Selfie, Selfie, Selfie

Before I get into this post, there are two things I want to say first:

  1. I am sad that going back to school is totally wreaking havoc on my posting schedule here. However, I am loving school, so don’t feel too bad for me. I just want to acknowledge that things are different for me right now.
  2. When I have no good title ideas, I just repeat a word three times. Somehow it seems more clever than using it only once. I don’t know why.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to talk about the selfie. While the word selfie was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, my spellcheck here is underscoring the word with a tell-tale squiggly red line. This tells you that this is still a new concept. Not every dictionary is down with the word. Not every person is down with the word. We’re still figuring it out. We’re also still debating the selfie’s significance, and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Selfies are particularly controversial in feminist circles. The authors of articles like Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help. and Putting selfies under a feminist lens suggest that the selfie is a product of a culture that objectifies women. After all, the selfie is the province of young women. Why, many people wonder, do these young women feel the need to post photos of their faces on social media for other people – perhaps most especially males – to see? Seeking external validation isn’t a sign that we’re empowered, it’s a sign that we lack self-esteem.

Other feminists disagree with this take. They argue that selfies can be empowering, particularly for women who don’t normally see themselves portrayed in the media – that is, women of colour, women larger than a size six, transgender women, and so on. Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista found that sentiment of becoming visible compelling enough to launch the #365FeministSelfie project. She wrote, “… taking a selfie and posting it means REALLY looking at yourself. And hopefully at the end (or much sooner!) you will find it less painful and more enjoyable. I don’t want to turn us into Paris Hiltons, but rather individuals who don’t cringe when we need to take a photo.”

I heart Instagram big-time. So, when I noticed that people in my feed were using the #365FeministSelfie hashtag I looked into it. The explanation I read was that by posting photos of themselves, these women were attempting to make themselves more visible, and portray a broader definition of beauty. I liked that. I started posting photos of my own (although not quite every day). So far, I’m enjoying it.

It turns out there’s a lot to be said for the selfie. I don’t have to ask someone else to take my photo – I can do it when I’m at home by myself. I can get the angle I like, with the background I want. I can show myself how I want to be seen.

Is it narcissistic or objectifying? It could be, if I allowed myself to get caught up in how many ‘likes’ my photos get, or in making sure I look my absolute best in each photo. I feel that both of those things go against the grain of this particular project, though. It’s about showing women as we really are. It’s true that as a straight white woman (and a natural blonde, no less), there are plenty of people who look like me in the media. However, I don’t think that means I don’t deserve to be seen. The point is we all deserve to be seen, with makeup or without, wearing our best clothes or our pajamas, with perfectly-coiffed locks or messy morning hair. We all deserve to be seen on our own terms.

I have succumbed to the selfie trend, but I don’t think it’s a sign that I’ve lost touch with reality. I think it’s a sign that I’m participating in modern culture, and enjoying the challenge of documenting myself (almost) daily, just as I am. It’s also something I can do in very short snippets of time while my life is busy. I can see what other people are posting, and take part myself, in the two minutes I have before my class starts. Perhaps that, more than anything, is why I’m enjoying it. It fits my life right now, and allows me to document this time of great personal change.

Here’s what my #365FeministSelfie stream has captured so far:

Where do you stand on the selfie? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Name Isn’t Mommy

When I get an email pitch that isn’t a good fit, most of the time I delete it. I used to try to respond to every one, until someone I respect very much pointed out that much of the time PR folks are, in effect, spamming me when they flood my inbox. They’re not doing it maliciously. They just have something to promote, along with a bunch of names and email addresses, and I happen to be one of them. My friend in PR tells me this approach is called spray and pray. Rather than spending my time composing well thought out responses to each email, now I just pass over the ones that don’t work for me.

Of course, sometimes I get fabulous emails, and that’s great. I can only be grateful that people feel that I’m someone they want to share their stories with. Not every story will be a fit, but in the end I am more flattered than annoyed by all the emails.

Once in a while, I get an email that I feel the need to respond to in a different way. Someone sends me something that pushes one of my buttons. For example, when I was contacted by someone promoting a kitty litter that I feel is harmful to cats, I felt compelled to share a link about the danger as politely as I could. I realize that the person on the other end was only doing their job, but some part of me just couldn’t let it lie.

