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Woman's History of "Growing Up"

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Women’s History of “Growing Up”

In the past woman were supposed to be pure, innocent, well mannered; a real lady. The list of things they could do was very short and on the contrary the list of things they could not do was too long. It was not the fact that they could not succeed if they tried that keep them away from participating in a lot of activities, it was just that they were not supposed to take part in those activities. But, as everything changes within time in history this also changed. The way the society sees a women as well as the way a women sees herself changed dramatically over the past years. While this change was happening even the most intimate facts about a girl’s life as well as her body was exposed to the public over the years. And one of these facts is maybe the most important change a girl undergoes in her life, menstruation.

This natural incident that every woman has to go through eventually has never been made public as much as it now. We see commercials on the TV for sanitary napkins, hear people talk about it casually on the streets and we hear it getting mentioned in movies, songs, TV shows and mothers talk about it openly with their daughters. Menstruation is seen as such a natural thing that no one has any shame talking about it anymore, which is a huge difference from how it was in the past. Just 80 years ago it was such an big issue that even woman had trouble talking about it among themselves even behind closed doors. It was something that people were embarrassed to talk about to the degree that mothers refused to explain it to their daughters or even answer their questions. It was “something that should not be talked or even thought about”(Brumberg, 1997)[1] in the eye of the public. This was mostly because in those times people still could not fully understand what was happening to female body in that particular time every month. They just thought that it meant that a girl was moving to womanhood and that she could bear children. This meant that she could be sexually active, marry, and have her own family. Of course mothers and fathers did not like the thought of their little innocent girls flying away from home and being exposed to the ugliness of the outside world that they tried so hard to isolate their daughters from. This was not such a big issue until girls started to menstruate in a younger age than their mothers did.

According to Brumberg (1997), in the eighteenth century when a girl gets her first period she would call her mom for help but in nineteenth century mothers were not as open as they were in the eighteenth century which was the reason that according to a physician called Edward John Tilt, in 1852 nearly 25 percent of American girls were completely unprepared when they got their first period[2]. This must be one of the main reasons why Sex Education Pamphlets emerged in the first place. One of the first pamphlets published in 1935 called “Marjorie May’s 12th Birthday” begins after a birthday party. The main characters of the pamphlet is 12 years old Marjorie and her mother. The mother first begins to talk about how in the past mothers and daughters did not spend much time together and how it is very different at their time. The purpose of this talk is to show that she is a good mom and a good example how a mother should be. She compares menstruation to the digestive system to explain that it’s a natural thing for a woman’s body to do. After this very short explanation she tells her daughter to be expecting any time now and apply the sanitary napkin if she sees a red spot in her under garment. In addition to that she says that she should use a calender to see when she will get her period[3]. This pamphlet is not really useful as it does not clearly explain young girls what happens to their body when they are menstruating, how they should deal with their cramps or answer most of the questions they might have. Based on the facts that the product was expensive and the language used in the pamphlet was in a pretty high level, including that is was written in the first place we can say that it was made for good educated little ladies who can buy the product.

Although in 1957 version of “Growing Up and Liking It” published by Modess, the group of people that they address to is the same high class girls based from the pictures used in the pamphlet, of blond American girls and the activities that they engage to, there are some striking difference between the pamphlets. In 1957 version the mother figure that explains what is going on is gone and the language is more causal, the pictures despite the fact that the girls used in the photos are at least 16 years old and all mature looking, makes the whole thing friendlier. The other change is that the pamphlet shows menstruation as something fun like it is the best experience in the world[4]. There were other girls like immigrants and black girls that could not buy these readily made products and according to Brumberg (1997), that had to learn about menstruation in streets. Brumberg(1997) says; “Between the working-class girls particularly immigrant girls, sanitary napkins became a sign of Americanisation. Many young immigrant women wanted to use the new ways but could not because of limited family budgets and also some old-fashioned ideas.”[5]. But of course as the time went by this changed as well.

