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THE RED TENT

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By Kimara - Posted on 01 April 2008

            I was what you might call a late bloomer. When I was ten years old my best friend got her period. From that day on I assumed it would happen to me any day. I had to wait until I was almost 14 years old. In the meantime I watched as everyone else around me crossed the threshold from little girl to woman, leaving me behind to hold the door open, as I peered into the mysterious room with longing and curiosity. I think that there was some sort of cosmic justice, that when I finally “crossed over” it was celebrated by a throng of women.

 

            The setting…the wake at my Bushia’s house the day we buried my Dzia Dzia. A large family meant a large wake and ten families were packed into her small home. When using the bathroom, I realized the long awaited event had occurred, leaving me thrilled, but embarrassed. Why here? Why now? I went and found my mom and whispered in her ear. She led me back to the bathroom, where she left me sitting on the toilet, with my soiled panties soaking in the sink, as she went off to find some “supplies”. Within moments the bathroom door opened and an aunt and cousin came into the room. Still sitting on the toilet, I was hugged and welcomed into the sisterhood. The news spread quickly, and within minutes the bathroom was filled with all my female relations. I remember thinking at the time, “I should be mortified”, but I wasn’t. Maybe it was a life affirming event that came on the heels of death itself, or maybe because this is in fact the way we should usher each sister into womanhood, that I was mesmerized by the moment. This seemingly innocuous event had caused such a stir that there was literally “standing room” only in that small bathroom. I can remember women sitting on hampers, leaning on doors, and standing in the bathtub. Through the course of the next hour, everyone in the room shared some tidbit about “coming of age”. And although it took a couple of days to totally lose the toilet seat imprint from the back of my thighs, it was a small price to pay!

 

            A couple of my aunts described being completely unaware of menses and thought they were dying. Other aunts told tales of actually “being on the rag” and needing to wash them out at day’s end. This also involved hanging them on the line to dry and receiving merciless ribbing from an endless supply of brothers. A cousin recounted her humiliation of walking around school with a growing crimson spot on her skirt before a kindly teacher noticed and helped her. Most of them had learned about menses from sisters and friends. There were giggles and outright laughter as stories were shared, and it was wonderful to see Bushia shed tears of mirth instead of sorrow. Slowly, the room cleared, and a sanitary pad was pinned to a pair of my grandmother’s baggy underwear…let’s not even go there…and I was more or less ready to re-enter the world! Unbeknownst to me, as each woman left the room she was questioned by her husband. When I finally left the feminine sanctuary, I was greeted by sheepish smiles or winks from my uncles, and teased by my older male cousins. Although I was self-conscious, I was also proud…proud of being a woman, proud of leaving my childhood, proud of being initiated into the sisterhood clan.

 

            I, of course, had well prepared my daughter for the event. One day she came home from school and casually mentioned that she had started her period. In what I considered an appropriate demeanor, I began jumping up and down, hugging her, and asking for details. I can’t even begin to express my disappointment when her response was, “It’s not a big deal.” And, the initiation was over. It didn’t feel right…where were the stories, where was the camaraderie, where was grandma’s underwear? I had done such a good job preparing my daughter that she already had supplies and enough knowledge to handle the event on her own. I, on the other hand, could not leave it alone, and the next day I went out and bought her first bottle of grown up perfume, Coco Channel, which would remain her favorite. The other day this same daughter, who had earlier shunned my support, was over. She was in a “cyclic funk” and in dire need of some rest and pampering. Instead of receiving it, she pointed out, we’ve created a society that has asked women to ignore their bodies and to “carry on” despite our instinctual desire to curl up in a ball and renounce the human race for a couple of days each month! We are not even supposed to talk about it! And it makes me think of how far we’ve come as women, but at what cost? Several years ago I read the book, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The red tent was the place women gathered in Biblical times during their cycles of menses, birthing, and illness. For three or four days a month a woman was sequestered from the rest of tribe, where she was cared for and pampered by other women. When she emerged from the tent, well rested and revitalized, she was able to tackle her overwhelming day-to-day chores with renewed vigor and emotional alignment. If this doesn’t make you lust for the good old days, I don’t know what would

 

            Women today are expected to do it all. Besides running a house, raising children, researching car seats and vaccinations, many women are also trying to establish careers and compete in the workplace. AND, if that wasn’t enough, we are supposed to “rise above” our innate biological urges, and sail through the month in a homogenous manner. I find myself asking “What’s happened to us?” Where are the red tents, where are the initiations, where are our sisters? Okay, although a pleasing fantasy, we can no longer skulk off to the red tent once a month. Although, after discussing this blog with Tim, he saw an incredible business opportunity…a chain of “Red Tent Spas” throughout the country that housed menstruating women, providing care and pampering, and isolating them from the rest of the world for 3 days a month. I think most men might even support this! But, in the real world, it’s hardly an alternative, so the question is…how can we, as women, as part of a sisterhood, support each other?

