Menstruation: Why We Should Mark the Day

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While some cultures have always noted a child’s  passage into adulthood through ritual (for example, through a Bat Mitzvah, Quincianera, or Naihes), unfortunately, many American girls make that transition with silence, or worse yet, shame. Girls are told by parents to hide even the wrappers of feminine hygiene products, because “no one wants to know you are having your period.” Fortunately, it seems teenage girls do better, openly asking who has a tampon, which never would have happened in my day.

I think it’s a missed opportunity not to mark menarche in some way, because even for the most low-key girl, it’s a time of radical change. If you are a tomboy, you are reminded most directly about the “tom” part of that term. :) You probably don’t feel your best; then you have to figure out (hopefully with help and depending upon your age), which feminine hygiene products work best for you and how to use them properly). There is an “ick” factor.

As a mom, you can invite over ten female friends and talk about when you started your periods, or you can tell your daughter that this is all basically a huge pain but that you are stuck with it so deal as best you can, or there might be some middle ground, where you connect with your daughter in a way that suits her temperament. Take a moment to reflect on the fact that we are changing all the time, but at times change is just more noticeable than others. Applaud your daughter for what she is doing well in her life. I also think it’s important to emphasize how natural this moment is and that although it may not seem like it now, many cultures and many women recognize flow as a source of real power. Some see it as a time to withdraw into the self (which is different than using your period as an excuse not to be part of the world). While women certainly experience the fact that the female body ebbs and flows during the month differently, it’s important that tweens and teens tune into these changes for themselves.

I worry that if we don’t mark the day somehow and do a little more than the average health teacher (who is empowered to give very little in the way of practical information in the state in which I live), we have missed a spiritual moment of sorts, a time to talk about the body as your body. American women are so uncomfortable with their bodies, and many boys experience their rite of passage as an introduction to pornography, both of which lead to pretty poor sexual relationships down the road.

I don’t think it matters as much how we mark the menarche of a young girl, but that we do. That we affirm her.

~Wanda, the witch and the mom

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  1. philopsycho says:

    You said, “we have missed a spiritual moment of sorts, a time to talk about the body as your body.” I think you are right on, and perhaps part of the problem is that some of us-particularly in this country-haven’t felt the affirmation by society that the body is *ours*. Yet, earlier today I saw a theft-proofing tip that advised placing cash in feminine product wrappers (because no thief is going to look there. So, the icky body stuff is ours, but the things we can do with our bodies-work, sex, dress, procreation, purchasing, etc.-those things we are constantly told are subject to society’s rules.
    I admit that I missed the boat with my daughter on this subject. But now I try to comment on things I overhear her talking about with her friends in the car (sex, music, opinions about other girls, whose older sisters got pregnant outside of wedlock) and books she reads (Twilight junk and Christian series for teen girls). Unfortunately, babies don’t come with rewind button so we can have do-overs :(

    • Wanda says:

      It’s certainly not like I’ve taken advantage of every so-called “teaching moment” as a parent. In fact, monitoring the everyday body image stuff is really where it’s at in terms of sending our girls out into the world with a sense of ownership of and confidence about their bodies. I’d never heard about the tampon-theft tip. I’m guessing that wouldn’t work on airport security?

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