It was not until the 1978 version of the pamphlets that the massage that this happens to every girl was given. Even though the massage was not clear enough it was still there. The 1978 version of the pamphlet “Growing Up and Liking It” was created by combining the letters of three friends Patty, Ginny and Donna each with their unique personality. It was not pointed out whether these girls were black or white and since it was written as letters between young girls the language is pretty easy to understand. The pamphlet carefully explains what menstruation is while the girls discuss it among themselves as well as their love life, school life or simply their daily lives. This shows that the girls can do whatever they want while they have their period instead of sulking in a corner. We can also see that tampons are introduced to young girls convincing them that it’s a normal thing to use. In this pamphlet sanitary belts are mention to be rather uncomfortable and something that the old generation uses, presenting the new products. For the first time the talk comes to “being clean” and avoiding the “odor”[6]. This supports Brumberg’s (1997) discussion that when modern American girls begins to menstruate the first thing that they think is hygiene not fertility[7]. Maybe it was because of fact that the public was starting to see sexuality and menstruation as 2 different things that they felt more comfortable speaking about it.

We can clearly see that the 1995 version pamphlet “Always Changing” is made for girls from every class and color. In one of the pictures we see a black girl and a white girl happily laughing about something they shared seconds ago. By this time the homemade sanitary napkins were totally vanished and as mass production became prevalent the prices of commercially made products went down making it possible for everyone to buy these products. The language together with the colors used in the pamphlet is really cheerful. Furthermore, the information given is more detailed than any other pamphlet. The explanation of how the re-productive system works keeps no secrets from the readers, describing openly how an egg gets fertilized by a sperm and explaining both pregnancy and menstruation. We also see that the menstruating age that has started with 12 in 1935 coming down to 9. This edition also gives more options to choose for feminine products from pantiliners to regular ones to special protection for heavy periods. Although it does not advertise tampons in the regularly asked questions part it explains that tampons would not damage virginity and are totally safe to use[8]. Everything about this pamphlet is comfortable, there is no awkwardness at all as it does it’s job perfectly.

Even though, these pamphlets are significantly different than each other they have some resemblance here and there. Firstly, all of them are mentioning PMS in some form or another and all of them are recommending using calendars to calculate when your next period is going to occur. Each one is speaking of old superstitions and how foolish they are. Likewise, with the exception of the first one they are all suggesting exercising as a solution for dealing with cramps. Secondly, they were all published for the same cause, to enlighten young girls about menstruation. Lastly but most importantly, they were all issued by feminine product companies. Why? The answer is simple, to build a bond with their future costumers. It’s a well known fact that when a woman gets used to a brand for any product, they will be loyal to it for a very long time unless they will find a better option. Brumberg (1997) says about this matter; “ We know from the market researches, that when a girl gets her first period, their mother introduces them to the sanitary protection product that they prefer and their daughters usually stay loyal to the brand without much experimentation. And then, contemporary America girls build a powerful bond with the marketplace, thanks to their mothers.[9]” Despite the fact that what she is right, girls nowadays don’t stay with what their mothers choose for them, they find their own brand and kind of feminine products that they feel comfortable with.

In conclusion, this new change that came upon our society was a good one for women. It opened the doors for a more comfortable future. American girls now don’t get terrified when they see a stain on their underpants as they were once. They now, know what will happen to them from an early age, getting mentally and physically ready for the day they will take the first step to womanhood. In addition to this, they aren’t seen as fragile creatures that were good for nothing other than homemaking and bearing and raising children. The idea of women needing protection from everything is shred to pieces, only leaving the idea of seeing a woman as an individual behind. Even though, talking about these private matters publicly has some negative points like making woman a sexual icon, it can’t be denied that we made a big progress. The pamphlets along with Brumberg’s book(pamphlets are mostly supporting the history that Brumberg has been talking about in her book), is the evidence of the difference between the past generation’s treatment to menstruation and the present generation’s.
[1] Joan J. Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997), 15.
[2] Joan J. Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997), 12-13.

[3] Marjorie May’s 12th Birthday (Kotex Puberty and Menstruation Booklet, Canada, 1935) (Accessed: March 8, 2012)

[4] Growing Up and Liking It (Modess Menarche, Menstruation & Puberty Booklet, 1957) (Accessed: March 8, 2012)

[5] Joan J. Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997), 41.

[6]Growing Up and Liking It (Puberty, Menstrual Education Booklet for Girls (Personal Products), U.S.A, 1978) (Accessed: March 8, 2012)

[7] Joan J. Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997), 55.

[8] Always Changing (Puberty & Menstruation Information for Girls, 1995, Always Menstrual Pads, Procter & Gamble, U.S.A, 1995) (Accessed: March 8, 2012)

[9] Joan J. Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997), 33.

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