One thing Indonesian boys are doing that I wish more American boys were doing: They’re now learning all about girls’ periods, thanks to a comic book about menstruation created by UNICEF.
I think it’s simply brilliant.
Ever since Judy Blume gave girls the gift of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret back in 1970, there have been so many books, resources and tools throughout my life to help educate about menstruation and the changing female body — right down to free downloadable period guides, and several shame-free period starter subscription kits that are growing in popularity.
But when you think about it, if we don’t start including boys in the discussion (if not the kits), our girls — and us women too! — will continue to have to deal with bad PMS jokes, taunting remarks, and stale stereotypes about the biological inevitability that we deal with every 28 days or so.
It’s enough to make a girl truly moody.
I understand why UNICEF embarked on this initiative in Indonesia. Cultural beliefs about periods and a terrible lack of supplies for girls adversely affects their everyday lives, including keeping girls out of school altogether for lack of supplies and dedicated girls-only facilities.
If boys and men can become more aware of the issues, leading them to be more supportive of their female peers, it literally will change lives and opportunities for millions of girls.
But when it comes to female sexual health education, America is not so much better than you might think. Only 24 US states plus D.C. require public schools teach sex education in 2016, according to the NCSL.
(And according to Guttmacher — as John Oliver recently brought to light — only 13 of those states require the info to be medically accurate. Wha-aa?)
In fact, if you look closely at the NCSL site, it’s more than disturbing to see how many failed bills there are, that were created to provide age-appropriate, medically factual information to students about sexuality and the basics about human reproduction. And this isn’t just in so-called conservative states; although it does seem to be most prevalent there.
My own 13-year-old daughter has not had any health education on periods and we live in a very progressive, NYC metro community.
We can, and must, do better. And not just with our girls.
Let’s talk about menstruation openly and factually with all kids. Let’s push for more early health and sex education at our schools. Let’s aim for more empathy for what fellow classmates may be experiencing, so that a girl doubled over with cramps is cause for support, not mockery.
Because the most encouraging result from the distribution of the Indonesian comic: The number of boys who thought it was wrong to bully girls about their periods increased from 61 to a full 95%.
Any graphic novelists reading? Let’s get some American comics made!
For more resources to help you talk with your kids about changing bodies and sexual health, check out: