Source: Photo & Sound Productions for Medical Arts Productions. 1953. Molly Grows Up. Online Video. https://archive.org/details/MollyGro1953 (accessed November 22, 2016)
Molly Grows Up is a hygiene film released in the 1950s. It’s the type of video young girls would likely see in school the day they discussed menstruation. The video follows a girl named Molly who gets her first period. She has a good talk with her mom, and then learns more from the school nurse in a classroom setting. The video demonstrates some of the ways the culture of menstruation was changing. Medical Arts Productions were known in the 1950s for their videos on sex education. They helped provide information to students through the age-appropriate videos they put together. This film is a good way to gain a better understanding of how menstruation was being viewed by professionals (medicine, education, business) in the 1950s, but it may lack the familial opinions.
The video begins by giving background on who Molly is, introducing her family and mentioning that “Lately it seems that Molly’s more interested in Jeanie’s room than her own.” Molly is shown trying on Jeanie’s lipstick and hat, with Jeanie catching her in the act and telling her to stop using her stuff. As Jeanie starts gathering stuff to get ready to leave, she pulls out a napkin. Molly picks one up and begins playing with it, asking “When do you think I’ll start mine?” Although Molly later has a conversation with her mother, it’s interesting that she brings up the fear that many adolescent girls have with her sister: when will she begin her first menstruation? This is in agreement to the article comprised of interviews by Porter. Young girls throughout the 1900s often got information regarding menstruation from sources other than their mothers – particularly other relatives and friends from school. Luckily, Jeanie wasn’t Molly’s only source of information regarding menstruation, but this begs the question of how often women suggested a “Mother and Daughter Conference Night” when their daughters began menstruating, as Molly’s mother did.
Molly rushes in after school and greets her mom asking her to “Guess what?” Eagerly announcing she got her first period (something that likely didn’t happen very often, according to Porter and Brumberg, too), she tells her mom she’s forgotten everything she’d previously told her, prompting the “Mother and Daughter Conference” that evening. Molly’s mother emphasized that menstruating is “normal” and that she’d “be used to it.” When Molly questioned why it happened every month, her mother’s response was it’s “just part of being a woman, I guess.” This again made me think back to Porter’s article, and how women were often hesitant to talk to their daughters about details of menstruation due to the connection with sex. Ms. Jensen, the school nurse, seemed much more willing to make these connections later, even mentioning the “male cell” needed to create a baby (Very Personally Yours didn’t give any explanation to the meaning of “fertilization”). Molly’s mother, though, simply moves into a discussion about regularity and how it varies depending on the woman. In the 1950s, as more and more freedom was had by teenagers and the sexual culture continued to morph, Molly’s mother was likely nervous to take away from this part of her daughter’s innocence and thought it best to avoid the conversation all together, focusing on other issues such as posture and swimming. Very Personally Yours addressed both these topics as well, with the same reasoning for the importance of good posture – to give the organs room to function better. Logically, this makes a lot of sense to me, but I’ve never heard that in my life. Upon a couple Google searches for more details, all that appears is yoga postures to help with periods. This may be one of those myths that lasted through mid-century. In the midst of their conversation, Molly gets a phone call about going swimming the next day. Her mother’s response was, “No, it’s not a good idea the first two or three days of your period. You might get chills and catch cold.” Very Personally Yours had a different take on this – you can go swimming in warm water, but to be considerate to others you shouldn’t use a pool. As far as I’m aware, this is another one of those myths that today is disproven. I’ve gone swimming while menstruating and have never had a problem, and just look at Fu Yuanhui, the Chinese swimmer in the Rio 2016 Olympic games who mentioned to a reporter right after her race that she was on her period! Obviously, swimming while menstruating is not thought of as such an issue as it used to be.
When Molly tells her friend she can’t go swimming, she reminds her “You know I’ve got the curse!” After the conversation, Molly’s mother questions her on her use of the term, Molly defends herself in that a period is a “nuisance.” Molly’s mother’s response is interesting, as she focuses on the term as “old-fashioned,” even though periods “sometimes are a nuisance.” And the conversation ends there! Molly’s mother had such an amazing teaching opportunity, to help her daughter understand even more fully what this process meant and to have a positive attitude about periods, not just seeing them as “something to be fixed,” as the Progressive era encouraged. We can’t fault Molly’s mother too much, of course. After all, everyone has times that they look back upon and say, “I wish I had said this instead!” Having a boldly positive and honest attitude about menstruation can help make a difference in society. Yes, a period can be a nuisance at times (I get really bad cramps halfway through my second day every period without fail), but calling it a curse is a bit dramatic. Helping others to understand that a period is not just annoying or frustrating or bad, but that it can also be a positive, is important in the changing of attitudes.
During the “Mother and Daughter Conference,” Molly’s father comes in. This was a very interesting moment within the film. Molly becomes a bit shy, but gives her mother permission to tell her father that she started her period. He seems shocked and feels that Molly is too young, but she insists she’s no longer a little girl. Her dad slowly admits that no, she’s not a little girl anymore. This is another marker of change within society. In some of Porter’s interviews, it was mentioned that boys weren’t supposed to know about menstruation, and even male members of the family weren’t involved in those conversations. This openness with her father probably helped Molly in her general openness about other questions and concerns she had as she grew older, towards both her parents. Menstruation conversations are a great way to build trust with children and help them as they continue to grow and experience the world around them. Recognizing Porter’s article included interviews through the 1980s, it leads one to wonder how often men found out from their wives that their daughters started menstruating that day. Molly Grows Up seems to be a very idealistic experience that was probably not the norm at the time. Even thinking today about how many women I know didn’t have “the talk” with their mothers before they started menstruating leads me to believe that it wasn’t the norm in the 1950s as well. The ideal was for a girl to get information from her parents, and then schools could reinforce the knowledge and fill in the gaps with instruction and booklets. That’s what Molly Grows Up shows, but based on other evidence, this was probably not the norm in reality.