The Woman's Dinner
by Margaret Perrault
excerpt from Moon Days
“How might it have been different for you if, on your first menstrual day, your mother had given you a bouquet of flowers and taken you to lunch, and then the two of you had gone to meet your father at the jeweler, where your ears were pierced, and your father bought you your first pair of earrings, and then you went with a few of your friends and your mother’s friends to get your first lip coloring; and then you went, for the first time, to the Women’s Lodge, to learn the wisdom of the women?
How might your life be different?”
This passage, from a wonderful little book by Judith Duerk called Circle of Stones, has provided the impetus for many women to begin an endless journey of soul-searching and self-discovery.
Can you imagine the difference such an introduction to this perfectly normal occurrence would have made to the self-image of every woman. Instead, we got “Oh God, it’s the curse!” or something equally negative.
Perception is an incredibly powerful tool. A soldier doubled over in pain and bleeding from a wound meant to maim or kill, is a hero. On the other hand, a woman with cramps and flowing blood that could one day lead to the creation of new life, is regarded by many as ill.
I was recently watching an episode of “Roseanne,” when Roseanne decided to tell DJ a story about her first period. His reaction was to run screaming from the room. This is the kind of thing our daughters are subject to all the time.
Quite some time before my introduction to Circle of Stones, I became aware that I wanted to do something different in my home when my daughters reached their first menses. I wanted to treat it as a special event-a rite of passage, complete with family rituals.
Plans and preparations began several years before our first actual “Woman’s Dinner.” This consisted of reading countless books and articles as well as bouncing ideas off several of my women friends. The latter met with very interesting results. Some of my friends thought the idea interesting and even great, but there was certainly the another side of the menses coin. There were those who assured me that I’d lost my mind.
They reminded me that what I was dealing with was not Mother Nature’s greatest gift to womankind. That it was at best a monthly inconvenience and there were those who used much more colorful language to relate their particular experiences. “Leave it alone,” they said.
I refuse to be dissuaded. Many tribes have rites of passage for their young people. I wasn’t talking visionquest or suggesting some form of mutilation. I simply wanted to celebrate becoming a woman. (No wonder so many people had a difficult time understanding.)
PMS and dysmenorrhea aside, I couldn’t help but feel that this very natural occurrence had received some pretty bad press. Surely having a celebration to mark a young woman’s first menses could have a very positive and long lasting effect on how she perceived herself and this particular aspect of her womanhood.
The first thing I did was to go to a local jeweler and pick up two woman symbol pendants, one to present to each of my daughters on her big day. I bought two silver chains to go with them and tucked them away in my dresser drawer until it was time for them to make their appearance.
Long before the physical fact occurred, I had discussions with my daughters regarding what a period was, as well as its purpose. My daughters had very different reactions. My older daughter couldn't wait until her period arrived, whereas the younger daughter showed absolutely no signs of being in any hurry for her big day.
In her 1978 essay, "If Men Could Menstruate," Gloria Steinem states: "So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boastworthy, masculine event. Men would brag about how long and how much.Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day."
So the decision was made. I would, on each daughter's special day, prepare her favorite meal, get out the good china, make a cake, decorate it with a woman symbol and present her with a woman symbol pendant as a memento. We would celebrate her womanhood. Hmm, would there be a fly in the ointment? How was Daddy going to take this? Would he be supportive as he said he would be or, when faced with the actual fact, merely tolerant or just plain negative?
The night he was met at the door by a very happy and proud young woman, with the announcement that we were having her "Woman's Dinner," he congratulated her and was a willing participant in her special day. I'm sure his attitude made a major difference in how she felt about being a woman.
I have since discussed the two celebrations that took place at our house with a number of people and met with the same kind of mixed reactions I had encountered before the events.
A friend of mine told me that she simply tried to downplay the whole issue with her daughters and treat it as a natural occurrence. No big deal. Another told me that she wanted to do something similar to what I did but that her daughter refused to have anything to do with it.
So, what am I trying to say? Cramps and inconvenience are wonderful? I think not. The point I'm trying to make is that people in general, and women in particular, need to celebrate what they are. A first menses is one of the most logical times for women to come together and do just that.
We can take an event that is treated with embarrassment and scorn and turn it into something empowering for adolescent girls passing into young womanhood. It doesn't have to be the dreaded thing it was in the past. Truth is that it does mean that it is now possible to have babies. An option most women would not want to give up.
We all have pain and embarrassment as we go through life. Young women have to put up with varying degrees of discomfort and inconvenience when they have their periods. Adolescent boys have their uncomfortable and messy dreams, not to mention untimely and unwanted erections.
How have our family celebrations affected my daughters? Well, I don't have to worry about running to the phone every month to accept their calls beginning with "Guess what Mom? I got my period today. Isn't that wonderful?" But, they've both developed into bright, creative young women who are well aware of their worth as women and human beings.
I believe that those little dinner parties, in the not too distant past, gave them a little shot of self-esteem that has helped them to be proud of who amd what they are. Our young women deserve all the positive stroking we can give them.