 

            I think the first step is in acknowledging that we are in this together…it’s not an every man…I mean every woman…for herself. We should try to be more in tune with the other women in our lives and help each other. If my strong days are your down days, I should be willing to brush your hair, take your kids for a few hours, make double the dinner and share with your family or just listen. We need to celebrate the uniqueness of our sex. We are NOT men with breasts! Yes, we have brains and brawn. Yes, we are equals to males, but for the love of God, we are different! And that’s not a bad thing! And, I think sometimes, we try so hard to instill in our daughters the confidence to compete with men that it may come across that being female isn’t good enough. True equality does not mean “same”, just equal. So, let’s rejoice in our daughters’ femininity. Let’s celebrate a child’s passage into womanhood, and the miracle of birth, and the seemingly cosmic connection we share with nature. Let’s acknowledge that our hormones can cause physical and emotional stress and help one another. We are part of a wonderful, nurturing, mystical and miraculous clan…at times weak and needy…but usually strong and invincible. And, despite the fact that once a month we share the praying mantis’ desire to bite the head off our mate, we are exceedingly caring, and that should be readily apparent in how we treat our sisters each and every day!

 

Please share this week’s blog with the women in your life that you care about…and make a point to be there for one another! I send a gigantic sisterly hug out to each and every one of you!


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This is amazing and I do enjoy much reading this post. It's a good write-up and a good experience shared. - Nova Publishers

I hope someday you will return to writing for this blog. You are a skilled writer and observer. No matter how we experience it, becoming a woman is a significant event for a girl. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory.

Hi There!

Hope everyone had a great weekend. The weather here was incredible so we were outside most of it!

Thanks to everyone for there comments this week and welcome to any new visitors!

My one comment this week is just this...we do not need to agree with someone in order to support them as a sister. That's the beauty of freedom of choice. So, to get totally deep I wish to quote Bill from the profoundly inspirational Bill and Teds's Excellent Adventure ;) "Be excellent to each other!" We desire it!

What really opened my eyes to the "sisterhood" of women was my time in college in a sorority. Now, no one roll your eyes at sorority girl here. It was nothing like that. Yes, it was a national fraternity of women and we did a lot of social things. But, it was so much more than that. I don't know if all sororities are like that, or if I was just lucky. But, that is where I learned to talk about everything and not be embarrassed about things that society might not necessarily want us to discuss. We had a lot of different women, and we all loved and respected our differences. We had science majors and English majors, women who got married straight out of college to the boyfriend that they had had since freshmen year, and women who are still not married, and even women who had significant others who were not male! It was all wonderful, and supportive. A community of women who cared about one another.

Writing this all out, I think I was indeed lucky. Many of these women are still my good friends years and miles apart later. We do all need to support one another for the choices that we each make for ourselves. They may not be the choices that I would make, but then again, my sister isn't me, right? I agree with a previous poster who said that sometimes women cut other women down because they may or may not feel good about the choices that they have made, and this makes them feel better. Thankfully, I have rarely seen this in real life. Although, it happens a lot in the anonymous internet world! Unfortunately, that is human nature. But not everyone wants or can be a SAHM. Does that make them less of a mother? I don't think so. Having been both a SAHM and a working mom, I can see both sides.

Sometimes I am happy that I have boys and won't have to deal with these "women issues" when they get older. But, then I am also sad that I don't have a girl to share the sisterhood with. Ah well. I'm happy that I have many sister friends and their daughters to share it all with!

"I make milk. What's your super-power?" I love that one.

I must say I am very glad I do not have story like my mother’s! I was able to pretty much ignore the whole thing… which is exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t know if it was being a very much a Tom Boy or the overall hush hush of the topic in our culture but I really had no desire to relate to the sisterhood until I had my children. Something snapped then and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in womanhood, something I hadn’t really felt before. Someone used a signature ticker on one of the boards I used to post on that read “I Make Milk! What's Your Super Power?” that kinda sums it up for me. Not nursing specifically, but how awe inspiring it really is to be a woman and mother. Super human indeed. Now if I could just feel that way mid-cycle… ugg! Thank goodness for chocolate, backrubs and a mom who only lives a couple miles away.

Oh my, I would have been mortified! But as always, you just took it with a grain of salt and a little humor. I have to admit, when I started reading this I was thinking "Where is she going with this?!" And then I kept reading. You are completely right. As women, we are each other's worst enemy and best friend. No one can cut down a woman like another woman, just like no one can lift up a woman like another. We all need to band together and realize that we are all sisters who in the end are pretty much the same, regardless of what we do or who belongs to our family. Food for thought. Thanks!

