By Deirdre O’Donnell
While I am sitting on my sofa eating ice cream and watching “My Super Sweet Sixteen” on MTV, my mind suddenly stops vacantly letting the disturbing shopping sprees and bratty phone calls register as normative, and then a thought strikes me:
Why am I watching this extremely privileged teenager receive a new Mercedes for their sixteenth birthday on national television when we, as a culture, do not mark the biological transition that is menstruation as valid even for the average person?
I am curious as to why so much emphasis is put on age in the United States to the point that we watch television shows about sixteenth birthdays, but puberty is not an acceptable stage in life to celebrate or embrace. Since menstruation is something that marked a turning point in my life, a time when I was suddenly capable and responsible for reproductive choices, I find myself wishing that someone had thrown me a menarche party. A menarche party is a celebration marking a female-bodied individual’s first time experiencing menstruation. Historically, it has been important in traditional American culture to celebrate events like birthdays, religious transitions, weddings or commitment ceremonies, funerals, and more. Well, what if we lived in a society in which getting one’s first period was just as significant and celebrated as any of these events listed above? Wouldn’t that be a huge step in de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying menstruation? If young biological women were taught to celebrate their periods, this would help counteract the shame and secrecy that society pumps into our adolescent minds about the topic. It would help eliminate the self-consciousness that many women feel after being exposed to the world of “feminine hygiene” and “embarrassing odors” for the first time. After all, this is a bodily process that most women deal with for decades of their lifetime, so shouldn’t it be something we are taught to feel good about from the get-go?
In Inga Muscio’s Cunt: A Declaration of Independence Expanded and Updated Second Edition, there is an entire section dedicated to menstruation. Muscio states:
Bleeding ladies are taught to be, at best, intolerant of a month-to-month physiological occurrence which clocks the time of our bodies. We therefore act mighty peculiar. Disliking something unavoidable takes its toll after a while. Some people call this PMS.
If, at every stage of life, society commanded men to despise their hard-ons, how pleasant would they be when this bodily function that they are incapable of desisting occurred?
According to Muscio, menstruation is a “monthly purging and cleansing” that we should be celebrating. Menarche parties are a great way to encourage education and positivity about the female body. They also have potential to increase confidence and open up lines of communication between parents and children. Conversations regarding puberty are much easier to have with children if they are approached in a positive way. At the parties themselves, there could even be productive discussions regarding the different menstrual devices and options, like sea sponges, Diva Cups, Keepers, organic pads and tampons, etc. to increase knowledge and awareness about healthy and cheap choices. The types of activities listed on menarche party websites range from these types of talks or presentations to “pin the ovaries on the uterus.” The types of knowledge and positivity that are opened up by menarche parties are privileges and pathways to empowerment. These parties can include tables of red foods like pomegranates, cranberry juice, apples, or Twizzlers. They can be exclusively women or they can be women and men, depending on levels of personal comfort or your personal agenda for starting conversations between female and male bodied youth.
Historically, other cultures have celebrated menstruation in a variety of ways including holy, purification ceremonies, decorating the body with patterns, and other routines or rituals. Menarche is marked as something in a woman’s life that is special and signifies her power to do something that men cannot. If attitudes towards periods are changed over time, it will be possible for young women to feel more in control of their bodies and bodily processes. If menstruation is celebrated, it can leave young women with a powerful sense of agency that is often otherwise stripped away from them, resulting in unhealthy outcomes like eating disorders or self-mutilation. We need to raise our sisters, daughters, and friends to feel comfortable, happy, knowledgeable and empowered about their bodies and themselves; and ultimately, we can be shamed no more.
Museum of Menstruation (Information about menstruation and menstrual devices throughout the decades): http://www.mum.org/
Inga Muscio’s Cunt: A Declaration of Independence Expanded and Updated Second Edition
The Canadian Women’s Health Network (Information about other cultures and ideas for parties):