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Are You There, God? It’s Me, Beverly: Menstruation in Stephen King’s It

On November 18, 1990 – one day after my tenth birthday – the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It aired on ABC. It concluded two nights later, and left a newly-minted 10-year-old terrified even further of both spiders and clowns (thanks for that one, Steve). I had yet to read the book, which proved an interesting introduction into the source material. It (1986) was a book I didn’t read until after I turned 11, which put me at the same age as our intrepid Losers Club: Bill, Ben, Eddie, Richie, Mike, Stan and Bev.

Bev caught my eye the most, due in at least some capacity to the melding to the one female character that wasn’t an interdimensional entity bent on murder and reproduction. More recently, Sophia Lillis owned the 2017 adaption It: Chapter One as Beverly, proving something known in childhood: you can’t take your eyes off Bev, whether it’s the book, the miniseries or the feature-length motion picture. The question is, why? To answer it simply, as the sole female, Bev’s struggle with menstruation remains, arguably, the most compelling, loaded sentiment in the novel concerning reality and the inevitability of growing up.

Let’s go exploring the sewers on this one.

Everyone in the It universe has something of which they’re afraid, and we’re going to start first with the boys. Each of our male children in this world has a life that’s oppressive on a good day: Bill has mourning parents that ignore him; Eddie has a mother suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy; Ben lives in anguish of bullies and body shaming; Richie functions as the class clown, which gets him into trouble; Mike comes from a black family in a town that could use some diversity training; Stan is the Jewish kid whose entire life is order and duty.

Their monsters – which It uses to “salt the meat,” as she calls it (author’s note: as Pennywise is described as a male clown, Pennywise gets the “he” pronoun – however, It is female and laying eggs, hence the “she” pronouns used when describing her in this article) – reflect these deep-seated fears. Hence, Bill sees his dead little brother, Georgie, a remnant of survivor’s guilt.

Mike sees a bird that’s not like anything else in nature, much like his own ostracization in his hometown. Eddie sees a leper waiting to infect him, a direct correlation to the torment of hypochondria. Richie sees It as a werewolf, a dangerous change that alienates him from the rest of the world. Ben is visited by a mummy, symbolizing the extra layers of weight he carries around himself. As for Stan, he sees two dead children, the concrete proof for a prim, orderly child that death can and will come after you.

Each boy has a common threat to his fear: it’s all mental hang up. Some time in a therapist’s chair would do each child some good, and most likely resolve the issues. Their crises are more mental in nature, whether it’s accepting the inevitability of death, coming to terms with your weight, or finding a way out of your inferiority complex without hiding behind jokes. The boys of the Losers Club deal with psychological issues that impact their lives; with the exception of Ben (okay, maybe Eddie if we’re stretching it), no one deals with a physical inevitability. These are all issues the boys can use to demonstrate personal growth, or avoid if they truly wish to not deal with them.

Beverly, however, does not have this luxury. You see, Bev’s fear points to her being afraid of getting her period, and all the wonderful trappings that go along with the associated social and biological female gender role. In all three pieces of media – book, miniseries and film – Bev’s monster does not change in any capacity, unlike the boys’ monsters and interactions with It: lured by voices in her sink, she’s greeted by a balloon, which pops and unleashes a torrent of blood all over her. Her abusive father can’t see this blood, and she later enlists the other Losers to help her clean it up.

The symbolism here is so achingly blatant: Bev is literally slapped in the face with her period. The miniseries doesn’t go all that haywire, but the 2017 film goes to an Evil Dead II (1987) level extreme in its portrait, though no one is laughing. Moreover, the latest film even has us witness the girl nervously buying tampons in the drugstore. No one else gets a face full of blood: it’s the preteen girl who’s at the right age to start menarche.

Ben’s not getting any weight shaved off him, nor is Eddie being infected with anything – they get to run from their terrors, which point at inner demons. The boys can talk their ails out at their own leisure. Beverly differs in that her demon is a physical inevitability on a strict timetable: she cannot place a stopper in the aging process. Bev is going to get her period, and it’s going to come sooner rather than later.

