Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Open Letter to Authors: Earn Your Red Badge of Courage

By Megan S.

Dear Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Everywhere,

It is time for you to do what so many fear. It is time for you to earn your Red Badge of Courage, to acknowledge Aunt Flo, to welcome the crimson tide, to embrace Shark Week, to speak of the curse that musn't be mentioned. Yes, that's right, boys and girls, it's time for you to publicly recognize those five to seven days a month women of childbearing age have to endure.

It's time for you to stop making menstruation taboo and start writing about your characters getting their period.

I have never met a woman who likes getting their period.  It's inconvenient, it's messy, it's uncomfortable, and that's if you're lucky. Sloughing off one's uterine lining is a fact of life and it makes absolutely no sense that it is rarely if ever addressed in genre fiction.  It's absence can actually create gaping wide plot holes when your kick-ass heroine's time of the month isn't mentioned if it's relevant to the storyline.

How is it relevant, you ask?  Blood is often a major plot point in our favorite genre.  Look at Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series.  Kate is constantly worried her secret will be discovered if someone gets ahold of a blood sample, so much so that she burns all of her used bandages.  SO WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS WHEN SHE HAS HER PERIOD? Or how about Twilight?  Edward flips out when Bella sheds a drop of blood.  If she's a healthy young woman, she's losing a whole lot more than that every 28 days yet this somehow never comes into play.  Even when blood isn't a major part of the story, it's still pertinent.  Just think about every post apocalyptic novel where women are traveling in desolate areas for months at a time like in Ann Aguirre's Razorland.  Unless they've reached a state of prolonged starvation, they're menstruating.  Think about it. Heroines experiencing menses in a desperate situation can actually add to the drama. 

I can think of only one instance anything related to a period was ever addressed in relation to a typical scifi and fantasy heroine.  In the campy Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, cramps signaled that a bloodsucker was near.  How fantastic and funny is that?  I certainly wish my period came with superpowers.

There's no reason mentioning a character's period should be taboo.  We don't force women to retreat to red tents any longer, so why do we treat it like it's a shameful subject?  This, by the way, is exactly what you're doing when you omit it from storytelling if and when it's relevant.  Your continued silence strengthens it's illicit status.  Is this really what you want?

Dear authors, it's time for you to grow a pair of ovaries and start talking about periods.
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  1. If anyone is looking for a NaNo challenge this year...

  2. Honestly, I've seen it addressed fairly often in older fiction (and once in a novella in Blackgate where the poor girl lost SO MUCH BLOOD during her time she would have bled out about 3 times and been dead. Yeah, it was some kind of magic induced thing, but whoever wrote that piece really botched it.)

    Anyway, I can do without the mentions. Why bother? Some books don't really address birth control or STDs either. I don't want to hear about every time a character has to stop and go to the bathroom, brush her teeth, etc. Been there, we've all done that. If guys getting ready for battle happen to wear a jock strap, I really don't need to know that piece of information. Not that I'm disgusted or moved in any way by it, but it's just noise. Same thing with the monthly. I can't imagine that it would enhance any story and when I do see it addressed it's usually aligned with some sort of woman's magic as it it makes the woman more powerful.

    Shrug. I don't miss it.

  3. Can't say I've missed it. Sure, if the scent of blood (or magic enhanced by it like in Violette Malan's Dhullyn and Parno series) is an element in the story it should probably be mentioned but otherwise, we'll assume the character is taking care of it. Do we hear when characters scratch their butts when they itch? Fart? Pick their noses? Only if it is there for comic relief or as part of the plot. So why this? It is bad enough dealing with this in real life - unless it is crucial I don't care to see it in books.

  4. Let me reiterate. I think it's important to include when it's RELEVANT to the storyline. Acts like picking your nose, farting, etc. are considered poor manners. Equating menstruation with social taboos is the reason why little girls grow up to think its shameful and are embarrassed to talk to anyone about their period, even if something is wrong.

    The only thing shameful is the sort of attitude that hurts little girls and the women they grow into.

  5. I do recall Anne Rice addressing it in one of the Lestat books...

  6. Stephanie Meyer came to the bookstore where I used work years ago and did a Q&A. A girl asked exactly what you were wondering about. Ms Meyer said that a period was "dead blood" so it didn't count. Science!

    Slightly related: Another teen girl asked why Bella was such an idiot (basically) which is one reason I've alwyas defended Twilight fans as being cannier readers than people give them credit for.