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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Body Appreciation Saturday: More period talk

(I'm out of town this weekend, so I'm posting this early. Cheers!)

Womanist Musings recently put up a thoughtful, interesting, and well-stated post about menstruation, Islam, and prayer. Obviously I can't comment with any kind of depth or authority on that particular topic, but reading through the post, its links, and its comments reminded me of something similar which occurred in my time in the LDS church.

When I was a teenager growing up Mormon, I took a lot of trips to the temple. My family was lucky enough to live close to the Orlando, FL temple, and I took many trips there with my parents and with my ward to do baptisms for the dead (the only temple ordinance Mormon teens are allowed to perform). These are literal baptisms; they involve immersion in a tank of water, and the ritual garments worn by the participants are white.

Now before we went into the chapel to sing and pray before the baptisms started, one of the female leaders present would ask me and the other teenage girls if we were menstruating. If we were, we would only be allowed to participate in the laying-on-of-hands (blessing) which is the second portion of the baptism for the dead rite. No dunking. After our song and prayer in the chapel, whatever bishopric member or other priesthood holder who was leading that night would ask the female leader present how many girls were going to be being baptized. Of course Sister So-and-so didn't name any names or point at us, but it became quite clear very soon after who had their period that day--it was whoever wasn't sitting in line to be immersed.

I don't know if this still occurs, or if it was or is widespread, or indeed if it has anything to do with doctrine. Logistically, there's nothing wrong with not wanting there to be blood in the baptismal font, especially since white clothes are involved. But quite frankly, I don't give a shit. This occurrence embarrassed me then and it infuriates me now. Women were singled out publically for something beyond their control, something that is both idolized and demeaned by the church proper. I don't actually care now if the world at large knows I'm on the rag, but I sure did when I was a teenager, partly because no one had bothered to talk about my body with me--because it was shameful and dirty and functionally nonexistent until I had a wedding ring on my finger. The LDS church--like many other institutions, I'm sure--likes to go on about the wonder of motherhood and how great it is that women give birth, etc.; it also likes to not ever talk about those things that make motherhood possible, and it certainly reinforces the popular attitude that menstruation is something either funny or gross, not something normal, even boring, sometimes holy.

At least, the church authority system does. That doesn't necessarily mean that every member feels this way, and let me tell you, all the advice and gossip and bitching about periods I got while a teen Mormon, I got in church settings (usually Girls' Camp). So thanks, Kelly, for teaching me how to use a tampon. Thanks, Sister Hill, for telling me that yes, it's ok to ask Mom for Advil during That Week. Thank you, ladies, for being there for me to complain to and ask questions of. No thanks at all to you, gents, for making me complicit in the mockery of my own body.

1 comment:

the_bardologist said...

I was fortunate to have my mom take me to the St.Joseph's women's clinic when I was in middle school although at the time I wanted to die of embarrassment.Then my school made a trip their was well during middle school for the same your body is changing discussion(here is how to deal with your period etc.) It was informative and at least I had some foreknowledge.I was prepared for when my period came instead of not having much of an idea.I think that is a very important part of educating young teen girls about their bodies instead of teaching them that they should not ask questions about it. Now I will grant you I am not one of those new age folk who is look oh what a blessing etc. I cannot stand those people. I am however glad that I know how to deal with it advill is the best etc. I am also tired of the stereotype that comes along that just because a women is upset about something she is on her period etc. Another is the one about the women who all she wants is sweatpants and ice cream or something. I really have things to do and sitting around all day is not one of them. I go the gym and go to school etc. Unless I get really sick( nausea) from a migraine that might occur at the same time.

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