The second piece is not available online, but appeared in the May, 2007 issue of Underwired:
"Menstruation Celebration." Here it is in its entirety:
It all started innocently in my Intro to Women’s Studies class, spring semester my junior year of college. A group of twenty women (and one very quiet and wildly uncomfortable man) scooted our chairs into a circle and discussed a vivid scene in a text about a girl’s first period. Did our professor mean to spark a revolution when she asked us to share our own stories? By the end of the hour so many of us wanted to add to the conversation that we met later at The Women’s Center to plan what would become The Menstruation Celebration.
To advertise the event we made flyers and distributed them across campus and on every table in the cafeteria. The joke flyers quickly followed: The Urination Celebration; The Masturbation Celebration; The Intoxication Celebration; etc. etc. But we were determined to make this event fly.
On the evening of the Celebration, around sixty women of all colors, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations gathered at The Women’s Center. I’d never seen so many people crammed into the attic loft before and most of these women had never attended a (egads!) feminist program. We sat on worn sofas, mismatched pillows, and wooden chairs or stood if necessary while we ate brownies and shared our most private stories.
I don’t know about you, but I was raised in an environment where the words sex, vagina, and menstruation were never (ever!) uttered. My mother kept truckloads of Kotex maxi pads stored in every nook of the house so I’d never run out and have to ask her to buy feminine hygiene products. I hid Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret from Mom in fear that she’d discover that I knew about being on the rag, which might just lead to me knowing about sex. When I heard my peers tell period stories that night so long ago in college – stories of shame and embarrassment, love and compassion, and even power – I discovered what it really meant to be a woman.
Three stories stick with me to this day, almost twenty years later. The quietest woman in the group – I swear before this night I never witnessed her speak – told of the horror of bleeding through white pants and being stuck in a bathroom hoping someone would come to her rescue. Later, a party girl told of forgetting to remove a tampon . . . for three weeks and only discovering it when her sister noticed a fetid odor while she pedaled away on her stationary bike. I looked around the room at so many nodding heads and laughing faces. My own story fit somewhere in the collection of shared humiliation and because it was shared, it wasn’t so bad. At last, my friend Anna stood up and I knew whatever she would say would be thoughtful. Anna was smart and eloquent, and her mom was a psychologist who only wore white muumuus; any story about growing up in her household had to be fascinating. When Anna first got her period, her mother bought her a dozen red roses and took her to dinner at a fine restaurant. Wow.
When I got my period, my mom gave me a Kotex pamphlet published in 1968 and showed me the cache of mattress-sized panty liners. No “congratulations you’re a woman now!” No dinner. No roses. I felt alone, shamed, and silenced. The only friend I called to tell said she couldn’t handle hearing about it. I was completely shut down at a particularly vulnerable, pardon the pun, period. But here I was in college, surrounded by a real community of smart, funny, gutsy, sensitive women. Let the guys in the cafeteria scoff; I was damned proud to be part of this sisterhood.
So many women spoke and broke the taboo surrounding menstruation that night in 1989. Not long after the Menstruation Celebration I read Gloria Steinem’s hilarious diatribe “If Men Could Menstruate” from my now yellowed copy of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. In it Steinem ponders why she, even as a strong, outspoken feminist, still got embarrassed hearing other women discuss their periods. In a fantasy she suggests that if men menstruated they’d “brag about how long and how much” and streetwise conversation would sound something like, “ ‘ Man, you lookin’ good!”
“Yeah, man. I’m on the rag!’”
Published exactly forty years ago, Steinem’s essay still rings true. Women don’t discuss this most basic of female bodily functions and while we are surrounded by ads promoting pads, tampons, and absorption levels, how many of them use euphemism and puns? How few of them use the actual word “menstruation”?
Because I remember feeling isolated as a twelve-year-old, because I still get crampy and cranky, because Gloria Steinem still makes me laugh and because a group of my college peers gathered together to share menstruation stories I am determined to be honest with my daughter and never to shame her. And because of Anna’s sweet story about her mother honoring her passage into puberty I now know how to prepare my daughter for her period. Roses, dinner, and candid conversation will highlight a day that I hope she will remember as special, a real menstruation celebration.