June 3, 2010

Young Women Speak Out About "The Curse"

I didn’t celebrate my first period my drinking bottles red wine with the women in my family, wine purchased on the day of my birth in anticipation of this rite of passage. I didn’t call my friends giggling to share the wonderful news. There was no fanfare of any kind. In fact, there was nothing but fear and shame. I kept silent and stuffed my panties with layers of toilet paper that would peak to a v and eventually shred to bits. When”outed” by my mother, I fiercely denied the truth while simultaneously wishing that I would tell her the truth and get some maternal support (and a box of pads). Sensing my reluctance and discomfort, my mother bought a box of pads and left it under the bathroom sink. This silent delivery of bulky, winged pads continued in silence for years. The absence of celebration and generational bonding leaves me with a small hole in my heart. The shame I felt about my maturing body and the cultural messages that equate the vagina and menstruation with a noxious cesspool robbed me of an opportunity to love my body and its unique life-giving properties.

Examining representations of the female body within pop culture would not be complete without a critical examination of sociohistorical attitudes toward menstruation. After all, the advertising industry is replete with messages that reinforce ancient notions that menstruation is a cringe-worthy, filthy subject. How can a girl love herself completely when she has been raised in an environment that sees the female body as dirty? Shameful? How different would we feel about ourselves if our first period was met with revelry and joy?

For a recent blogging assignment in my Women and Pop Culture class, my students discussed their experiences with their cycle while referencing Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture and the Politics of Gender and The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. What follows is a collection of posts that provides an insightful glimpse into young women’s attitudes about “the curse.”