Monday, 16 December 2013

strength, courage and wisdom

In class, on Friday, a Year 10 asked to leave my lesson because it was the dreaded time of the month. After a wee chat outside (I'm not a mug - this reason is often given to get out of class, you know!) I soon discovered this was her first ever time menstruating and she didn't know what was going on.

She didn't understand the crippling pain that was making her feel nauseous and unable to concentrate, she had no idea how long it would all last or if what she was experiencing was normal, and most upsetting of all, she was so disturbed about the loss of blood that she asked me if it could cause her to die.

She's 15. This is 2013. I have just read an article about how teenage girls in Britain view sexting as part of the course of flirting with boys,yet this lovely, intelligent young woman was not informed enough to cope with a basic element of growing up.

Who failed her?

I did my best in the ten minutes we had before the next lesson to give a brief guide on the whats, whys, whens and hows of our monthly guest. But, seriously, what the fashizzle? This was a girl who was in the wilderness with regard to what she has ahead of her for the next gazillion years. And all I could give her was 10 minutes?

There are people out there who think we give our children, our students too much information too early; there are others who believe we don't give them enough knowledge about who they are, and what changes growing up may bring. But look, I've been raised with the dictum, knowledge is power, and it is imperative we are telling our girls what is happening to them; what their responsibilities as women are, and what we  - as  elders - will do to guide them through the choices and the difficulties. Do you think I'll be letting the 3G stroll into their life without the armour to face the hardships with the happiness? Of course not; that's my job as their Mum, to prepare them. My own mum would tell me to make sure that I was clean, to not wear white during that time of the month, and how to hover over public toilet seats.  Imagine the pride when BigL sat poised over the skanky loos in Euston station last week, instead of settling down and getting comfy where a million other backsides have settled. One down, two to go! Ah the legacy passes onto another generation.

So back to our lovely lass, well, I have to pass the information on to the powers that be; school welfare will sort her out and I'll search for a decent website that she can use to find some answers and maybe a forum to ask some questions. But what happened on the way to this day? Was she not allowed to attend personal education lessons in primary school, or secondary school for that matter? I don't know if she has a mother or sisters at home, but surely there are aunties, grandmothers, grand-aunts, female family friends who have come across her as she has grown through her teenage years. When I think of all the women who are involved in the 3G's life, including their wonderful teachers, I am confident that if I am unable to provide a path for them, then there are so many other women who can take them via an alternative route to find the same end game.

This isn't just about periods, or shaving legs, or whether or not to sit on public loo seats; it's about the bigger issues of becoming a woman; the decisions they have to make about their education and to recognize the doors that will close if they don't get their foot in the door; the way they hold themselves in the public domain and how they will be perceived by members of the communities they inhabit; and to understand their place within their spheres - gender, race, nationality, physical, spiritual - and how they can make changes as they find their way through the world.

And the first step to helping our young ladies to find their way, is to be sure we know where we are.

So, where are we?

Goodnight London, wherever you are.

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