Why Menstruation in Young Adult Texts Matters.

Katniss. Tris. Bella. Hermione.

Every one of those characters are young, cisgendered women. Yet never in any of the books was anything mentioned about one of them getting her period. The Hunger Games trilogy sold 50 million copies in the United States alone. Divergent, Twilight, and Harry Potter come in at 10 million, 100 million, and 450 million respectively. That is a lot of books sold. With such powerful voices telling these amazing stories, one can only imagine there is a better tale to be told than a woman and her “Aunt Flo” every month. For instance, Katniss is impoverished – she barely gets enough to eat, and she is in survival mode so her body probably would not be able to menstruate. Tris is in that same boat, danger is her lifestyle, her body has no time for cramps. Bloating? Pfft. Bella could probably not care less about her constant bleeding around vampires. And let us just accept that a woman like Hermione simply cannot reduce herself to crying over Ron and listening to Celestina Warbeck croon out about heartbreak one week a month. Menstruation is messy, unappealing to men, and takes away from more important aspects of the plot. It, frankly, is not important.

But here is why it is. Menstruation is messy. It really is. 49.6% of the world knows that. There are billions of people out there who have had to deal with all the messy things. The buying of pads, tampons, and cups. Sneaking out of class to change, waking with red sheets, ACCIDENTAL LEAKAGE. It truly is a horror story. To see someone who is brave, strong, in love, or even just going to a super rad magic school deal with one incident – Katniss waking up in the games wondering if she was injured, Bella absolutely confused as to why Edward was freaking out. Something to show that the young girls that read these texts are not alone, or to give the readers something to laugh about and relate with.

But why does it always have to be about the young girls? Young adult boys find periods repulsive! Well that might be a problem. Even if a period is not mentioned in a text it still matters that young men and women understand that they are completely normal. It is not only common to get a period, but it means that the individual is healthy and has a healthy, baby making body. Somehow we have shamed a culture into ignoring a part of life. I am completely against public acts of menstruation, because blood is blood and nobody would like it if someone just let a nosebleed go free, but a period does not count as an excuse to dismiss someone’s opinion, it does not make a person count less or become uncharacteristically destructive. In the same way pop culture has made it commonplace to accept women will wear pants or have short hair, it should be commonplace for anyone to not freak out over a little (hygienically maintained) blood. Maybe with a little knowledge Young Adult men will feel a little less grossed out and a little more sympathetic?

And yes, I realize in these books that the plot is not central to periods.Yet in two of these texts pregnancy is mentioned as a main plot point,  (Peeta’s fake baby with Katniss in the second book, Bella and Edwards crazy demon spawn in their fourth book) and sex happens in all four (Peeta and Katniss have kids, everyone in Harry Potter has kids, everyone in Twilight gets some and Four and Tris get it on a bit too before Tris… y’know…), pregnancy is actually very much linked to the menstrual cycle and ovulation and all that fun stuff that a body can do, yet in all the texts I can only remember Bella going on about how she missed her period, and that was like a page in the fourth book. All of these texts are by female authors. They cannot even pull the card of not knowing. One line from Katniss would make a million young adult women feel closer to her than before. It does not take much for someone to feel represented, and we have consistently spoken about how much representation matters.

Society feels completely comfortable with texts about children killing each other, society turning in on itself and creating mindless armies, an immortal vampire in forbidden (and tbh a little bit creepy) love with a mortal, and teenagers having to go against authority, the government, and their own families to save the world. Yet in these worlds of dystopia, futurism, mythology, and magic the idea of a woman talking about her period is out of place. So when writing a text like The Shore Girl, or This One Summer. we can see female authors telling stories about real life female young adults. This can totally apply to them too. I brought it up in class about Caution, and it has just sort of been stewing in my mind ever since. I guess I had a lot more to say and I did not want to take up any more class time 😉

Menstruation matters because it happens. It will happen to you or someone you know and that sounds very threatening to type, but it’s just a fact of life. Homeless women deal with it without any products. Women in developing nations are kept from school and work because of their periods. Women with medical conditions and eating disorders sometimes do not get them for months at a time. Women can go through such immense pain that they are kept from school and work here. Considering most of this class is female, I would say that we all have stories to share.

Thank you for taking the time to read!

-Chloe G

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9 thoughts on “Why Menstruation in Young Adult Texts Matters.

  1. This is the most passionate post about periods that I have ever read, and I love it. Chloe, you have brought up some important points about how women in popular novels never seem to have their period because it is too taboo to write about. I think female writers do not write about menstruation because of the patriarchal society we live in. Men, who at ever mention of a woman having her period, make a face of disgust or walk away to avoid hearing the conversation (most of the time). It is difficult for the female half of the population to write or talk about menstruation if the other half of the population makes it difficult for them to openly express themselves about the subject. The only popular novel (that I can think of) in which menstruation is mentioned, is The Diary of Anne Frank, where Anne excitedly writes about her period marking her passage into womanhood. So obviously it is a crucial part of every female’s experience, for Anne to write it in her diary.

    I do not know when periods will stop being so taboo to talk about, but incorporating them into popular fiction would be empowering for all females. It is the passionate voice that women like you have, who express yourself openly about the reality of periods, that will make the subject less unmentionable.

    Here is a video called “The Period Poem” by Dominique Christina that I think everyone can enjoy:
    Disclaimer: coarse language is in this video.

