Through Alice’s Looking Glass

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“First menstruation is welcomed with much celebration and fanfare in Hindu and Buddhist Sri Lankan cultures” writes Audrey Sivasothy in Associated Content on Yahoo (June 4, 2007)

However, On October 4, 2011, Sirohmi Gunesekera writes in ‘The Daily Mirror‘ of Sri Lanka:

Menarche marks a major change… If only the ceremonies marking the event were cut to a bare minimum, the girl would feel less shy and embarrassed.”

What is happening?

Why is the traditional celebration of a girl’s first blood, which has been in place for generations, is seen by a contemporary writer as obsolete? Why would a ‘modern’ writer call for such traditional rites to be ‘cut to a bare minimum’???

It seems that like Alice, we live in a world in which the looking glass distorts time and perspective.

While we in the west long for the enclosure of tight knit community, the warmth of celebration, and the recognition of passages in our lives, there are voices in cultures that enjoyed these for generations, which call for their elimination.

The writer hopes that “If only the ceremonies marking the event were cut to a bare minimum, the girl would feel less shy and embarrassed.” I ask myself why a girl who is celebrated, witnessed, and welcomed on her first period, in ways she witnessed her cousins, sisters, relatives, and friends being welcomed, would feel embarrassed?

I wonder if she compares her life to that of a girl her age seen on a typical American sit com? Does she see those girls discuss, like, makeup and boys, and measures herself short? Does she long to be cool? Does she perceive her community’s ways as old fashion? Would she trade places with an American girl who, cool on the outside, may starve herself to death, feeling lonely, isolated, not good enough?

It’s a painful thought…

Through Alice’s looking glass, the indigenous customs of Sri Lanka seem powerful and empowering to me, just as American customs may seem to a Sri Lankan adolescent girl looking from the outside in.

A part of me would like to trade places with a Sri Lankan girl in a heart beat! Another part realizes that I, too, felt embarrassed by my parents and their ways… I, too, looked at what my family and community had to offer as something I needed to get away from in order to re-invent myself, find my own voice, make my mark…

My heart aches thinking of a Sri Lankan girl being lavishly celebrated by her culture, yet feeling embarrassed inside… It also aches when I think of the girls I worked with in the U.S. who, upon hearing of how Menarche is celebrated in indigenous cultures, exclaimed: what happened? Why did it stop? How come we are not celebrated anymore?

It is clear that adolescent girls long for meaningful, substantial, significant experiences that will help them make sense of the changes inside them, as well as the world around them.

It is up to us to provide them with such experiences.

In a quest to reclaim girls’ rites of passage and bring meaning and depth to the transition into womanhood, we may look to indigenous traditions to find rich models that have been working for millennia.

How ironic, though, that such models become stale for contemporary girls in indigenous cultures, as they look to us, bereft of ceremonies to mark our passages, and find our ways attractive…

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© 2011 DeAnna L’am, All Rights Reserved

One Response

  1. My 12 year old daughter just had her first menarche and we are excited to be planning a party/celebration for her passage into womanhood. I feel quite blessed that she is open to this and feeling excited about being a woman and celebrating it! I wish this for all girls and would like to put out the voice that we bring the true power and glory of our menarche into the world and truly make it a thing to celebrate instead of something shameful and secretive.

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