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.
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 They were sort of outdated, and filled with an odd combination of facts and reassuring platitudes.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!