Recently the good folk at ModiBodi interviewed me for their blog. They make hi-tech underwear for light flow days … the pad will soon be a thing of the past!
Tell us about your background and what you do as a Menstrual Educator?
The funny thing is, not long before I signed up for this work, I remember saying to my friend, “I’ve had enough of learning and talking about all this cycles stuff”, and now here I am, teaching it myself! The title ‘Menstrual Educator’ is a bit of a misnomer because it makes you think that the only thing you’ll be hearing about is menstruating. It’s not. It’s not just about periods, it’s about being aware of the whole cycle and how each part of your cycle is different. How knowing this can empower you when you apply it to your energy levels, your creativity and your emotional well-being. I prefer the term, ‘Cycle Awareness Educator’ but if you Googled that you’d find yourself in bicycle land!
I work with 10-12-year-old girls and teach them about the importance of their whole cycle, we look at the changes that happen over puberty, both physically and emotionally and I prepare them for the onset of menarche (their first period) as most of them haven’t started menstruating yet, although the majority have cervical mucus. I also work with their mothers.
I started out as a teacher of English, teaching young adults from overseas, then found my way into writing and publishing just before having our three children. I later trained to be a doula/birth attendant which was one of the things that led me to this work—there’s now documented research that shows young girls who approach menarche well prepared, with a positive introduction and emotional support, experience easier subsequent births.
Over 2010/2011 I attended a course called the Four Season’s Journey run by the School of Shamanic Womancraft. This was where I learnt about the wisdom of the cycles and how many cycles there actually are, from our own monthly cycle, to our life cycle, to the moon’s cycle, to what happens in the garden, to the seasons and so on, they’re going on around us all the time. I was struck by how wonderful it would have been to have known all this a lot sooner (like 30 years sooner) so when I came across the work of Jane Bennett who founded the Celebration Day for Girls, I signed up for the training.
What challenges do you face when speaking to mums and young girls?
Mistrust and misplaced perceptions are the main challenges and getting the mums to agree to the idea in the first place. “Why would you want to spend a whole day talking about periods?” is a common question. Of course, we do so much more than that! We make art, we explore all the different cycles around us, we cover anatomy in fun and interesting ways, we do craft and tell stories. Often though, the mums won’t even want to talk to me, I know a lot of them wonder who is this strange woman that wants to draw their attention to something that is usually not spoken about and worse, invite them to consider that they have a responsibility to their daughters to make things more positive for them. The most common response is, “I’ll see to it myself”, because they want to contain it and keep it under wraps, which is of course our common experience as women. But there’s something very special about making it a shared experience; when women sit together in a circle something magical happens, every time.
The girls themselves are great. Of course, they arrive feeling self-conscious and uncertain but I play silly games with them at the beginning which relaxes them and because they’re there with their friends it ends up being lots of fun. You can see some of them are quite uncomfortable when I get to the anatomy part but because they’re busy making the group mandala while I talk, they have somewhere else to look and they do actually want to know how their body works. They leave the workshop with a sense of connection and strength. Afterwards, I receive lots of great feedback via email from the mums…this one is my favourite because it sums up the day so well:
“Thank you Charlotte for a very empowering and positive day on Sunday. Lily has contently chatted about periods and relayed information happily to me and her father / brothers / whoever happens to be around. It’s great to hear and see!
What do you think about society’s perception and representation of menstruation?
It needs a reboot! On the whole, menstruation is still shrouded in taboo which leads girls and women to feeling like they need to hide and deny, or at least distract from, an essential aspect of themselves. I think that when I had my moment of feeling resistant to learning about all of this, it was because I was actually coming face to face with the cultural taboo—it’s completely normal to not want to talk about something that’s usually hidden but if you scratch a little deeper and ask why it’s hidden and how it’s making us feel about our bodies, you start to realise things could be better for girls and women if there was more acceptance. Also, even worse than the societal secrecy is the derision that’s started to creep in around menstruation; when the subject comes up in popular culture, via movies, sit-coms, radio shows etc, the common words and attitudes are, ‘Eww’ or ‘Grosse’ or something similar, so this is the message that girls are receiving and subsequently owning about their changing bodies.
Puberty is not just a physical transition—it’s also a social and psychological transition—and takes place over a number of years. Menarche signifies the beginning of a girl’s fertile years and the reproductive cycle is an intrinsic aspect of being a woman for nearly half of her life. For many girls this is a time of embarrassment, anxiety and mixed messages about what it means to be a girl in a maturing female body.
How do you think we can overcome this as parents, educators and society?
As parents, we need to have an open mind and see that something more needs to be done for our girls, to equip them to have confidence and trust in their bodies and we need to see that we have a responsibility in supporting them to become more body literate. The first step is to recognise the significance of the menstrual cycle in the lives of girls and women. However, if we’re uncomfortable with our own experience of menstruation and cycling, it can be a difficult jump to even want to change things for the girls. If this is the case, it would be useful to read some of the research that shows that girls who experience menarche well prepared, with a positive introduction and emotional support experience higher self-esteem and fewer negative cycle related symptoms.
As educators, we need to bring humour and patience. It’s a long road when it comes to changing a cultural paradigm. The Celebration Day for Girls team are also in the process of rolling out a program in schools, called Mense-Ed which provides practical and engaging menstrual education workshops for teachers and school staff to support the creation of a positive menstrual culture in their school.
As a society, it’s good to look to other cultures and also back in history to see that there are other more positive ways of approaching menstruation and the wisdom of the cycles.
What is Celebration Day for Girls and what are its objectives?
A Celebration Day for Girls is a one-day workshop for 10-12 years old girls with their mother or female carer. It’s a carefully crafted workshop that was designed by Jane Bennett to support girls and mothers at this special threshold in both their lives, and to provide an affirming, grounded and connected celebration of the journey to womanhood.