Lady talk has gone viral.
A woman’s period, once cloaked in privacy lingering on the periphery of polite conversation has now permeated public discourse.
Credit in part goes to the heated debate about the inequity of tampon taxes as well as Donald Trump’s sexist comment about “blood coming out of wherever” which stirred conversations challenging culturally conveyed ideas about periods being something unseemly.
The last time I remember menstruation being so publicly discussed was when I was in fifth grade.
2015 might have been dubbed the year of the period by various publications, but for me that honorarium goes to 1966.
That was the year when girls in my grade were initiated into the wonderful world of womanhood via a film called Growing Up and Liking it.
Now That You’re a Mid-Century Woman
In the spring of 1966, all the fifth grade teachers in my suburban school took the girls aside informing us we were soon to see a “very special” movie especially for us about “growing up.”
Like going to an R rated movie we would need to be accompanied by an adult woman to view this facts-of-life film, so were handed a formal invitation to give to our mothers as though inviting her to a tea.
Included with the invitation was a little booklet provided by Modess ( makers of fine sanitary napkins) which we were to review with out mothers to prepare us for this corporate sponsored movie about menstruation “Growing Up and Liking It: Now that You’re A Woman.”
Like generations of American girls, my initiation into menstruation was corporate all the way
Heavily competitive, both Kotex and Modess, the big guns in sanitary feminine products, offered free booklets to mid-century mothers to help guide their daughters through this most miraculous time.
And make loyal lifetime customers to their brands.
The competition between the two companies for Lady Time loyalty had been waging for decades.
Starting in the 1930’s corporate sponsorship had come to the rescue of timid mothers who couldn’t bring themselves to have the talk with their daughters.
Shamelessly promoting their products, educational divisions within the Feminine Personal Products industry began to supply mothers, teachers and the PTA with free ready-made programs of instruction on “menstrual health” including booklets, films and pamphlets with catchy names like Personally Yours, and You’re a Young Lady.
In 1940 coming to my own teen age mother Betty’s rescue, was the Kotex classic “As One Girl To Another.”
Lucky for a young bobbysoxer like Betty, her own on-the-ball modern mother had sent away for that free booklet from Kotex. The new book, the ads promised “tells all…gives answers to intimate questions.”
Like so many girls, Betty fretted, “Hows a girl to learn what to do what not to do on difficult days?”
Kotex offered the answer:
Growing Up and Liking It
Compared to Mom’s booklet, my manual from Modess “Growing Up and Liking It” was modern all the way targeting the now generation.
Flipping through the book , I sensed its upbeat tone: The Fun is just begining, it claimed right off the bat.
“This is what you’ve been waiting for,” it gushed assuring readers that “someday when you fall in love and marry, you will want to have children.” Menstruation was “part of being female . . .part of growing up . . . part of the wonderful process of changing from a child into a woman.”
Geared to the Pepsi generation, the photos of girls were as bubbly and effervescent as a bottle of pop, and as perky as any teen in a Pepsi ad. These happy-go-lucky gals sporting Patty Duke flips and Ship n’ Shore separates were pictured dancing, shopping and playing ping-pong. The girls just glowed with happiness …all because they had proper menstrual education.
Tampons were not an option for well brought up young ladies so bulky sanitary napkins were your only option. A thick wad of cotton shielded with blue polyethylene strip guaranteed protection from those embarrassing moments.
The right sanitary belt to secure the monstrous napkin was a gal’s best friend. Modess promised that “The proper sanitary belt would prevent tell-tale bulges and stay neat and undetectable.
Modern girls learned you needn’t let having your period cramp your style. With the proper sanitary napkin and sanitary belt, you could frug the night away, confident and carefree.
“You’ll feel more confident if you know you can trust your sanitary napkin,” it told readers.
It was all a confidence game,
Red Letter Days
Of course sometimes you might get down in the dumps and the booklet was not lacking when it came to helpful hints of getting rids of those red-letter day blues.
- Perk yourself up when a period is on its way!
- Dress just a little more prettily than usual.
- Walk as though you loved life.
- Hum a little tune to yourself,
- Smile a little wider than usual.
- Go out of your way to be pleasant to others.
Before you know if you’ll have yourself convinced that you really do feel glad to be alive, and YOU!
What Happens When You Grow Up
The day of the film loomed with dread for me. Because my mother had long-standing plans to be out-of-town on that day, I would tag along with a friend and her mother, which only added to the humiliation I was already feeling.
While the boys, still blessedly innocent in their boyhood were sent off to perform some manly activity like dodge ball, we girls marched silently like lambs to the slaughter into our school auditorium, entering as innocent young girls to leave an hour later as world-wise women with the weight of a woman’s burden on our young shoulders.
Menstruation we were told cheerfully yet somberly, by our bespectacled school nurse who served as our guide into womanhood, was a Gift something to Cherish nothing short of a Miracle to be hold.
It was a miracle I didn’t turn red, not from my period but from the sheer embarrassment of the whole ordeal.
The 16mm sound movie projector had already been wheeled in to place by some pimply faced boy from the AV club and had thankfully long gone leaving us girls and our uterus’s to our selves.
As the movie began I felt a twinge of disappointment. My hopes of being ushered into womanhood by Walt Disney were dashed.
In 1946, Walt Disney in partnership with Kotex’s Kimberly-Clark, released a classroom film called “The Story of Menstruation” featuring a Bambi eyed redhead, who looked like she palled around with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The popular film with Disney animated ovaries, cute little eggs, and wiggly sperm that looked like tadpoles, that had been shown to previous classes had been replaced.
Our film though cheery and upbeat was standard PSA affair.
Taking Menstruation in Your Stride
“Lets face it, there is sometimes some distress and discomfort at menstrual time,” the deep baritone voice of the movie’s narrator informed us. “It need not be unpleasant when the woman has learned to take care of herself both physically and emotionally.”
We were advised to “let up just a little in your more strenuous activities (no 10 mile hikes or marathon roller-skating just then, thank you.) Avoid anything with that will chill you through and through: ice-cold showers, being out unprotected in the rain or sitting with wet feet through class after class or staying in swimming overlong.”
“Of course if you really are laid low with this menstruation business, it will be wise to consult a doctor in whom you have confidence. Quite possibly he’ll try to help you feel a little happier about being a woman.” (Naturally being a male doctor he can speak from experience.)
I Enjoy Being a Girl
The narrator even tried his hand at some pop psychology: “Way down deep you may be resenting being a girl or you may be rebelling against getting grown up and this is what makes you so miserable.”
Not everyone enjoyed being a girl and apparently you had to be coaxed as the reader learns in this ad from Kotex:
Ever get mad at the world…at the unfairness of your lot? Ever hear a voice inside you whisper ‘Better not go out…you won’t have any fun?”
And do you ever wonder why some girls always seem to keep smiling no matter what time of the month it is? If only you could learn their secret.
Well, you’re not too old to learn! What you need is a lesson on how to grow a crop of confidence! How to be gay! Carefree!
Above all remember… an ounce of confidence is worth a pound of makeup.
No ravishing cherries in the snow lipstick can give you the confidence of the right sanitary napkin,
“Yes, above all, be glad that you are a girl and don’t start feeling sorry for yourself,” the movie’s narrator continued.
“You’d be a lot sorrier if you never did menstruate, but remained an “It” ( whatever that would be!) without any of the normal manifestations of being a growing up and grown up woman. ”
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.