BACKGROUND: My informant, PP, is a student from the US. Her mom is Jewish American while her father is an immigrant from Spain. This piece is something that she learned from her mom’s side, something found in Jewish culture.
CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend to discuss a tradition in Jewish culture.
PP: There’s this thing in Jewish culture that my mom told me about when I first got my period that the mother has to lightly slap the daughters face on the day she first gets it and I was so distraught about getting it as a little 11-year old that I was just crying in the car and my mom felt terrible but she was like I’m so sorry but I have to do this and just lightly hit my cheek. I don’t know where this comes from but yeah I guess it’s a thing.
THOUGHTS: I think in many cultures a girl’s first period is seen as a marker of her ascent into womanhood. That being said, I also wonder why during an occasion while a girl is already feeling pain, it would be customary to inflict more pain. That thought soon reminded me of the Western tradition of slapping a baby on the butt as soon as it’s born. Perhaps a slap marks a prominent shift in one’s life. While the pain only lasts a brief moment, both individuals are soon welcomed into a new community.
Context & Background:
Informant is a childhood friend of the collector. They went to school together from 4th grade to 7th grade in Bangalore, India. Here is a story that the informant told about their time at school and the unusual circumstances that girls in the school had to go through.
Performance: (via phone call)
You know that those years (ages 10-14) are times of development. Naturally, all the girls in my class, and I’m sure yours as well, started getting their periods for the first time. And as you should remember, we had an all white uniform. So, period stains on the white skirts were inevitable. And it was so embarrassing at the time, like I had encounters where I wanted to help a girl but she would deny that she was on her flow. Anyways, I noticed after a few months of getting mine that us girls learned a new trick to cover up any accidental stains. At the school, we always had to write with ink pens, and so if the period stain was small, we would cover up and scribble on the stain with the ink. And then, it would seem like an ink stain and not a period stain. However, once this got around, we got to know the meaning behind the ink stains, but at least it wasn’t as embarrassing as a bright red stain.
I encountered and performed this little trick in the past as well. The reason the ink stain trick got invented in the first place is because people in India are very conservative and think of periods as taboo. This comes from the fact that for a long time, India considered girls less than boys, and so women’s issues were never addressed. The fallout from that mentality still persists today and so period stains are still very embarrassing in the culture. Not to say that they aren’t embarrassing in any other cultures, but especially in Indian culture. Another note is that there isn’t as much freedom in Indian schools as there is in Western countries’ schools because of the strict uniform. If there are difficulties at that time of the month, girls usually dress differently to accommodate for that, but that isn’t possible in India and so they have to come up with other tricks to hide natural occurrences.