As many Americans are unaware, yesterday was International Women’s Day. (I suppose the word ‘international’ is used loosely here). Though we like to shove our problems of inequality under the gender rug in America, this holiday is a big deal all over Africa and is often celebrated with much fanfare, food, and sometimes even the appearance of masks. Men break out the marmites and try their hand at cooking while women dance and participate in contests and games. There is music and rice and sauce and friend things and fun to be had by all.
Because I live in a constantly churning bath of young, impressionable estrogen, I have been excited to celebrate this day for some time now. On the 7th, the girls and I embarked on a menstrual journey to learn about our periods, what happens in our bodies during the cycle and why it is important to track them. With mediocre French and a rough drawing of a uterus on the blackboard, I tried to explain to my girls, for the 3rd time now, exactly what the menstrual cycle is. With sound effects and colorful chalk I traced the path of an egg as it leaves the ovaries and glides through the fallopian tubes to the womb and finally out of the body. I employed Oscar-worthy performance skills in depicting the symptoms of PMS. I abandoned my dignity with graphic motions aimed at my abdomen to try and illustrate what exactly I was talking about.
They didn’t wake up until I broke out the beads and told them we’d be making menstrual bracelets. All of a sudden they were a rush of hands and concentrated faces, hoarding materials and getting cross-eyed trying to thread beads. Due to an unfortunate restriction in the color of the beads I was able to find, the colors ended up being red, white blue and gold. A bunch of Burkinabe running around with the American (or heaven forbid French) flag on their arms? I think not. Instead, I devised that these would be ‘Wonder Woman Menstrual Bracelets,’ and that I would tell them a little about the scantily clad, busty super hero who was supposed to be a paragon of female power in American culture. In the half an hour I searched on Google for images, I found exactly one image of this super hero with pants on, and exactly none where her breasts were not so perky they practically sat on her shoulders.
But so help me, I was going to make this work. I played them a slide show of images and tried to convey that Wonder Woman represented strong women who took charge of their bodies and futures. I’m not sure they heard me over their own gasps. When I set my computer down to keep talking, one of the girls politely asked me to close it so the slide show would stop playing. Message: received. You’re only powerful if you have large breasts and no leg fat. Thank you America. Suddenly the French flag didn’t sound so bad.
Quickly switching gears I pushed ahead with the menstrual bracelets. I taught them to separate each stage of the cycle by color: Menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation (the fertile period), and the luteal phase. I taught them the significance of each, over and over, and still I don’t think they understood. In the end, I worked with almost every girl individually to explain the bracelets, but my words got lost in the colors, the tangle of the strings, and quiet hoarding of the (very expensive) beads so that they could sneak them onto longer and longer pieces of string. They listened earnestly, but something about what I was saying didn’t quite click, especially for the ones that didn’t speak French. I repeated the information and forced them to spit it back at me, and then at each other I various languages, resulting in little cracks in the wall of ignorance. Little itty biddy fractures. Hopefully I won’t need Wonder Woman’s strength (or leotard and firm buttocks) to break through the rest of the way.