I strive to embrace the attitude that women are wonderful with all of their womanly quirks: periods, emotional sensitivities, the pre-programmed urge to put family before friends… It wasn’t easy given that even though feminism has come a long way (one hundred years ago, women still didn’t have the right to vote in Canada and weren’t considered, for lack of a better term, ‘people’) but I live in a country where there is disparity between the genders and more often than not, men still come out on top.
In my opinion, this inequality can sometimes translate into feelings of self-loathing. It’s easy to feel bad about being female when you live in a culture that perennially undervalues the power of fertility, the usefulness of being in touch with one’s feelings and the worth of family values. And then I gave birth to two girls.
Girls! How lucky! They’ve caused me to embrace my femininity anew and rejoice in the special things that define, for me, what it is to be a woman. Rather than feel shame when I cry ‘for no reason’ or am led up and down the traitorous switchback that is PMS, I talk about it with my kids- I tell them that it’s normal and that it is something to be proud of.
One of the things that I’ve really had to re-think since birthing my children is my period. In our North American culture it’s become the norm to avoid this word. Monthly visits from Aunt Rose are covered up with perfumed pads, plugged up with potentially life-threatening tampons and generally denied. We do our best to pretend that it isn’t happening- we deny an essential part of what it is to be female.
In other times things were different. I’ve read about ancient Celts who believed that a woman was most powerful while she menstruated. In the ancient Middle East and in Pre-colonial north America, women were given special treatment when they had their menses. They rested, were separated from tribe (and the daily grind) and were generally given time to focus on the task at hand- the very obvious process of displaying fertility. In times gone by, when a girl began to menstruate, many cultures celebrated this coming of age and welcomed the girl with ceremony into the world of women. Her self was re-written with new tasks, new responsibilities and a new identity that was recognized throughout her community.
But here in rural Manitoba there isn’t any of that. There’s just me struggling against an inundation of cultural messages that say, “periods are gross,” “Don’t talk about it because it’s dirty, “Cover it up and pretend it doesn’t happen,” and “even though you are menstruating we’re still gonna treat you like a child until you’re 18.”
I want to teach my girls that it’s perfectly normal to menstruate and that this is an exclusive part of being woman that deserves veneration. I also want to teach them to respect mother earth and so my periods are…ahem, obvious. I use fabric pads and never close the bathroom door. As a result, the girls see, first hand exactly what aunt Rose brings each month. They see me attaching my pads and rinsing them later, washing them and hanging them to dry. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that women live longer than men because every 28 days, they purge their bodies of any negativities that have collected in their bodies over the past month. They emerge from their menses with more balanced energy and healthier bodies. That’s what I visualize when I’m rinsing my monthly dues down the sink- and that’s what I tell the girls.
I also want to teach my girls to respect mother earth. Plastic and chemically treated feminine hygiene products produce a staggering amount of waste. It begins with the resources and energy required to manufacture all of these products and proceeds into packaging and shipping. Then of course there’s the disposal of these single-use items. Tampons and pads are hastily wrapped in plastic papers and shoved into plastic garbage bags which eventually make their way into landfills where they break down v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.
I don’t know when the shift happened deposing menstruation as a public celebration of fertility and re-inventing it as a shameful curse secreted to the back of the bathroom cupboard. That seems wrong to me. Embracing womanhood each month in an earth-friendly way is how I am teaching my girls to love themselves as women. To love all of the quirks and magic that make us such a powerful and wonderful force. It’s difficult to swim against the tide of cultural messages that sells a very different message to the consuming public but I’ll do my best, keep on trying and hope that my example will empower two special girls who will one day grow into amazing, strong and empowered women.