The thing that pushes my buttons most often is when I’m referred to as a mommy blogger. Sometimes, I even get an email addressed to Dear Mommy Blogger. I realize that mommy blogger has become the de facto title for women who blog about life with children. I also realize, once again, that most of the time the person typing it out isn’t doing it maliciously. Even so, the title grates on me.

mommy blogger
These kids are the only people who are allowed to call me mommy

My first issue with the term mommy blogger is that even my own children don’t call me mommy – they go for mama or mom or even, once in a while, Amber. Why should someone to whom I did not give birth apply it to me? My second (and much bigger) issue is that the word mommy is a diminutive. It’s cutesy, and the person who carries that title is not meant to be taken seriously. This leads into the much larger question of why we need to slap mom or mommy in front of many of the things that women do – think mompreneur, mommy blogger, mommy wars, and so on. It feels like a way to diminish the work these women are doing. The truth is that mommy blogger is often used in a way that can be more than a little mocking.

Of course, some moms who blog embrace the title mommy blogger. They’re proud of their mother status, and the writing they do. That’s great. Others are trying to reclaim the title, just as they’ve reclaimed other titles. I actually think that’s even better. However, the truth is that many of us who could be called mommy bloggers dislike the term. I even found an academic abstract from a paper by Gina Masullo Chen that says the term ‘continues the culturally ingrained performance of motherhood women learned since childhood, and, in so doing, holds women captive in this subjective norm that may not fit them’. Exactly. Given the mixed feelings and negative reactions many bloggers have, it’s really safest not to use the phrase mommy blogger if you’re not sure how someone will take it.

My guess is that most people who send me an email that contains the phrase mommy blogger aren’t aware of the controversy, or the fact that many moms who blog dislike the term. This is why I often respond to those emails, with great politeness, passing along a couple of links about why it’s best to avoid calling someone you don’t know ‘mommy’. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I also don’t want to the person in question to go on using the term without being aware of the possible negative associations it conjures up. I want to do my part, as a writer, mother and feminist, to say that we all deserve to be taken seriously, and we all have the right to decide how we want to be addressed.

It’s unlikely that an email from me will change the world. I know this. All the same, I feel better for having sent it.

I wonder what you think. If you’re a mom with a blog, how do you feel about the title mommy blogger? Is it so entrenched at this point that rejecting it is pointless? Or do you hate it as much as I do? Please leave a reply and let me know!

Walking Alone at Night

walking alone at night

If there was one message I got as a teenage girl, it was this: never walk alone at night. Bad things happen to women who are out by themselves after dark. This was in the days before cell phones, as well, which meant that if you were alone you were really alone.

I remember, very clearly, sitting in my grade 10 girls’ gym class, not quite 16 years old, and looking forward to my birthday so that I could get my driver’s license. Our teacher, presented with a room full of girls who would soon be driving, gave us tips to keep us safe when we were out on the road at night. If your car broke down, she said, you should pull over, lock all the doors and turn on your hazards. If a man stopped to help, you should open your window only the smallest crack, and ask him to go get help before you closed that window up tight again. If you had to walk through a dark parking lot to your car, you shouldn’t walk alone, and you should have your keys ready before you entered the parking lot both to reduce any lingering and to use as a potential weapon.

You don’t have to do much searching online to find safety tips for women who are walking alone at night, or people urging us not to do it. The message of danger is ever present, and women are told to be cautious and vigilant, in North America. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the world, but I know that I’ve heard the warning calls loud and clear here.

When I was in university and didn’t have a car, I found myself taking the bus after dark. This also meant waiting for the bus after dark. Mostly I was taking the bus from school back home, and the bus loop there was busy and well-lit and I was rarely afraid. Sometimes I was taking the bus from home back up to campus for my evening karate class, and that felt less good, standing on the side of the road in the dark by myself. I felt nervous.

Somewhat ironically, the only time I ever actually encountered something untoward at the bus stop was not at night. It was at about 2:00pm on a Sunday afternoon, in the full light of day. As I sat by myself on the bench a man walked by. I had seen him approaching, but hadn’t looked closely. It was only when he passed directly in front of me and stopped to lean against the bus stop sign that I realized he wasn’t wearing any pants. He had on a T-shirt, socks, shoes, and a sweatshirt tied around his waist so that it covered his rear end and passing cars couldn’t tell that his bits were hanging out. I contemplated how I would defend myself if he did anything, but he just engaged me in light chit chat (How long until the bus comes? Too bad it’s cloudy today.) until I got up and left.

