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Even Books About Menstruation Apparently Need To Be Banned Now, Too

The year is 197—oh wait, nope ... it's 2022.

Two girls talking about cramps via webcam. From the graphic novel "Go with the Flow" by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams. (Image: First Second.)

Book bans and attempts at them (especially in schools) are nothing new. However, since early 2021, they’ve surged again with the help of various coordinated conservative groups. While the last decade trended towards banning books featuring LGBTQ+ stories, the backlash summer of 2020 put the ire of the manufactured culture war back on Black and brown stories.

All that said, I was still stunned when I went to watch one of my favorite BookTubers (Ashely from Bookish Realm) go online to “react” to an NBC article featuring 50 books currently being challenged in Texas and came across entry 43, Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann.

Ashley (who primarily works as a public librarian) sarcastically asks, “That’s so inappropriate. Why would we want books where people have the opportunity to read about having a period or menstrual cycle? It’s so inappropriate for those age audiences whereas a lot of young girls get their periods at like 10 years old and sometimes younger. But no, let’s not tell them about what that means in terms of their health.”

Not the first time this has happened

This whole situation is not super new, but it’s still shocking. In the 1970s, before a certain boy wizard caught the ire of conservatives, Judy Blume was one of the most banned YA/children’s authors (even still in the ’00s). Conservatives targeted many of her books discussing different aspects of puberty, but the closest to this situation is her first novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The bans cited the misuse of religion (the protagonist talked to God directly and was the child of Christian and Jewish parents) and candid treatment of menstruation.

2001 edition of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. (Image: Richard Jackson/Athaneum Books for Young Readers.)

(Richard Jackson/Athaneum Books for Young Readers)

What a concept.

Anyways, 50 years later, people still treat books about periods, aimed towards children and young adults, as taboo. According to the period tracker app Clue, most people’s menarche (people’s first period) is from age 9–15, with 12–13 being the average. In addition to familial trends, environmental factors like exposure to pesticides (such as DDT) in food or poor access to healthy foods affect menarches.

Go With the flow

Again, as asinine as it is to ban books that talk about non-fiction regarding identity and sexual health, I’m not surprised to see comprehensive books about these topics under attack from conservatives. These include books that discuss different sex organs, body changes during puberty, hygiene, sexuality, etc. You know, basic stuff the majority of humans go through, but that conservatives will have an easier time oppressing people over if no one talks about it.

However, attacking titles about periods and puberty regarding one’s own body alone remains baffling. Go With the Flow is fiction, but it’s just about periods. The 2020 graphic novel follows a group of friends speaking up about the lack of access to period products. The first quarter of the story is the new girl, Sasha, getting her menarche. When the other three girls guide her into the bathroom and away from onlookers, they find that the menstrual dispensary is not working.

Panel depicting a pad/tampon station not working. From the graphic novel "Go with the Flow" by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams. (Image: First Second.)

The rest of the book is about the girls speaking up about how periods shouldn’t be something to feel shame over and challenging the lack of access to the products in their school. Throughout the story, the book covers things like Toxic Shock Syndrome, cramps, standard menstruation products, period history, friendship, and how most organizations’ budgets overlook the needs of people with periods.

We need more books like this, not less

In a 2017 interview with Autostraddle, Schneemann said, “We really wanted to make talking about periods an enjoyable experience. Fun characters in realistic situations with cute illustrations seems like the perfect way to show some likable role models talking about their bodily functions in a positive way. We definitely didn’t want to scare anyone away or bore them with dry textbook discussions. Our hope is that this book helps people feel more comfortable and realize that there’s a wide range of normal.”

"Go with the Flow" by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams. (Image: First Second.)

(First Second)

Because most kids go through one or more parts of puberty during middle school, books about this are essential. (This goes for most challenged books, honestly.) When I got mine, I was ten years old and had a support system when figuring it all out. This is not true for all kids. Learning from a graphic novel will help many kids, whether they menstruate or not. These books give kids the tools and access to information without having to rely on whatever is the first thing that pops up online—or worse, whatever older kids read online and further misconstrue.

(via Bookish Realm and NBC, images: First Second)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.