Why is this a bad thing – why be so afraid of it? Bev’s got more than enough ammunition for this fear purely by observations of her expected gender role. Bev has an abusive father that has a tendency to go after her once her mother is out working (at least in the novel – in the miniseries and film, Elfrida’s absence is due to her working any shift she can get her hands on to support her family). Likewise, she witnesses some of the sex acts that will be anticipated of her in a few years’ time: she sees the hand job provided to Henry Bowers with an offer of oral sex, and finds herself the recipient of crushes from her closest friends. Beverly’s role is currently changing on multiple levels, and there’s a physical component to it.

There is nothing that Bev can do to stop it, and really, who does she have to talk to? Her mother always works to put food on the table because their family has no money. Mrs. Denbrough spends her days mourning one child while ignoring the other. Mrs. Kaspbrak busies herself with making her child sick. It — the sole female entity that’s interacting with her in childhood – tries to scare the living shit out of her so that she can feast upon her and therefore feed her babies.

Clearly, Beverly is not getting a solid, well-adjusted female role model; at the very least, she’s getting an extraordinarily harsh lesson in what it means to be a woman: you have to sacrifice to take care of your children, even if that means destroying your mental health or the lives of others in the process in order to take care of your young.

I’d fear the beginning of the process that could land me on that track – that’s a pretty terrifying portrait of motherhood, and I’d want to ward my period off with a ritual designed to keep me baby-free for ages to come if I were in Bev’s shoes. Between her experiences with It and watching the women around her enter self-destructive mode to care for their children, I don’t blame her for being terrified of what womanhood brings – the sacrifices and transition are terrifying.

Which brings us to another discussion we need to have: Bev is the one whose sexual maturity – at least, mentally – winds up saving the day for the rest of the Losers and all of Derry (arguably, humanity too). In the latest iteration of the film, Bev is slut shamed for inaccurate rumors concerning her sexual activity, a clever way of bridging the gap between the book’s infamous sex scene and what no filmmaker would have the stones to show to mainstream audiences.

Everyone tiptoes around this issue, except for King himself, explaining in previous interviews that Beverly’s sex act with the boys in the sewers works to unify them as they pass from childhood into adulthood. And really, this is the crux of Beverly’s struggle in the story. Bev doesn’t want to become a woman. Her fear is blood; her dad is abusive; every other woman around her sleepwalks through life once she has children (with the exception of It, who’s padding that nursery one body at a time like it’s freaking wallpaper).

Getting your period is not a good thing in this universe, because it means that you’re an adult and that your life is pretty much all downhill from here. It’s the expectation of sex, which she knows will lead to the social expectation of marriage and children. It’s reproduction, which It has proven is destructive. On a very base level, it’s blood coming out of an area young girls are not used to seeing bleed – that’s incredibly scary, as we typically associate blood with injury.

The injury of the period is the death of childhood. You don’t get to be a little girl anymore once you get your period – you’re relegated to the status of woman. Her sex act with the boys, therefore, works just as King intended: it creates a passage from childhood to adulthood together in a controlled fashion.

Bev may not be able to control the timing of her menarche, but she can control how she enters adulthood with the six people she loves most in the world. She guides them by taking control of the activity; while controversial, it’s her leadership that creates the lasting bond, not Bill’s. Bev is arguably the hero of the story because she lays the foundation of the bond that keeps the group together as adults when they’re more prepared to take on a supernatural entity.

Beverly Marsh can’t stop her fear the way that the other Losers Club members can: she can’t run from it, she can’t write about it in bestsellers, she can’t do a funny voice to chase the inevitable away. Hers is more immediate: it’s the pressing urgency of rapidly hurtling toward adulthood. While she may not be able to harness the power of menstruation and gain absolute control over it, Bev does manage to conquer the situation by proclaiming dominion over her body and giving access to those she chooses, a move that cements her as an autonomous thinker.

For a kid that fears becoming a woman, she certainly takes steps to become the independent woman we love at the end of the novel. The meeting of her fate, therefore, is one of acceptance: she can’t fight growing up, and chooses instead to embrace it to save those she loves. That’s what I’ve always seen in her: a survivor that takes the hand dealt to her and turns it into a winning play. When life hands you the inevitable, grab a sling shot and give it hell right back.

About Erin Miskell

Erin Miskell writes about movies and passes for normal in Upstate New York. An avid fan of inappropriate humor and schlock horror, you can find her rambling at www.thebackseatdriverreviews.com and @bsdriverreview on Twitter.

One comment

  1. This is a gutsy and insightful analysis. Thanks for writing. I always thought Bev had a lot of balls, too.

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