Alternate title: The Idea that Girls’ Menstrual Cycles are Shameful Information, Unless Important People Need to Know. And you’re right–that doesn’t make sense.
Back in the day, when I was in junior high, girls were excused from taking showers after Phys Ed by discreetly telling the gym teacher, standing ever-ready with her clipboard, that they were having their “P.” She would dutifully note this on a mimeographed list of students.
This wasn’t done to assure that the girls weren’t chemically altering their bodies, thus making them superior athletes. In fact, girls weren’t even considered competitive athletes until Title IX. The reason for tracking girls’ menstrual cycles was to ensure they took showers unless their delicate condition and public embarrassment temporarily exempted them.
It’s clear—and it’s a good thing—that the old rules about even mentioning menstruation have long since crumbled. I spent 30 years teaching middle school band, and routinely kept menstrual supplies in my lower left-hand drawer, because you just never knew when a middle school girl would be surprised. And, possibly, mortified.
We didn’t have a school nurse, and the machines in the girls’ restroom were no longer refilled. Unless I wanted hapless girls canvassing 10 of their friends or making group trips to lockers and restrooms, freebie necessities were kind of like Kleenex and hand soap—donations to civilized life in the band room. Items not provided by the school—but nothing to feel embarrassed about.
Recently, a friend who is currently teaching at a local middle school emailed a cluster of friends and asked if any of us would be willing to donate pads and tampons. Not just for school-based emergencies, but also making it possible to send home overnight and weekend packages for girls whose families were not routinely supplying them. Because they’re expensive.
I keep thinking about that as I read the news out of (naturally) Florida—and other benighted states. Whose business is teaching girls—and boys—about menstruation, a natural human function? And why are legislators sticking their noses into what should be an everyday occurrence in schools, ho-hum?
Headline in the Washington Post: Florida bill would ban young girls from discussing periods in school. So—stop me if I’m wrong here—a child (and there are many girls whose periods start when they’re in elementary school; the age of menarche is getting increasingly lower) discovers that she is bleeding. In addition to needing some supplies and some friendly support, she will be breaking the law should she talk about it. According to some old man at the State Capitol.
Let’s name names:
During a Florida House Education Quality Subcommittee hearing Wednesday, state Rep. Ashley Gantt (D) questioned her Republican colleague, state Rep. Stan McClain, on his proposed legislation that would restrict certain educational materials used in state schools. House Bill 1069 would also require that instruction on sexual health, such as health education, sexually transmitted diseases and human sexuality, “only occur in grades 6 through 12,” which prompted Gantt to ask whether the proposed legislation would prohibit young girls from talking about their periods in school when they first start having them.
“So if little girls experience their menstrual cycle in fifth grade or fourth grade, will that prohibit conversations from them since they are in the grade lower than sixth grade?” Gantt asked.
McClain responded, “It would.”
I guess that’s one reason why Florida girls might be given menstrual products before their first period—so they won’t have to ask for them, risking arrest, or subject a sympathetic teacher to law-breaking by doing what I used to do, all the time: quietly sending girls to my lower left-hand drawer.
I repeat: this is all normal and natural. It was a great day when Health and Physical Education teachers started delivering sex education information to mixed classes of boys and girls. I wish all schools provided free pads and tampons for girls who needed them. We could do better.
Although I agree that parents should be their children’s first and most influential teachers on the range of human sexuality topics, I was profoundly grateful that both my own children had great, no-nonsense sex ed teachers, beginning in 5th grade. Learning about your body—just the facts—and having your gender-based questions answered truthfully? What a gift to children approaching adolescence, a gift we can all benefit from.
As for the claim that FL Governor Ron Desantis is collecting information on girls’ menstrual cycles—well, that’s not precisely true. It’s the statewide High School Athletic Association that’s asking questions, and they’re saying it’s not about rooting out transgender students or embarrassing girls, yet again. There are legitimate reasons for caring coaches to watch for amenorrhea due to eating disorders or exercise stresses, for example. A student athlete who became pregnant would need special treatment. Here’s the information they want to know (click).
What if we were a nation where normal body functions were well-understood, and stuff like knowing how and why to delay pregnancy were agreed-upon knowledge for all pre-teens? I’d feel a lot better about the Florida HSAA asking girls how old they were when they began menstruating, and how many periods they had in the past year in that case.
In the current context, that information feels private, to me. There is trust lost, on all sides, between girls and young women– and whoever’s running the educational show in Florida right now.
And that’s sad.