“Don’t Say Period”: Now Florida wants to ban students from discussing menstruation

Florida’s “Don’t Say Period” bill can’t stop the menstrual wave

Published April 11, 2023 6:03AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis, surrounded by tampons and pads (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis, surrounded by tampons and pads (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

House Bill 1069, also known as the "Don't Say Period" bill, which passed in Florida's Republican-controlled House at the end of March, means what you think it means. 

The bill proposes banning any form of health education until sixth grade and would prohibit students from asking questions about menstruation, including about their own first periods, which frequently occur before the sixth grade. If passed by Florida's Senate and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the ban will be effective July 1.

 In response, much has been written about the harms of depriving young people of information about their own changing bodies, and how in such a void, schools will instead be teaching a culture of shame

It's a dizzying moment.

How do we make sense of a culture in which state-sponsored shame and ignorance is possible in the very same year that Hollywood is set to release the first major motion adaptation of Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," an ode to puberty and menstruation, ushering us into what critics have called a Judy Blume-aissance?

How do we make sense of censoring conversations about menstruation in U.S. schools one year after Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products universally accessible, and when Spain, just two months ago, became the first country in the world to offer paid menstrual leave

How can all of this be happening at the same time that youth activists are advocating for free menstrual care products in their schools, grassroots groups across the country are distributing free period products as part of mutual-aid initiatives, and we are witnessing what is a veritable menstrual justice movement?

Because Florida's "Don't Say Period" bill is a backlash. 

But like the proverbial King Canute, helpless in stopping the rising tide, conservatives are powerless against a rising wave of open dialogue. This bill can't and won't stop the cultural tide.

As the editor of two educational anthologies about menstruation, I've talked with people around the world about periods —first periods, last periods, missing periods, transitioning genders and menstruation, miscarriage, and menopause—for over 20 years. We are finally at an inflection point where we are talking about menstruation across ages and genders, and beyond just the private sphere. This is a blood awakening.

We are finally able to see that while it's important to talk about menstruation as a biological phenomenon in health class, that's the bare minimum. Talking about menstruation is a way to understand ourselves, our cultures, and our inherited histories. Menstruation is also a part of our daily lives—or daily reality of your classmate, teacher, lover, or colleague—and therefore all of ours to understand.

Republicans' "Don't Say Period" bill can't stop the menstrual wave

We can start talking about menstruation at the very beginning. Far before sixth grade.

We can talk about menstruation when a child first asks where they come from. 

We can talk about menstruation when we learn about color. 

We can talk about periods when someone is running out to the grocery store and ask them, no matter their gender, to help pick up supplies. 

We can talk about menstruation when we learn about cultural practices around the world—including efforts to reclaim Indigenous rites of passage that have been erased due to colonization and are being performed now, in some cases, for the first time in generations.

We can talk about menstruation when we talk about history. My work as an oral historian was inspired by hearing a story from my great aunt, who got her first period while fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland. Her account — the image of a trail of blood running down her legs while being strip-searched by an SS officer — allowed me to relate to her history in an embodied way, one that I'd never experienced from a textbook. 

We can talk about how in the U.S., almost two-thirds of people who menstruate and live in poverty have to choose between food and period products. We need to understand how this affects school attendance. And how a lack of affordable and free supplies in schools and workplaces and public spaces affects our ability to participate in society. 

We can talk about menstruation when we talk about strength and rest. In the UK, the Chelsea Women's Soccer team trains according to their cycle. All of us could learn to harness our strongest times of the month — that is, if we talked about menstruation first.

We should talk about periods when we are in physical or emotional pain due to cramps, fibroids or hormonal dips, or are overwhelmed by hot flashes — and yet so much of this still happens in silence.

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We need to talk about menstruation — from an early age, and for the rest of our lives — because these early conversations are foundational for all our later conversations about our bodies, gender, sex, desire, consent, and the ways we physically evolve as we age. And because if we don't talk about menstruation, this silence leads to, someday, a room full of people who pass unimaginably harmful legislation. 

We can all contribute momentum to this cultural wave by talking. And talking far and wide beyond the classroom. 

Let's flood the airwaves with talk of blood. Let us talk about our aches, our pains, our moods, our needs, our cultures, our connectivity. Let us listen. And we'll see that there is nothing that Florida legislators can do to stop our much larger consciousness-raising that's underway, try as they might. 

By Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is an oral historian and the editor of "Our Red Book: Intimate Histories of Periods, Growing, and Changing," a collection of firsthand accounts about menstruation from voices of all ages, as well as the creator of the New York Times bestselling collection of first period stories, "My Little Red Book." She teaches nonfiction writing at Yale University.

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