The Need for a Ceremony

Every day millions of girls cross the threshold from childhood to womanhood. For most, it is a silent passage, accompanied by embarrassment and confusing messages from society. A secret about a momentous time of physical change ---the first physical proof the girl will become a woman. It is time to end the shame and secrecy and proudly celebrate the uniqueness of being female and menstruating.

Western culture no longer offers any training for or celebration of being an adult woman. Other cultures have tried to maintain old traditions, but they have been influenced by Western culture, and so they too are facing internal conflicts regarding women's roles. Some attempts to maintain transitional rituals for teenagers have been sweet-sixteen parties, coming-out parties for daughters of the wealthy, Quincenera (a celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in Spanish-speaking cultures), Bat Mitzvah (becoming an adult in the Jewish religion), and confirmation in Christian religions. A driver's license and the right to vote and legally buy alcohol mark for many teens a psychological passage to adulthood. We give a driver's license at 16, the right to vote and sign contracts at 18, and the right to drink alcohol at 21 years old. It is not clear which privilege truly marks adulthood, and only the driver's license at 16 requires any kind of test - the other privileges are given to everyone regardless of how grown up they act. Sadly, for many young women loss of virginity and teenage pregnancy have become the transition from child to woman.

We have many ceremonies and celebrations, from small intimate gatherings to large public ceremonies, to mark important life events and transitions. Graduations, retirement, and birthdays are generally celebrated. We now have graduation ceremonies for preschool, elementary school, and middle school. Many groups such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have ceremonies to honor accomplishments. We do well as a culture in many areas of marking the transition from one stage to the next by publicly recognizing growth and celebrating accomplishment, but this all important transition of physically becoming a woman is rarely acknowledged or celebrated in Western culture.

Historians and anthropologists who look at adolescent rites of passage agree that the importance cannot be overstated, not only for the sake of the developing adolescent but for the sake of the coherence of society. In earlier cultures, the time of a young woman's first period indicates that the spirit of the woman wants to come out. With no rites of passage a girl loses touch with her place in community. Each daughter represents the psychic and genetic history of the culture, the ancestral memories, and the creative source from which the future will come. When rites of passage are not enacted, or if they lose genuine spiritual elements, reverence for the feminine is lost and brutality toward women and girls increases. The culture suffers if there are no ordeals of meaning and not rites of acceptance into the adult community.

If the adults in the society do not provide rites of passage for adolescents and concrete ways for young women to mark the transition from child to adult, they will create rites of passage of their own, such as smoking cigarettes, anorexia, bulimia, obsession with surface beauty, or becoming pregnant. However these methods leave a ritual emptiness and a lack of being seen.

We tend to think of the extremism in youth as something new, peculiar to our times, caused by the music, TV, or a collapse in values, but our youth are no wilder than youth throughout time. But for tens of thousands of years, cultures of the past have welcomed the onset of puberty with elaborate initiations, a practice that would not have been necessary if their youth were not as intense as ours. Puberty is a time of intense feelings, a need to act out, a craving for dark things, dark knowledge, dark acts - all the qualities we fear most in our youth - cultures of the past used as teaching tools. The raw passion and ideals of youth need expression and attention if they are to grow toward skills and wisdom.

Less than a century ago, youth were pretty much ready for the responsibilities of adulthood by age 15 because they were provided with the skills to survive. For the past 50 years the American culture has encouraged and allowed an extended adolescence, but the culture does not provide much in the way of specific preparation toward adulthood. It is in the past 40 to 50 years that adolescence has been associated with clothing styles, hair dying, different music, body piercing, or other things to distinguish themselves amongst their peers, express their individuality, and give them an important sense of belonging to their peer group. However, young women also need and seek acceptance and belonging among adult women. In a national study of adolescents, parental connectedness is the strongest factor in protecting against high-risk behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, or unprotected sex. The First Moon®: Passage to Womanhood ceremony contributes to parental connectedness.

It is time to celebrate the transition from girl to woman because in order to understand and value the responsibility of becoming a woman - a young woman must be acknowledged.

 


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