I’m surprised how many women I meet who read this book, but it seems any woman from mid-30s to 50 who sits around and jokes about things we did as kids sooner or later brings it up.
This is the book we passed around, either by checking it out of the library or because one bold girl actually owned it and lent it to the others. We hid it from our parents, including our moms, the way the guys hid their Playboys. You felt like you had to hide it and whisper about it because it talked about….
…. lean closer, I have to whisper, remember?
your menstrual cycle.
Or as one person said to me, “Just call it your period. That’s what everyone else does.”
Or, as another girl said, “I got my friend today.”, and naive me asked, “Who?” I still, to this day, can’t figure out how this whole thing got classified as my friend.
My girlfriend passed Margaret to me in the fifth grade, after another wonderful experience for girls: The Film. And because they sent home a slip for my mom to sign saying I could see The Film, I had to go through another experience, one with all the comfort and ease of your boss yelling at you for personal Internet on company time: THE TALK.
I did have one advantage that my older sisters didn’t; my mom gave me THE TALK, but my dad gave it to them. I didn’t know that at the time, and in fact, when my mom was done, I thought it was the most disgusting thing I ever heard. I declared out loud that if my husband loved me, he wouldn’t make me do that gross thing. (Don’t feel bad for my husband; my attitude towards it has drastically changed.) Notice the big S word was only used in reference to me being married. Of course.
The Film not only made you sit with your girlfriends and their moms as they talked about your body and showed you an image you would see 1,00,000 times more by the time you were 14, fallopian tubes and a uterus, but it also meant the boys teasing us mercilessly with that razor sharp sense of satire that we have at 11.
Boy: Your pants are red.
Girl: No, they’re not. They’re blue.
Boy: No, they’re red! Get it?!
Girl: You stink, Jimmy!
I wish I could say I made that up, but it was one boy’s biting commentary on our puberty. He probably writes for political ads today.
Piece of trivia: The Film that we had was animated. I only remember it saying not to take showers that were cold, and ice cubes fell out of the showerhead, or too hot, and steam turned the girl into a lobster. We also got warned not to overstrain ourselves, and the cartoon girl picked up a sofa. I just found out a month ago that this film was already a few decades old by the time we saw it, and that it was made by The Disney Company. It’s pretty hard to imagine a Disney animator drawing innocent little Chip & Dale, and then turning to tawdry subjects like The Film. For some reason, Uncle Walt never discussed the release of The Film.
But back to Margaret. I don’t remember much about the book, except that all the girls in it couldn’t wait for “it” — their periods — to start. They looked forward to it! They had a club all about how much they couldn’t wait and where they ranked themselves by who got “it” first.
This was so NOT my attitude towards the whole thing. I wanted “it” to show up about as much as I wanted to drink rancid milk and then ride the Tilt-O-Whirl in an amusement park. In fact, if the book had been about me, this is would have been the conversation with God:
Are you there, God? It’s me, — I guess you know my name already, huh? Well, here’s the thing. Grammy never had a period so I would like to be like her and never get “it” either. And if I ever want a baby, then I can go to the doctor like she did and get my period for a month so I can have a baby, and then never get “it” again. Please let me be like Grammy! Please! Please!
But when I ended up not like Grammy, I knew God had heard me in the cafeteria the day a couple of the girls were laughing at another one because, “Can you believe it? She doesn’t know what virgin means!” and I laughed too even though I didn’t know what it meant either. But I wasn’t going to tell them that!
Margaret and I were different in another way. When I…. didn’t end up like Grammy, I did not rush to my mom to tell her so we could have this victorious ritual of her showing me how to use “feminine products”, follwed by me knowingly telling her that I understood it already. (Which, of course, I did because I read Margeret.) My ritual was more like “Oh my god, I’m not telling anyone!”, but my mom figured it out, and when she tried to talk to me about it, I stared like a deer about to be run over by a truck, and then hastily changed the subject.
I wonder if girls read Margeret now. If they do, do they whisper about it to each other, hiding it in the middle of school books and stuff at home? Do they handle the whole thing with the sophistication that I did? Or are they younger than we were, tossing it to one another in the hall, even if a nun was walking by, and laughing at it? “Can you believe the people in this book? I bet they don’t even know what virgin means!”