Cover art thanks to Pixabay. Thank you, Pixabay.
When I was a kid, I read just about every book that Beverly Cleary ever wrote. Especially the Ramona books. Ramona was my girl. I would love a story about Ramona as an adult.
One story that stuck with me was Ramona and her little kindergarten class hearing a story about a man working a steam shovel for a whole day to beat a machine. And Ramona, being her own little no filter self, asks the question everyone wants to know.
How does he go to the bathroom if he’s in the steam shovel all day?
Hey, yeah, how did he go to the bathroom? How did Cleopatra go to the bathroom when she was rolled up in a rug and sent to Marc Anthony?
I cannot be the only weirdo who thinks of these things. But while we’re on the subject, how do women in some of these fantasy stories handle their periods? Gross? Maybe. But I’m kind of curious. I looked up how ancient women handled such delicate matters because I was super curious. And I’ll tell you I’ve never been happier to be a woman in the 21st century.
Now, I don’t think we need to know this in every book. I can kind of guess how most characters handle that sort of thing because there are only three or four options available for the modern woman. But we’re talking about fantasy books. I kind of want to know what Madam Pomfrey had for Hermione and Ginny when their monthlies started. I’m betting, enchanted diva cup that cleans itself. (And if your sensibilities are offended by me talking about this, I will remind you that Rowling wrote a scene where a pervy ghost was watching Harry take a bath. Sit with that for a while.)
What about the people in Mystborn? It’s an ancient society, are women using twisted up rags like olden times? Do women with magic have some cool metal bending way to deal with that?
Okay, I don’t want to put every author on the spot. Not everyone has to talk about a girl’s period, or how the contents of a privy are handled. But maybe we should?
Hear me out.
First off, the period issue. Most people are just straight-up grossed out by periods. But it’s something that the vast majority of women deal with every month for most of our lives. But it’s like this huge secret? Because someone might know that I’m an average cis woman? Maybe this is me speaking from a place of privilege, or maybe we should be able to have a common bodily function without being afraid someone’s going to find out about it. Maybe we should make this a comfortable discussion so that girls can talk about it with trusted adults without losing their minds? Or hey, wild thought, maybe we shouldn’t make girls ashamed of something their bodies naturally do and have to do for our species to continue.
And as for other private matters, like going to the bathroom, our societies are greatly impacted by that. Indoor plumbing was a huge game-changer for cities. People weren’t getting sick and dying so much since we no longer let our waste run into the street and our drinking water. It’s gross, but it’s kind of a big deal. And knowing sort of where a society is in their plumbing evolution is an indication of where they are medically. Which can matter in a fantasy novel.
Now, this is something I thought of not at all while I was writing Woven. I have had several pregnancies and never thought to drop any truth bombs about how Lenore, Grace or Sultana handle their bleeding time. I probably will passingly mention it in future books, now that I’ve thought of it.
When I do, it will be tasteful. Like in Tamora Pierce’s Becca Cooper series. She handled that well, with just a quick note about emptying chamber pots in gutters and having her character pick up something for her monthlies.
What she didn’t do, and what I (God willing) will not do is handle a delicate matter in a less than delicate way.
I’m talking of course about the master of brute force writing, George R. Martin. While I have questions sometimes about bodily functions, I don’t need to know too many details. I didn’t need to know that a certain character pissed, shat and threw up on himself while trapped in an empty barrel. And I won’t share with you some other vulgar details that I never needed to know about other characters in that series.
Listen, we’re mostly adults here. At least, we’re capable of handling things like grown-ups, and not eleven-year old’s giggling about fart jokes. We don’t need to get red in the face because someone’s ‘aunt Flo’ is visiting.