The Womanhood Challenge - SunStar

The Womanhood Challenge

By Chelzee Salera

I ONCE woke up in the middle of the night and on my bed I saw blood. I saw the color red sprawled across the sheets. Not even tears were enough to express the sadness in saying goodbye to the one thing that I have cherished most in all of my life.

If you’re still reading this, I’d like to warn you that what you are about to read is something quite gross, so if you are eating better finish your food. No, this is not about any heinous crime, just the murder of my childhood.

Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco
Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco

That night was sad for me because that was when I had my first period. There it was right in front of me, the color red which reminded me that I could no longer play to my heart’s content. I was no longer that little girl my papa carried on his back. I have morphed into something that is expected to stay still, sit with my hands on my lap, zip my mouth and keep my opinions to myself.

Just when I thought things can’t get any worse, the next day proved me wrong.

I speak on behalf of the females out there who have suffered the torment that I had gone through: an initiation rite that is unjustified, unfair and clearly foolish but we go through anyway because of the false rewards that society and tradition promise us.

Here is where my article starts to get gory. My menstrual blood was wiped all over my face. (Your stomach is either turning or you’re laughing your guts out. Those were the same reactions that my cousins had when the ritual started.) After my mother wiped the blood on my face, she told me to go up and down the stairs while skipping three steps (nothing could be more life threatening than that part).

I tried to refuse to do such foolish things, but when the promise of a beautiful smooth, white and fair skin and regular menstruation that only lasts for three days every month — thus the skipping of three steps — was brought up by force, who could say no to that?

I admit that aside from the fact that my mom can be terrifying at times, I followed the orders because of the promise of great skin features. But the question is why? Why is the promise of fair skin important? Why is it worth the humiliation and danger of falling off the stairs?

Our society has different perceptions of beauty. We often say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but the truth is, society, through mass media, has shaped certain standards of beauty. Thin is better than round, blonde is better than black, white is better than any other skin colors, not to mention what’s trending, what’s hot and what’s not.

When my mother initiated me into ladyhood, she imparted the idea that being attractive is “important,” so that I would attract the opposite sex, so that I can find a husband and form my own family in the future.

Yes, I am part of society that calls for women to be attractive, but this is the same contemporary society that reminds me to be beautiful not for the consumption of men, but so that I may become the woman who uses her sexuality as a means of empowerment.

I took the challenge of spreading the river of life on my face, no matter how gross an experience it was, and it has now come to mean something else. I took on the challenge as a symbol of womanhood and the ritual’s veiled message of empowerment. And that’s why I am proud to say that I am a woman.

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