Period Parties

Who is celebrating menarche and menstruation? And what's so strange about that?

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  1. The "Menarche Parties R Us" website was recently launched by some enterprising moms who wanted to ease their own daughters transition through puberty by decreasing the shame around menstruation, with a celebration instead of the usual secrecy that surrounds it. They thought other mothers might feel the same, and that there might be a market for materials to help with this celebration -- materials like decorated party plates, cups, napkins, and invitations, and clever games like educational menstrual trivia tests, and hokey-but-fun pin the ovaries. 

    I doubt they imagined the internet uproar.
  2. Writing at the popular ladyblog Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker points out that menstruation isn't really what makes you a woman. Of course, Beauvoir told us that long ago. But does that make the celebration wrong?
  3. Celebrations of menarche aren't at all new. I first learned of modern menarche parties when I interviewed the late Tamara Slayton about 20 years ago. It seemed like a fantastic 'shed the shame' idea at the time, but the adolescent girls I was working with weren't so crazy about it. 

  4. Many other societies welcome menarche, and have ceremonies and/or celebrations that involve the extended family and the larger community. There is a great deal of cultural variation in how menarche and menstruation are treated. Some societies have familial celebrations; for instance, in Japan, there is a special red and white meal served the evening of a daughter's first period, although there typically isn't much conversation about it. In some cultures, there is a women-only celebration, while others involve the entire community, such as the Navajo Kinaaldá, still practiced in traditional Navajo societies. 
  5. There is an old Jewish tradition of slapping the menstruant in the face at the arrival of her first period. Purported rationales range from to warn her against bringing shame to the family, to bring the color back to her cheeks, and "I don't know, but my mother did it to me"
  6. Some of the modern U.S. examples borrow liberally from these traditions. 
  7. But it seems it's only in the U.S. that we find the terror and mortification, and such remarks in these articles and the comments. 
  8. The writers and commenters use words like terrorize, traumatize, horrify, humiliating, "I would have died", gross, creepy, stupid, disturbing, wrong, and more. About a party. To honor and celebrate one's child. 

    As one of the commenters noted, it's not really so strange when you think about all the other reasons people throw parties. People get all dressed up and throw Oscar parties, for instance -- a celebration of the movie industry's bloated, narcissistic celebration of itself. And Super Bowl parties! According to one survey, more than a quarter of all Americans attended a Super Bowl party this year, and another 11% hosted one.

    And they think menarche parties are silly?
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