I am not a fan of how National Woman’s Day plays out – the high teas and recitals of Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. Mainly because I feel we behave as if we are where we should be, when in fact it is most definitely #notyetuhuru. We celebrate all month long, yet very few will examine the “condition” of being a woman. Being female is bloody and messy, literally and figuratively in multiple ways. I believe you can’t change your life without critical examination.
This is a guest post by Moleshiwe Magana sharing the story of her first moon. The way we treat a girl’s first moon reveals so much about our relationship with our womanhood. More often than not we treat it as a dirty curse to be mourned or at the very least an inconvenience. A lot of it is inherited puritanical and patriarchal hang-ups we hardly ever examine.
People who know better should do better. We know better. Let’ do better. Share your ideas of how you would positively usher a young girl into womanhood at the time of her first moon, in the comments section.
Happy Woman’s Day…I guess
What I learned from my peers about menstruation when I was a child was that one starts bleeding when they start doing the “naughty-thing-with boys” and I learned that it was a shameful thing and asking questions about it was not allowed. Needless to say, when I started my periods, even though I hadn’t done the “naughty-thing-with-boys”, I was terrified of what my mother would say. Fortunately on that morning, my aunt who is less than 10 years older than me, was there to take me through the whole talk of “… now you are grown and sleeping with boys will get you pregnant!” Confused and fearful of what she might think of me, I accepted the incomplete story about my periods, kept my questions to myself in fear of being suspected of knowing about the “naughty-thing-some-girls-do-with-boys”. By the way, I didn’t even know what this naughty thing was.
Because of her lack of understanding the subject of reproductive health herself, the shame and silent associated with talking about sexuality and her coming from an experience of being teenage mother, my mother had no idea how to talk to me about the changes in my body. For that reason, she went and sought advice and support from our family doctor. And between the two of them, they saw it fit to trick me into coming to the doctor every 3 months for what they explained to me as a new treatment for my asthma.
Shortly after I had started taking this new asthma injection every few month, my new menstrual cycle which I hardly understood starting being erratic, sometimes not coming at all, at times coming as continuous heavy bleeding that lasted for weeks. I was too scared to ask anyone at home questions about what could be happening to me. Some of my school friends were boys and my mother didn’t like it, so didn’t want her or anyone to think I have been doing naughty things with my friends from school.
One day out of the blue, a female teacher called all girls my age in a class room and asked the boys to leave because she was going to talk to us girls about girly things. She was one of the nicer teachers, she liked me, I was one of her best learner – so I decided if I was going to get help about my cycle, she was going to be the one I will ask advice from.
So when we were invited to ask questions after she gave us a brief description of what menstruation cycle entail, and about horrible diseases that one gets if they don’t use condoms; I plugged up the courage to ask her a question relating to my situation. I felt the silence fall as all the 30 plus teenage girls in the crowded classroom hanged on my every word. Her response was simply, that I must have done something wrong to cause that. Of course everyone started snickering about me having done the naughty thing. To say I was mortified is an understatement of the century.
The next few days I pretended to be gravely ill and missed a whole week of school. Because the teacher asked me to come a see her and I was too scared to find out what else she was going to accuse me of.
On my next visit to the doctor for my asthma injection, I was determined that I was going to ask the doctor about my periods and clear this idea of me having done something naughty. When it was my turn to see our family doctor who was a woman, I was shocked to find a younger male doctor instead. He explained to me that he was an intern helping our regular doctor, because she needed to take leave. He pulled my file out and started reading it. As he scrutinised my file, I could see his face changing. He asked me how old I was, I told him my age, I was 13. He calmly asked me why I was there, I told him to get my regular asthma injection. He explained to me what it was written in my file and the kind of injection I was there for and what I have been getting all these months.
My mother and our family doctor had put me on Depo Provera – a controversial hormonal contraceptive injection, because they couldn’t talk to me about my body. I was shocked, angry, upset and even more confused that I was before. I never went to that doctor ever again and the experience damages my relationship with my mother terribly.
Now I am a mother and have children of my own. They are still very young with the oldest being 7 years old. But I intend to be more open with them about their bodies and life in general. I am building a relationship based on trust so that they can feel comfortable enough to talk to me about anything.
Moleshiwe is a mother, a doula and a women’s reproductive health activist!