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Wait, Why Is ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Rated PG-13??

Margaret and her mother in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
(Dana Hawley/Lionsgate)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret hit theaters on April 28, 2023, in the long-awaited film adaptation of Judy Blume’s beloved 1970 novel of the same name. The coming-of-age novel has remained relevant over the past 50 years, serving as a relatable tale for young girls who are grappling with adolescence and questions about puberty and religion. The film and book follow sixth grader Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson), who navigates the trials of adolescence while also struggling with moving to a new city and facing the pressures of organized religion.

So far, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has proven to be worth the wait and boasts a near-perfect 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film has been praised for its celebration of girlhood and its faithfulness to the source material. It tackles heavy topics of religion and family estrangement in a way that is touching and poignant, but also lightened with humor through the perspective of a child. As a result, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is the kind of film that’s great for the whole family to see, especially preteen children who can see topics they themselves may be struggling with framed in a very positive and helpful manner.

The only thing out of the ordinary about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is its MPAA rating. Most would think it’s safe to assume that a family-friendly coming-of-age story that primarily centers on the antics of a group of sixth-grade girls would, at the most, be rated PG. However, the film was released with a PG-13 rating, and its viewers are bound to be scratching their heads trying to figure out how this can be.

Why is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret rated PG-13?

Margaret and her grandmother in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
(Dana Hawley/Lionsgate)

A rating of PG-13 strongly suggests parental guidance due to the film featuring content that might not be appropriate for children under 13, such as drug use, profanity, violence, or sexuality. Such a rating may make fans of the original book nervous that the movie added more mature content that wasn’t present in the book. However, this is not the case. The movie is very faithful to Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and clearly targets the book’s original intended audience—preteens and middle schoolers.

There’s no strong language, absolutely no drug use, and no violence or gore. The closest we get to “violence” is Margaret’s father cutting his hand while mowing the lawn, which results in a split-second shot of a red streak on his hand that can hardly be called “gory.” As for “sexuality,” there’s a scene of the girls looking at an adult magazine, though none of the images are shown nor described in detail. So, what gives? The official reason given for the rating, according to publicity material from Lionsgate, is “thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material.” Translation—it talks about periods and bras.

It’s not like the sixth graders are shown learning about sex. However, they do watch a brief informational presentation that explains menstruation, and *gasp* uses the word vagina. Plus, Margaret expresses wanting to wear a bra, and a girl going bra shopping with her mom is probably inappropriate, too. Apparently, the existence of vaginas, periods, and bras is way too adult for some viewers to handle … even though the majority of girls under 13 have all three.

Periods aren’t PG-13

It seems strange to have to say this, but, no, periods aren’t rated “PG-13.” Even though half of the population menstruates, we constantly have to remind people that girls can’t control when they menstruate. Girls as young as 8 can get their periods. You can’t say that it’s a mature topic only suitable for those 13 and older to discuss when it’s a topic that impacts countless girls much younger than that. The rating seems to echo the sentiments of the bill dubbed “Don’t Say Period” that passed in Florida’s House recently. The bill is trying to restrict discussion and education of menstruation to grades 6–12, meaning that girls who get their period before 6th grade won’t be allowed to talk about or receive education on what’s happening to their bodies.

Even as films like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret make strides in destigmatizing menstruation, its own rating is a reminder that feminine topics are still considered taboo. Women and girls are still expected to try to hide that they have vaginas, that they menstruate, and that they wear bras because these basic facts of their existence somehow make others uncomfortable. (To say nothing of the extreme stigmatization and persecution of trans men and boys and non-binary people dealing with many of these same issues.) Basic human development is not inappropriate and doesn’t warrant strong “parental guidance.”

(H/T Paste, featured image: Dana Hawley / Lionsgate)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.