Back in my apartment, I told my roommate what had happened and she fell down on the floor laughing. Later, on the phone to the police non-emergency line the woman asked if the man had exposed himself to me. I just kept saying, over and over, “He wasn’t wearing any pants.” The police sent someone to look for him, but I’d bet $5 he was long gone by the time he arrived.

Back to the point at hand. Lately, I’ve been out walking by myself after dark more often. I’ve attended a number of events at night that are a 10-15 minute walk from home, and at which I’ve been drinking. If I weren’t drinking, I would drive, because I’m honestly more comfortable not walking by myself after dark. But after a couple of glasses of wine that’s both unsafe and illegal. On top of that, with these events so close to home, paying for a cab just feels like overkill. My neighbourhood feels pretty safe to me, on the whole, recent cougar sightings notwithstanding.

So how foolhardy am I actually being, going for a walk by myself after dark? Does danger really lurk behind every corner?

I think that when we talk about the potential dangers women face after dark, we’re mostly talking about theft and sexual assault. Of the two, the more frightening for me (and probably most people) is sexual assault. Take my wallet, honestly. I carry about $17 in cash most of the time, and I can cancel all my cards. But don’t attack me.

So, let’s look at sexual assault rates. Apparently, 472,000 were reported by women in Canada in 2009, for a rate of 34 per 1000 women age 15 or older, or 3.4%. That’s sobering, for sure. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in the US, 73% of perpetrators of sexual assault are not strangers. The US Department of Justice puts that number at nearly 80%. Of the women who are sexually assaulted by strangers, about 28% happen on the street or in a parking lot.

What this means, is that most sexual assaults occur at home, or in someone else’s home, at the hands of someone the victim knows. The actual rate of sexual assault on the street, by a stranger, is something closer to 0.2-0.25% by my math. It’s not negligible, and I do not in any way mean to discount it. Any sexual assault, in any place, by anyone, is one too many. We all need to be working, every day, to end rape culture. However, 186,543 Canadians were injured or killed in car accidents in 2009. That means my likelihood of getting hurt when I’m in a car is about 0.55% in any given year, and I don’t think twice about that.

So, I’m going to keep walking at night, in my neighbourhood, to meet my friends at a local restaurant or attend a wine tasting. I will likely still feel afraid, because it has been thoroughly drilled into me. But I will do it, because of the various options available to me, I think it’s the best, and likely actually the safest. And I also believe that I shouldn’t have to change my actions out of fear of what someone else may do. Walking at night is my choice, and I’m not asking to be attacked if I do it.

What about you? Do you walk alone at night? Are you afraid when you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Podcast: Talking Body Acceptance with Jennifer Rowe

Every week, at the end of my podcast post, I ask you to share your podcast ideas with me. I know that many of you either know a lot about a topic, or are interested in learning more about something. While I can’t make any promises, I can say that if you suggest something I will seriously consider it and do my best to find someone to interview if it’s a great idea that you can’t speak about yourself. I’m happy to say that I got my first suggestion recently when Jennifer Rowe of Fat and not Afraid suggested that I speak with her about body acceptance. I’m pleased to be sharing our conversation with you in today’s podcast.

It seems like you can’t walk three feet these days without hearing about the obesity epidemic. I’ve seen advertisements for boot camp and other fitness classes for children, targeted at improving fitness rather than having fun or learning something. I’ve been accused online of putting my son at risk for a lifetime of obesity for pushing him in the stroller when he was three years old and wasn’t able to walk to my daughter’s school at any kind of reasonable pace. We’re all getting bigger, and we’re afraid of what that means for our health – and our kids’ health.

strocel.com podcast body acceptanceWhat if, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with our bodies, we believed that we were all beautiful as we were? That’s the question that Jennifer is posing in today’s podcast. Her assertion is that the real health issue isn’t how big or small you are. Rather, the health issues centre around sedentary lifestyle and lack of access to healthy foods. There are socioeconomic factors at play, here, since we know, for instance, that minorities are at greater risk for diseases like diabetes. If it’s cheaper and easier to buy processed foods rather than vegetables, we should address that situation, rather than pointing the finger at people with a higher body mass index.

Jennifer and I talked about the negative consequences of fat-shaming and our obsession with body size. As the mother of a daughter, I find these consequences sobering. They include things like eating disorders (on the rise, along with obesity), and very young girls going on diets. I don’t want my daughter spending her time worrying about her weight, and whether or not it’s “acceptable”. I don’t like that she will likely face public scrutiny over her size, when my son most likely will not – at least not in the same way.