    – Preet Gill

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great! And I totally agree with you! This is absolutely a topic that could be discussed in YA literature. I’ve attached a link to an article I found on Facebook that makes a really good point about this issue. It discusses a photo that was removed from Instagram for showing menstruation. The author talks about how we accept pictures that objectify women, or seemingly condone violence toward women, but menstruation – a natural, and necessary process – crosses the line, and must be hidden. Seems we need to get our priorities straight. The article is not perfectly written, but it nevertheless makes a good point. In addition, I think it would absolutely be beneficial to explore the topic of menstruation in YA texts so that young girls become comfortable with it, and perhaps it can be a less taboo issue.

    http://www.scoopwhoop.com/news/insta-photo/

    – Julie Buoy

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  3. Kevan says:

    I’m really glad that you made a blog post about this, Chloe, because I thought it was a shame we didn’t have time to delve more into this topic in class. There’s a lot to talk about surrounding menstruation in literature – especially because most of it never gets said!

    Your post reminded me of an outdoor education course I took during my first year out of high school. The prof had to lecture the students on hygiene and proper disposal of “waste products” in the wilderness, and of course a part of that class-wide discussion covered periods. We seriously spent the better part of an hour talking about urine, faeces, and snot, but as soon as the discussion turned to menstrual blood, everyone (girls included) just shut right up and waited for the topic to change. I have never seen so many boys look so uncomfortable all at the same time. Thinking back on it now, it’s interesting to me that periods are so taboo that even some of the girls in that class were uncomfortable discussing them publicly.

    Maybe they wouldn’t have been, if Katniss had gotten her period. Who knows?

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  4. Peyton says:

    I agree that menstruation should be mentioned in books because it is an issue that everyone has to deal with (directly or indirectly). I know that there are books out there that deal with it, but they are only read by girls. I think that we need to address the problem with boys and make it more okay for them to address.

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  5. I love this.
    I get so annoyed by this. How many times in the books we’ve read has cum and erections and even women getting “wet” come up, yet menstruation? Basically not at all.
    And I have always been annoyed and maybe even a little bit hurt by the utter disgust that men show when it comes to menstruation. Even my husband (who is totally fine with absolutely everything else my body does) cannot stomach even discussing the topic. It’s so strange to me.
    And I think that this disgust (mostly on men’s parts) is the main reason that menstruation in literature is limited. The fact that women can read masculine books but that men are less at liberty to read feminine books is well known and probably has something t do with it.
    To be fair, though, you don’t read about Harry or Ron getting boners in class or having wet dreams and having to awkwardly replace their bedding while everybody else goes about their morning routines. And the reason for this is the same as for menstruation. Actually, cum to think of it, where did they masturbate? I guess their beds had curtains, but still…
    Anyways… Authors and publishers (especially publishers) want to keep the target audience as large as possible and if you delve too much into periods or erections, you run the risk of A) gendering the book one way or the other and practically cutting your potential audience in half) or B) offending people. I think the latter is less of an issue, but I still brought it up, so deal with it.

    But the discomfort with the other sex’s bodily functions is exactly why literature should contain it; to NORMALIZE it so that we’re not so disgusted with the opposite sex or with ourselves.
    Men get erections and women bleed from their vaginas and both are private but totally normal (potentially beautiful if you want to get sentimental about it) processes.. I kind of want to shout it from a roof top now.

    -Christiane

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You address this topic really well, and while I think that introducing a period into YA literature is not a bad thing, I also think that there is a place and time to talk about it. I honestly cannot think of a novel that has addressed a girl having her period, but I also can see why they wouldn’t as well. How do you bring it up? Sally was walking through the woods and.. oohh she felt herself having her period. Although I believe periods could and should be addressed in YA literature I do not see how authors would be able to do this? IDEAS?

    Casey

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  7. Miranda MacKenzie says:

    I don’t think an author writing in a comment about periods in say the Hunger Games is necessary (because it would seem totally out of place and irrelevant) and it doesn’t need to be a defining characteristic of all female protagonists in YA Literature. However, I personally think it is an idea that could have really been looked into with This One Summer. The book KIND OF references it when Alice discusses her miscarriage and we see her in the water with blood on her hand (so credit to the Tamaki’s for that). But I feel they could have gotten into it a lot more, and it would have “fit”, as well as been appropriate to the text (as in, possibly added something to the story if properly incorporated).

    Also. On a completely different note, when googling “young adult texts that address menstration” Chloe’s blog is #1. Yay for Chloe… but also, this clearly isn’t being discussed much – so I feel it’s a valid point Chloe.

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  8. If you are looking for a book that talks about girls getting their periods, I would recommend Polgara the Sorceress, by David Eddings. It is a prelude to an emmince fantasy series, but in it there is a chapter where the main characters get their first period in the night and wake up to blood stained sheets. I really enjoyed this book and the series it’s apart of. I hope you do too!

    Ryan

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  9. Chloe, I applaud you. You make a very true statement and I also have thought (most of) your thoughts while reading some of these books, and the ones you mention. I think authors should start making a point to mention these taboo topics, although I think it does have to depend a bit on the style of the book. I think if Katniss had her period, she would be seen as “approachable” to readers and the way she handled it would probably make readers feel more confident, though that’s kind of hard to describe. Like Ryan, I’ve read fantasy books that cover the topic (and the author is male!): Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series (so amazing, I highly recommend them!). These are adult books so maybe that also made it more okay to mention it, but I’m not sure. I started reading them when I was in grade eight and was kind of freaked out by what I was reading but it also intrigued me because I had not read many books that even mentioned a girl feeling crampy. I think it is good to be blunt about the topic to not make it seem like it needs to be lightly touched on or guide readers lightly around the issue. It should be discussed by a positive, confident author who can “handle” the topic. The Lesser Blessed could have talked about it with Juliet, probably The Shore Girl if Rebee ever got more than two narrative times, definitely This One Summer and yes, Blink and Caution. I think now more than ever is the perfect time for authors to delve into the topic and makes things real!

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