knew that missing a class could mean that I’d miss something on an exam, I started to force myself to go. Nothing worked in terms of pain relief. My aspirin did jack shit. Heat packs did nothing except make me sweat. The pain was something I just had to deal with.

I distinctly remember one time in grade eleven or twelve, when it was the first day of my period. I’d woken up that morning and known it had come, known that pain was going to arrive within the next few hours. I was in the library for my ancient history class, and we were told to go and look at books for research (which, to us, meant it was a bludge class where we weren’t going to do anything). My best friend and I sat down in the puzzles aisle and proceeded to look at Where’s Wally books. I remember being in so much pain during this class that I was curled up on the library floor, trying not to cry. I remember the bell ringing, which meant I had to go to another class, and just the thought of standing up had me literally whimpering. I couldn’t bear the thought of moving, not when I was in so much pain. But I did. I fucking got off the floor and went to classes for the rest of the day.

There are so many other memories like this. Like the bake day my friends and I had planned, where all I could do was sit on the couch and watch them bake because the pain was so bad. Like the time I had to run back to the car, leaving my mum in the shops, and lie down inside because I just couldn’t stand up any more. Like the countless nights I have woken up in pitch dark, crying, curled in over myself in pain. So many other memories of pain, pain, pain.

And I’ve never once read a book where a main character mentions a period like this. Where that time of the month is hell and pain, and blood and blood and blood. Where you literally can’t do anything because it’s just not freaking possible. Where you wish there was some way to just make the pain go away, to stop having these goddamn periods because you don’t even know if you want kids and what’s the point of a period unless you want to have kids? Where your friends don’t really understand the pain you’re in because they have cramps for maybe a day, but they’re bearable, but you’re debilitated by the pain of yours. Where it takes a doctor years to give you medication to make the pain bearable because they didn’t believe you, or didn’t care, or just didn’t know.

I want periods to be in the books I read. And I wish I’d read about characters who had to deal with this in high school like I had to deal with it in high school. Because this is real. It happens. And it shouldn’t be something that’s never mentioned, or only mentioned as a tampon. It should be something that is talked about, and taught about, and just made normal because it is normal for so many people.

YA books shouldn’t be shying away from mentioning something that impacts someone’s life so much. They shouldn’t be pretending that people don’t have to deal with this. They shouldn’t be pretending that periods don’t exist. Because they do. And they can be hell. And they are real.

Why is it normal to mention dragons and never-ending love and prophecies of the chosen one but not normal to mention periods? Why do YA books touch on so many other things that high schoolers have to deal with – love and friendship and sex and parents – but periods are taboo or forgotten or not mentioned? Why are pimples and bad hair days things that YA books talk about but not the shitty thing that comes knocking every month?

And whenever periods aren’t talked about, aren’t normalised, it adds to the taboo surrounding them. Adds to the collective societal disdain for mentioning them. And there are so many reasons why this taboo needs to disappear. For the people who are suffering from endometriosis but have no preventative measures or cures because there’s no research being done. For people who have other menstrual- related disorders (of which there are many) that impact their lives.

I am just so sick of the lack of talk about periods. About the way that society, and the books we read like to pretend that it doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t happen. We need to include it in the books we write and read so that people grow up knowing that this shit happens, and that it’s okay to talk about it. Because without talk we get nowhere. Because without talk the taboo continues. And people stay in pain.

So. Let’s talk about the thing that no one likes to talk about. Let’s talk about periods.

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6 Responses to the thing no one likes to talk about

  1. Beth W says:

    I think part of the issue is that no one wants to write a hero or heroine who is crippled by their own body. I’ve noticed that health issues in YA tend to be cancer, not more regularly-occurring things that strike teens (like mono). I wouldn’t mind a realistic portrayal of menstruation and its affect, but I wonder if authors would catch flack for using it as an excuse to portray female characters as weak? Any time a female character isn’t some sword-wielding badass, it seems like there’s a contingent who take it as the author’s sexism, so in that light I could understand the hesitation. Also, it would get boring to read about a character being in intense pain (as a plot device, menstruation would be a hurdle they have to overcome, right? Or an inconvenience that leads to some larger plot point?). By the same token, I’ve never read a YA that mentions boys’ wet dreams. There’s another topic no one wants to talk about, but it happens to all of them, and there’s plenty of trying to make boys feel ashamed about it. So I’d lump both (and more) into the general category of unrealistic portrayal of actual living physical human beings.

    • Chiara says:

      I think if there was a protagonist that overcame the pain of their period then I would certainly view them as strong rather than weak. People who experience periods have little to no control (except with the aid of medication) how their body treats them and I think it would be wonderful to see authors portraying this as not something to be hindered by but something that makes you stronger and capable of amazing things. And a higher pain threshold for those who experience such period pain.

      I think there are many things that books don’t touch on, I agree. Which is such a shame because it could provide a comfort and a ‘you’re not alone’ feeling to readers.

  2. Oh yes, absolutely. We need to see more periods in books…I especially get confused when it’s an epic fantasy or something and like…how is she having this 6month adventure with no period?! (Although I concede for SOME books that if the girl is like undernourished/working really physically hard, she might not be having a period. Because that does happen.) And I’ve like never read a book where the periods were really bad??? My sister struggles with horrible period pain but I’m one of the annoying people who has no pain at all. 🙈 But I think pain is common so WHY IS IT SO TABOO AND WHY IS BLOOD TABOO AND IT JUST ALL SHOULDN’T BE. If books want to be feminist, they need to talk about all the things.

    Loved the post, Chiara. :D

    (except I’m sorry you have to suffer so much. *gives you chocolate*😭)

    • Chiara says:

      Yes! Whenever I read fantasies or sci-fi or dystopian books and there’s not one peep about periods I am extremely suspicious, to be honest. Although you’re completely right about people not getting periods when they are malnourished (but even if that’s the case they should mention it).

      I certainly haven’t read a book where someone experiences periods like I did in high school. Don’t feel guilty about not getting pain! It’s not a requirement to understand periods or anything. Which is why I think it’s important that different experiences are shared because not everyone’s period is exactly the same!

      I am definitely going to include period talks and experiences in my books because I don’t want to further the silence about them!

      Thanks, lovely <3

      (*graciously accepts*)

  3. Yes, yes, yes. I think perhaps another issue with periods is that teens are never taught that they are something that can be beautiful & necessary & true. I know that in school, I was always taught that my period was ugly, something to be embarrassed of & brushed off & never mentioned in public – which really only added to the ever-growing taboo surrounding them. But periods, when properly managed, can be lovely. They can be a symbol of strength, & of creation, & of perseverance through the pain. It is so utterly, completely vital that we have YA books that talk about them in general, but also in that light – of something positive & beautiful & not a curse but a blessing. xx

    • Chiara says:

      I think there is definitely a stigma surrounding periods. We’re never encouraged to talk about it, especially in front of people who DON’T get periods, as if it’s some disgusting thing that can only be mentioned in hushed whispered behind closed doors. I think if we could be more open about periods, and how different people experience them then things might possibly change.

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