If you would like to hear an alternative perspective on how to approach the obesity epidemic, or you need ideas for how to instill a positive body image in your kids, I encourage you to listen to this podcast. It will give you some serious food for thought:

Next week on the Strocel.com podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with my friend Alison, a.k.a. BluebirdMama. I interviewed her for the Crafting my Life Online Course, talking about tackling our personal dragons. Since our interview, she moved back into a converted school bus with her three children, with an attached building, and has set out to live a more intentional life. If you could use some inspiration when it comes to following your own heart rather than following the crowed, you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Amanda Todd, Anonymous, and Maternal Rage

It’s rare for me to feel as fired up as I do right now about a blog post. I’m going to try to cogently lay out my feelings about the Amanda Todd suicide – an event that happened in my own backyard. I’m not sure I have a whole lot to offer to the discussion. As a child I wasn’t bullied, and I don’t believe I acted as a bully. I’m not an expert on bullying or cyber-stalking, and I’m not an educator. But I am a parent. As someone who’s trying to sort it all out, I feel a strong need to talk about it all in this space. I hope you’ll take the time to join in and share your thoughts as I share mine.

Amanda Todd’s story has hit close to home for me. If you don’t follow the news (and I wouldn’t blame you), I’ll give you a brief synopsis. One week ago, on October 10, 2012, the 15-year-old girl took her own life. She was driven to this following years of bullying, online and in real life. In September she posted a video to YouTube, which tells her story. I was only able to get through half of it, before I was crying too much to continue. It explains how one brief event, which she viewed as a mistake, led to years of stalking, even as she moved schools.

Amanda Todd attended school in the same district as my own children. The high school she was last enrolled at is about 10 minutes from my house by car. I’m sure that I know someone who knew her, or who knows a member of her family. The proximity, if nothing else, has only driven home the point that no one is immune. This could happen to one of the girls in my daughter’s class, if not my daughter herself. By the same token, any of the kids I see at drop-off and pick-up every day could engage in bullying behaviour, and likely at least some of them will during their school careers. Both of those roles carry a lifelong burden. That’s sobering and scary to me as a parent.

Anti-Bullying Artwork
Photo Credit: artworksbytb on Flickr

I don’t know what could have been done to prevent Amanda Todd’s bullying and suicide. I believe bullying is a complex issue, with no single clear-cut answer. Of course, I speak with my children about bullying, and do my best to teach them to be kind and caring individuals. I know there are programs in place in schools, and I’ve watched teachers respond to name-calling and hitting. I think they’re doing the very best they can. Could they do better? I’m sure they could always do better – but they need tools and resources and community support. Parents do as well. There’s no single person or organization that we can point the finger of blame at in this situation.

Having said all of that, when I heard yesterday on the radio that Anonymous had outed the man who was allegedly Amanda Todd’s stalker and primary tormenter, I reacted strongly. The person Anonymous named is a 30-year-old who lives in a community that neighbours mine. The story is that he coaxed Amanda to flash her breasts on a webcam, then contacted her later and threatened to publicly expose her if she didn’t ‘give him a show’. When she didn’t comply he used Facebook to share images with her classmates at several schools. He threatened her physically and shamed her publicly, and her classmates joined in. While the identity of the individual is still in question, the events are not – this is what someone did to Amanda Todd. Once again, a young woman is sexually victimized, and she faces the blame for it.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing if Anonymous is right about this guy. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they are. By all accounts they’re kind of good at this. Plus, my reaction upon hearing the radio story came from the place of imagining it to be true. When I heard it, my heart caught in my throat and I was angry. This is an adult man. He preyed on and tormented a young girl. He posted images that could only be called child pornography. This makes him not just a bully, but a criminal on several counts.

DSC_0957
Photo Credit: Dan Morrill on Flickr

I am what you would call a bleeding heart liberal. I believe there are complex economic and social factors behind most crimes. You won’t generally find me advocating in favour of tougher sentencing or bigger jails. I also don’t believe that vigilantism is an appropriate response to crime. As a society, we need the protections and framework of the law and the justice system. We need to honour everyone’s rights, not so much because criminals deserve it, but because if we expect our own rights to be honoured we must not violate those of others. You won’t see me going after the alleged perpetrator online.