I am neither a stay at home mom nor am I a wife, so maybe I don’t even belong here. But I can tell you this much as neither a working mom nor stay at home mom I’m forever amazed at this perceived war women always seem to be fighting. I don’t know you Lisa so I don’t want this to seem like I’m attacking you but there are a lot of stay at home moms that so sanctimonious. Not everyone has the luxury to stay home. Not everyone has a loving husband to take care of them. On the other hand, I think there are many working moms that are selfish and feel guilty for the choices they make. They feel better about themselves when they belittle stay at home moms.

My statement is “Will everyone PLEASE play nice?” I don’t think the author was trying to say one lifestyle was better than another. I think the point is we are all in this together. Whether we’re married or not, stay at home or not, we are still women, different than men, not so different from one another. Trust me, I have days when I go to work when I would give anything to go home, drink herbal tea, and listen to soothing music. Instead I have to pretend like everything is fine, smile and not notice the searing pain in my lower back. It would be great to have coworkers that were sympathetic and handled a tough call or got stuff out of the lower file drawers for me. I’d gladly do the same for them next week. I think as long as women are having trouble respecting one another, there is no way we can expect it from men. Some day I hope to have a family. And if possible I think I’d like to stay home because I do agree with you, Lisa about how unhappy kids are today. But if I have to work, or if I decide it’s what I want to do, I don’t want to have to apologize for my decision.

Commenting on the article, a friend sent me this link. I loved the blog and will go back and read more of them. Are you always this funny? And as I said earlier, I do agree with you. We need to be there for one another and help each other out. In general I think we’ve lost all sense of community. When I was in college I lived in an apartment building for 3 years. The people there were like family. We helped each other out. I miss that. I especially miss that you could discuss everything. I think we supported each other as females back then. Not sure what happened.

I actually laughed out loud while I was reading this. I could just imagine the scene in the bathroom. Although your blog was funny I got your message loud and clear. I'm a SAHM. I was just talking to some other SAHMs the other day. We all get the "Is that all you do? I'd go crazy" from other people. I'm tired of defending what I do. I believe that women are equal to men and if I chose to work I should get equal pay and equal consideration for jobs. The point is I think what I do as a SAHM is more important than anything else I can be doing right now. We are always telling women its not enough. IT IS! Not only is it enough, in my opinion, it's the best thing to do! Maybe I got off topic here a little but I don't think so. "Just" being a mom or women isn't given the respect it should receive in this country, especially from other women! It's crazy. I'm all for doing anything that celebrates womanhood. I don't want to crawl back into a cave but we should be valued as women, and as such, I think mothering is the most important contribution we can make to society. Obviously something has gone big time wrong in this country. Our children are sick. WE are the medicine...mothers and loving families, Kids need to know they can count on something. And it should be us. So let's support one another. Let's help one another. Let's tell the world we are women and proud of what we do. Let's stop apologizing for it!

First off I think I would have died if that happened to me! But I do think it was an incredible experience. I kept laughing thinking on you just sitting there on the toilet! And wearing your grandma’s underwear! I came home from school one day and there was a box of sanitary napkins on my bed. I think I was 12. My mom came in and asked me if I knew what they were for. I said yes then she walked out of the room. That was our only discussion on the whole topic! Over the years new boxes mysteriously showed up in my room. Not sure when she bought them because she never did at the grocery store. One time I worked up the courage to ask her for tampons. She told me they were for married women! To say we were sexually oppressed in our family would be an understatement!
I had never thought about it before but you are right about what we teach our daughters. My mom was big on what girls did and what boys did so I figured I’d make sure my girls (I have 2) know they can do anything a boy can. I do believe that but I don’t want to send a message that as women we need to be like men. We are different. And its not easy sometimes trying to carry on when that’s not what your body wants to do! And if I hear one more man say its psychological I’ll scream!
As always you gave me stuff to think about. I really agree that in our society we have that whole “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” thing going as women. I think its hard to decide as a woman what face you should put on. I guess what you’re saying is we should wear our real face. Mostly strong and capable, but we need to do a better job listening to our bodies. I also like the idea of celebrating our femininity. Doesn’t mean wearing fluffy outfits or delighting in cleaning the oven, but it does mean supporting one another and using our strengths and not feeling like a failure when our hormones are raging. I think we need to be careful of the message we send our children, boys included. I’m also going to talk to my friends about this. Maybe we’ll read the Red Tent in our book club! Consider yourself hugged sisters! :)