It’s my party and I’ll bleed if I want to: my thoughts on Menarche Parties R’Us
Earlier this week Alyx sent me a link via twitter for Menarche Parties R’Us and asked what I thought about it. Menarche Parties R’Us is pretty much self-explanatory. It’s a site where one (presumably mothers) can purchase party favors, decorations, games, and invitations to host a Menarche Party for that special girl (presumably one’s daughter or maybe niece) when she gets her first period. The site’s goal is to eradicate some of the shame associated with menarche and provide a way to celebrate and embrace a “girl’s transition into womanhood.” The site also hopes that such games as “Pin the Ovaries” or the “Puberty Marshmallow Game” will create a dialogue between mothers and daughters regarding this period (ha! . . . ugh) of maturation.
I understand the goals of Menarche Parties R’Us. In fact decreasing the shame surrounding menstrual cycles is sorta a hot topic right now, especially with all the publicity Kotex is receiving for the commercials associated with their new line of pads and tampons. Somewhat related: in google-ing stuff on menarche celebrations I stumbled on this 2002 article about Harry Finley, a man who opened up the Museum of Menstruation (MUM) in his basement. Finley is described as a “fervent collector of menses memorabilia” including hygiene products from the 1940s onward and advertisements for such products. According to Finley MUM’s objective is to break the silence regarding menstruation and provide the public with historical information on this subject.
Overall, I think the idea of decreasing the shame surrounding menstruation is admirable. However, I feel that there is a difference between breaking the taboo about periods and creating a celebration that hedges closer to spectacle. Personally, there is something about the packaging offered on Menarche Parties R’Us, in which a complete party package is currently selling for $49.99 but previously sold for $69.99, that smacks a little of class privilege. In discussing the site with Alyx, I couldn’t recall any celebration of mine – be it a birthday or graduation – in which my family sprung for decorated plates with matching cups, napkins, and invitations. Also considering the fact that the site offers party packages in two skin tones – “light” and “dark” – which is problematic, I’d opt for a DIY sorta party and celebration instead. *(And I understand that many people would say “hey at least they’re trying” and that’s true, but I still feel the need to point this out)*
These are some of my more minor concerns and gut feelings as to why I wouldn’t exactly rush out and purchase these items. My deeper concern is the fact that not all girls or women experience menarche, plain and simple. This point is brought up in the article on Finley and MUM, when one cisgender woman wrote to Finley and explained that she cannot menstruate or have children after being born with “Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser Syndrome (MRKH), which is an absence of the vagina and uterus.” Finley states that in his opinion this woman is “still a woman” but there is no discussion of how a museum devoted to menstruation might alienate some women who do not share this experience. *(As a sidenote there’s something creepy about Finely, especially in relation to this quote: “If offered the chance, Finley said he’d menstruate, though he’s quick to say he has no desire to be a woman and no pressing urge to bleed on a monthly basis. ‘I’m happy to be a man. It’s not like I’m fascinated by the blood itself, just the cultural history behind it,’ Finley says. ‘I’m pretty average in that respect. I don’t want to come in contact with it. It has no real appeal to me. If she says, ‘Sorry, I’m having my period now,’ that’s enough for me.'” I’m not sure what to make of this statement.)*
I have similar issues with Menarche Parties R’Us and their slogan in particular: “Celebrate Girlhood to Womanhood.” By equating biological functions with one’s gender identity, what space is there for transgender girls? *(or transgender boys who may not care to celebrate their menarche whatsoever)* In suggesting that menarche is THE marker for a transition from girlhood to womanhood, a marginalized segment of the youth population is further ostracized. I’d much rather have a conversation in which we acknowledge that hey some girls menstruate and some girls don’t. In this respect I feel it’s important to find a way to break the taboo about menstruation, but without marginalizing girls who (for whatever reason) do not menstruate and without making these girls and women feel inadequate about their bodies and/or gender identities.
P.S. In looking over the site for Menarche Parties R’Us I visited their links page and clicked on the link for Celebrate Puberty. Many of the images on this site look identical to ones found on Menarche Parties R’Us’ site, which makes me wonder if the sites are operated by the same personnel or company. I mention this because Celebrate Puberty does something similar to Menarche Parties R’Us, by hosting sessions at schools/community centers/churches in which they talk with girls about puberty, menstruation, and . . . . (wait for it!) Abstinence. I’m not sure what all their Abstinence Session entails. Their site offers this statement: “There are many pros and cons regarding the effectiveness of abstinence education, but the fact is our youth need to be educated.” However, no where on this page do they explicitly state whether they provide education and information regarding how to use contraceptives or what contraceptives are available. The site only suggests that the session includes information on “Preventing pregnancy” and “Medically-accurate condom/contraception failure rates.” (emphasis added) I sent an email to Celebrate Puberty asking if they are in anyway affiliated with Menarche Parties R’Us and I haven’t heard anything back yet. For several reasons this also makes me feel a little uneasy about Menarche Parties R’Us.