In spite of my bleeding heart tendencies, this time I can’t make the case for mercy. This time the mama bear inside of me is angry, and I am filled with maternal rage. When you start preying on children, I lose my capacity for sympathy. I want not just justice, but vengeance. It’s not mine to give, but I can’t express in words how furious I am to think about what this man allegedly did. If he is in fact the person who stalked and tormented Amanda Todd I don’t want him walking the same streets as my children – or anyone’s children. Whoever did this must not be allowed to hurt anyone like this ever again. I hope that the justice system prevails, and the culprit is found, whether it’s the man that Anonymous pinpointed or someone else.

When I became a parent, I was forever changed. One of the ways that I changed has to do with the way I view crimes against children. While I’ve always found them horrifying, now I find them enraging. My conciliatory nature evaporates, and I want someone not just to pay for what they did, but to suffer for it. I think not only about the child in question, but about that child’s family. Amanda Todd had a mother, and she will never be the same again. On her behalf I am angry, and I am sad. But mostly I hope against hope that we can do better next time. I think we’ve all had enough pain already, and I want it to end. I know that’s a tall order, but it’s what I’m pulling for. I don’t want to spend any more time shaking as I listen to the radio my car, filled with all the maternal rage I can hold.

Do you find that your reaction to certain crimes has changed since you had children of your own? How do you talk about bullying with your own children? And how has the Amanda Todd case impacted you?

Happiness, Mothers and Guilt

If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s a folksy sort of phrase, and one you hear a lot. As a mother, I will concede that it has a grain of truth. When I’m not happy, I’m not exactly fun to be around, and that doesn’t make for a great home situation. Although, as I wrote that it occurred to me that if anyone in my house is unhappy, it has a way of spreading. If one of my kids is miserable at dinner, it’s not a pleasant meal for anyone. If my husband’s having a rough go of things, we feel it. Unhappiness and happiness are both catching sorts of emotions.

In the city, wearing makeup, waiting for the party to startRegardless of the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of folksy sayings, one of the most common uses for this particular expression is to say that if moms aren’t taking care of themselves, their families suffer. It’s very similar to the oxygen mask analogy. That particular piece of wisdom refers to the instructions that we all hear on a plane – in the event that the cabin loses pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. This is because if you asphyxiate and die, you’re no help to anyone else. From this, we draw that we need to take care of ourselves, before we can take care of other people.

I do see some truth in this wisdom. I know that when I’m tired and hungry and feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I’m not at my best. When I’m not at my best, I can’t give my best to other people. I also know that I’m not setting a very good example for my children. I want them to learn how to make sure there own needs are met. It’s not always easy, but if I can make sure my needs are met most of the time, everything else in my world is just easier. Happiness sometimes flows from that.

While I absolutely believe that it is important to meet your own needs, sometimes I see this idea that a mother must meet her own needs taken to another level. It becomes not so much a suggestion as an admonition. Making yourself a priority becomes something that you must do. Make sure that you get enough exercise. Make sure that you get lots of “me” time. Make sure that you and your partner have regular date nights. Make sure that you have a good work-life balance. After all, you have to be happy, because if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Happiness good morningI see some problems with this thought process. The first problem is that, let’s be honest, parenting requires a degree of self-sacrifice. This is true for mothers and fathers. When you have children you’re spending your time and money and energy on those children. You’re putting their needs ahead of your own some of the time. If you can find a way to make everyone happy, that’s fabulous. If you can’t, though, you have to choose and compromise, and since two-year-olds aren’t all that good at compromise you’ll probably be giving more than you get. In the long run, I’ve found that I’m happier if I embrace that reality.

The second problem I see is that not every mother chooses to do all those things that she’s supposed to be doing to make herself happy. If you really want to see a movie, by all means, find a way to make it happen. But if you really are happy hanging out at home with your kids in the evening, that’s okay, too. Maybe you haven’t been to a theatre in living memory, because making sure you’re home for bedtime works for you. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The final problem I see is that very few people give this same message to fathers. Nobody is telling them that they need to put their own happiness first. Whenever we start telling women that they have to do something men don’t, we run the risk of setting an unrealistic gender-based ideal. We’re telling Mama that she must be happy for the sake of her family, but we’re not telling Dad the same thing. That sounds more like a guilt trip than self-care to me. Maybe we’re assuming Dad is already taking care of himself, but speaking for my own family that’s not always true. So let’s level the playing field on this one, and let men and women make their own decisions.

