Almost a year after I started my period a group of nurses came to my high school to conduct a presentation for all the girls. I remember we gathered in the school library where the entire female student body gathered to observe the presentation. The presentation started with a brief introduction, then we watched a short clip about puberty and how women across the centuries dealt with periods. After that, the nurse pulled out a 3D model of a cervix and began to explain how things worked in that area. At the end of the presentation, they passed out sample packets of panty-liners, pads, and tampons. After that, we moved into the question and answer section. Then just as the nurses were about to ask questions, the girls erupted into giddy laughter and began throwing tampons at each other. They were all laughing and saying words like gross or yuck. This drew the attention of our principal who yelled for everyone to stop. She explained how embarrassing and disrespectful we were behaving. While I wasn’t a part of the group who decided to do this we were all lumped into her criticism. She claimed that she wanted to make it a comfortable environment by removing all the boys and male teachers so we would have time to ourselves to discuss this matter. She then drilled into our behavior and attitude about female issues stating that we were primitive, then said that our parents taught us nothing. She spoke about how disgusting the female restrooms were and about the fact she didn’t think many of us had respect for ourselves. Then there was the fact that some girls ritualistically picked on girls they knew were on their period by announcing it to anyone who would listen. I wasn’t a part of this strange reaction to the presentation because I actually appreciated seeing the video of how women dealt with their periods across time. It was something that was often on my mind, but since no one ever talked about it in my household I appreciated this part of the presentation. While the teachers and principal quieted us down, I distinctly noticed how similar some of the girls’ behavior were to the students I encountered in the schoolyard years earlier. I noted that the cooler girls in the audience gave subliminal cues to the other girls who kept prolonging the section by asking questions. They would roll their eyes, kiss their teeth, or mouth the words “shut up.” It was then I knew that at a moment when I assumed I could crawl out of my shell these girls reinforced the fact that I had to stay quiet. That day I wanted to ask so many questions, but I reframed from doing so for fear that the girls would boo at me. For even if they were on their best behavior for that moment I knew that at some point they would have gotten to me and made me feel poorly about my keen interest in this topic.
This was yet another reason why the idea that certain facets of womanhood became a very complicated balancing act. While I did see positive images in regard to puberty, it was only in the form of a Canadian television show called Ready R Not. In my real life, I had no such representations available to me. I knew no one who talked about it outside my encounter with Miss Dias. If it was ever bought up again it was in science or family life classes. Although my school was progressive enough to implement family life classes which talked about condoms, birth control, pregnancy, masturbation, and families; being around my classmates made it an uncomfortable experience. Those classes were always ripe with jokes, heckling, and other distractions; which turned it into another class I had to survive with my annoying peers. In other cases, I would turn to classmates who were open about their experiences. I found a few of them weren’t shy about what was going on with them because they had lived with a period for longer than I had. One classmate disclosed that she started her period at age nine. For me, this was another shocking piece of information offered up to me in a way that felt strangely similar to what I learned at recess. I had no idea that girls were capable of having a period at the age of nine or younger. As she feeds me this information she started to tell me a story of a girl she knew who had her period at age seven. Once again I was shocked upon hearing this because I didn’t know that girls as young as seven could be burden with such a thing. I felt for these girls the way I felt for the Convent school. I often imagined that all girls suffered in the same way as that girl. While many of them might not have had the misfortunate of having a crowd of children laughing at them; society was just like those same children laughing at us while asking us to hide any traces of what made us innately woman. Now you can search the minds of girls and women for stories like mines and find an ocean of embarrassment, shame, and confusion because that is the norm in some societies. It was as if they didn’t want us feeling good about ourselves when signs of womanhood become visible. When girls developed too fast, they called them sluts; as the well-developed girls in my classes always suffered the sling of the childish arrows and learn what adult slurs meant. For me, all this talk or lack-of talk about growing up and what it means was confusing. I didn’t feel good about menstruation until I was well into my mid-twenties, and by then I had decided to implant a mechanism to decrease the flow which made it non-existent at times. I never got over the tumor from my childhood and sadly that had shaped the way I see myself as a woman, the world, and other women.