Source: Clarke, Anne E. and Diane N. Ruble. 1978. “Young Adolescents’ Beliefs concerning Menstruation.” Child Development, 49 (1): 231-234. (accessed November 23, 2016).
A study performed by Anne E. Clarke and Diane N. Ruble of Princeton University gave some interesting insights into the culture of menstruation. They surveyed pre- and postmenarcheal girls, as well as boys, to gain a better understanding of young people’s attitudes towards menstruation. The results were interesting: in some ways, they deviate from what we’ve seen in prior years; in other ways, they fall into line with some of the issues we’ve already seen. Understanding the ways in which youth view menstruation can give direction on things to focus on when teaching them.
At the end of the 1970s, the United States had just moved through a huge period of revolution with the Civil Rights Movement and a sexual revolution. These changes opened up many new conversations about the place of women in society, and more and more freedoms were being found. This may have impacted the results of this survey. All other sources have thus far pointed away from mothers as being the first source of information for young girls when it came to menstruation; however, this survey found that the most frequent source of information about menstruation for girls surveyed was their mothers. This could be due to a greater openness in society in general regarding menstruation, due to its close linkage to sex. The study emphasized that it’s extremely important that the start of menstruation be “as favorable as possible.” Mothers have the capability to help their daughters to see menstruation as “a symbol of sexual maturity,” which enables this situation. Studies of educational materials, though, have shown the main message typically presented to adolescent girls is that of menstruation as a hygienic crisis. Very Personally Yours and Molly Grows Up are good examples of this issue, which again shows the importance of a mother’s influence on her daughter as she begins menstruating.
The results of this study largely reinforce the idea of cultural stereotypes influencing society in regards to menstruation beliefs. All children surveyed had a “reasonably well-defined and mostly negative set of attitudes and expectations” with most believing that physical discomforts, increased emotionality, and a disruption of activities and social interactions accompanied menstruation. Even with these beliefs about girls in general, most girls had less severe symptoms expectation expressed for themselves. Other surveys in which adults have rated themselves show very similar attitudes. These findings suggest that not only are their strong, negative beliefs in our culture regarding menstrual symptomatology, but that this begins at a young age and lasts through adulthood. Cultural beliefs are readily accessible at a young age, which makes sense! Molly called menstruation “the curse.” Very Personally Yours, although trying to normalize it, talked about all the various issues girls might face but can get through during menstruation. Even advertisements focus on the symptoms girls may have during menstruation (but, of course, Kotex will fix them!). Girls entering menarche with a clear set of negative expectations is very harmful as it may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of their menstrual experience. This is where the influence of mothers comes in very strongly – the information they can offer to their daughters can help them have less negative attitudes as they can emphasize those positive aspects of menstruation. Focusing on the positive can change the menstrual experience of a girl, and enable her to have a good impact on changing how society in general views menstruation.