Happiness Teeny tiny little toesWith seven and a half years under my belt, I may not be what you’d call a seasoned parent, but I’ve learned a few things. One of those is that kids grow up way too fast. When I look back on my children’s babyhoods, I don’t wish that I had seen more movies. And if I could go back in time, it wouldn’t be to go on another dinner date with my husband while I sweated about how my wee one was doing without me. Instead, it would be to experience all of those little moments of their infancy that passed all too quickly. To feel their tiny fingers wrap around mine one more time. To nurse them again, or hold them while they slept. Those are the moments I miss.

I don’t think that mothers should just accept unhappiness. Rather, I think we should let them define happiness on their own terms. If that means I don’t make it to yoga classes regularly, and I’m fine with that, I don’t owe anyone else any explanations. And don’t ask me for one, because like they say, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Have you ever felt pressure, as a mother, to pursue someone else’s definition of balance and happiness? And do you find that you’re the bellwether for the rest of your family’s happiness? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What’s Actually Wonderful About Being a Girl?

It was a sunny day in 1987 when I marched into the school library, alongside all the other girls in grade five at Philip Sheffield Elementary in Abbotsford, British Columbia. We found ourselves seated in front of a smiling public health nurse, who had brought in a film and a whole bunch of props. We were there for the talk.

The point of the talk was to prepare us all for the day we got our periods. The government of British Columbia didn’t want any of us to mistakenly believe we were dying of some horrible and exotic disease if we found blood in our underwear. I can understand that – why not save young people any grief you can? Of course, most of what followed wasn’t really news to most of the girls in the room that day, though. I don’t remember a whole lot about the session, other than brief flashes, like the nurse’s feminine hygiene scrapbook. Different kinds of pads and tampons were glued to each page, with neatly printed labels underneath. OB tampon, no applicator. Lightdays mini pad, oval. It really would make a fabulous conversation-starter for your coffee table.

Tampons
Image credit – Tom Magliery on Flickr

The one thing I do remember very clearly about that day was getting two booklets to take home, one of which was called “It’s Wonderful Being a Girl”. They were sort of outdated, and filled with an odd combination of facts and reassuring platitudes. Half of it was about the icky bits – the cramps, the blood, the headaches, the bloating. The other half was meant to reassure – it means your body’s working the way it’s designed to, it will all be over in a few days, you can still play sports, no boys will know. There were also “helpful” hints – wear something pretty to make yourself feel better, try a hot water bottle if the cramps are too uncomfortable, get lots of rest, eat healthfully.

For the past 20+ years I have thought about that booklet each time my period arrived, and what a bill of goods it sold. I’m sorry if I’m letting down my gender, and the smiling public health nurse, but I wouldn’t consider menstruation particularly “wonderful”. The mood swings, the breakouts, the bloating and the general messiness may be a sign that everything’s working as it should, but they’re not fun. Maybe it would be different if I had a Red Tent to retreat to, where I could be with the other women of the community, free from the normal obligations of my daily life. As it is, though, I’m just kind of cranky with the children as I go about my normal routine.

Regardless of what my life is like, I’m kind of annoyed at the messages in that booklet. Why do we need to sell this? It’s science, not a magazine. We don’t need to dress up the information with frills and bows and platitudes, while simultaneously holding our noses over the messiness. Let’s talk about it matter-of-factly, please. And really, let’s not suggest that wearing something pretty is the answer to every problem a woman may face in her life. Nice shoes can help, but they’re not actually the solution to most problems.

I don’t know what the talk looks like today. Hopefully they’ve updated it in the past 25 years. In fact, a quick Google search showed that better resources were available even in the 1980s. In any case, I’ve developed my own impromptu curriculum. My children never give me any bathroom privacy so I get to field questions about what I’m doing. Both my seven-year-old daughter and my four-year-old son know all about menstruation. I haven’t even had to hand out any outdated booklets or anything, because they’re getting a first-hand view. No one will think they’re dying if they find blood in their underwear at my house.

Is it wonderful being a girl? I’ve always enjoyed it. But not because an old booklet I got in grade five told me to. And not because I’m wearing pretty clothes while I’m having my period – so there.

Did you get the talk in school? What do you remember about it? And did you find it helpful or just comical? I’d love to hear!

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