Review of Jane Bennett's book
These figs look luscious, drawing you to them to savour their sweet but earthy character - as long as you are a fig fan. It all depends on your attitude to figs, doesn't it? They are also uncannily suggestive of the delicate folds of the vulva - something else which is viewed in such contrasting ways. How we feel about anything is directly influenced by how we are introduced to it and what we know of it.
Which is where Jane Bennett's book A Blessing not a Curse A mother-daughter guide to the transition from child to woman is a gorgeous gift that offers long lasting benefits. Not only does it help mothers with practical tips and inspiring information on how to support their girls as they reach menarche (theri first period), it gives girls a positive approach to their body and their cycle for the rest of their adult lives.
After all, we have our periods for decades (on average from 12 to 50 years of age), so surely it's better to feel good about our cycle rather than shame, irritation or faint disgust.
A Blessing not a Curse opens the door to a positive approach to how a girl, as she matures, can understand how her body works, take advantage of this knowledge in how she looks after herself and be proud of becomes a woman. It does this mainly through speaking to her carers, although teachers and other key people would benefit from reading this book, too.
Yes, in Part 1 Jane covers the facts about our cycling bodies, looking at our natural rhythm, how we are connected to the moon, why we menstruate and the interplay of hormones and our psychological cycle. However, she goes further than a clear explanation of what happens to us. She has divided her book into another 4 sections:
I must confess at this point that I am a fan not only of Jane Bennett's book, but Jane herself. She is a wonderfully warm person, who shares her knowledge with grace and generosity. It's no surprise that the program she developed in 2000, A Celebration Day for Girls, to give young girls and their mothers a positive and clear approach to puberty and periods, has now grown to be delivered around Australia and overseas. I am proud to be one of the licensed facilitators of this program, part of a wonderful network of women who have been personally invited by Jane to do the training and take up this special work.
So, why do I love this book? I like stories, and I like to find out the reasons why things are the way they are. So here we learn why it is that many cultures, past and present, view women's menstrual blood as a sickness or curse, or simply as something to out up with. She discusses the shadow and the legacy of the witch-hunts, a dark period in time (pardon the pun) I recall being first drawn to with my friends when we had begun cycling, but were still new to the experience.
Here's a sample of what she has to say:
The lure of beauty, freshness, being in control, 'safety', 'protection', eternal youth, sexuality and perfection are all part of menstrual product advertising. But who is being protected from what? A more honest, responsible and healthy approach would be to encourage girls and women to enjoy their bodies, their cyce, their flow, as a beautiful and healthy part of their own sexuality. Self-enjoyment and a positive self-image remain beautiful and become richer with age.
Her section called "Rite of Passage" is rich with suggestions for how to mark your daughter's menarche (her first period). Jane writes that a girl's period is a special time to be honoured, and and is perhaps her most important rite of passage. She has questions for mothers and fathers about their own experience, and how that has affected the parenting of their daughter. There is a great list of suggestions for what you can do, bearing in mind your daughter's character and what suits her, too. She lists ideas such as:
That's just half of the list, taken from pages 74-5 of A Blessing not a Curse.
For some women - probably not you if you had read this far - Jane's book can be a challenge to get your head around the concept that you can dance with your cycle and be comfortable in your body. Sure as eggs (pardon the pun again), your attitude to periods and body image will rub off on your daughter.
Jane talks about Charting your Cycle, if you haven't ever done so. It's a great way to review your overall health, and gets you in touch with how you are, in your body, mind and emotions. In Appendix 1, Jane lists what you can chart. A few points include:
Not just whether you're bleeding, but how much, what colour it is and so on, your cervical mucus (white/pasty/clear, scant...), physical sensations, oily hair, pimples, energy, moods, dreams, the moon phase. (pp 137-8 of A Blessing not a Curse).
Charting your cycle is a terrific thing to do - it's worth a separate blog post, and I pledge to do it on this blog soon.
All the way through the book, Jane provides references to research that often make you raise your eyebrows. As the book was published in 2002, some of the studies are getting old, but society is pretty slow to change, and I still think they're worth knowing about to wrap your head around our cultural background. Try this one:
A 1984 study of Australian girls revealed they think menstruation is:
Of course, this connects directly to how a girl feels about her body. Think about the implications of this down the track, when the girl becomes a woman in a relationship. How does she enjoy a relationship and being intimate with another when she is not comfortable with herself?
She has a section on 'The Gear', explaining all the options. She also includes some great stories about what women have used over the years in different cultures; ancient Romans and Greeks rolled wool into tampons for example. We learn in which cultures women have used used paper, vegetable fibre, doeskin, moss, sea sponges, crocheted pads... Some more labour-intensive than others!
The Problem Periods section covers common menstrual problems, what you can do to treat them yourself and when and how to get professional help.
Learning to Ride the Menstrual Cycle has three chapters; Supporting your daughter, Establishing and maintaining menstrual wellness and Self help therapies.
If you are looking for some help with preparing your daughter for this significant stage in her life, this is a great resource. I highly recommend it.
A Blessing not a Curse by Jane Bennett, Sally Milner Publishing, 2002
Soft cover, 168 pages.
Available through clicking on this link: St Lukes Innovative Resources
You can find out more about Jane Bennett by clicking on this link: janebennett.com.au
-Janoel Liddy is passionate about girls and women recognizing and acting on their needs to lead a satisfying life. She teaches puberty and wellbeing to girls and boys in schools, facilitates workshops and retreats and works with groups in TAFE, university and community organisations in training and events. She is a mother of two with her partner of over two decades and dances, cooks, reads and writes when she can and must.