With the cinema release of ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret’, you might wonder whether a 50-year story is still relevant. Spoiler alert, it is…and not just because it tackles the, still taboo, subject of periods!
The girls we work with at Rites for Girls – especially through our Girls Journeying Together programme, which is aimed at this exact age group (10-12yr olds) – are showing us that although the cultural context may be different, approaching puberty still brings with it the same concerns as explored in this story.
There are lots of pressures on pre-teens and, like Margaret, many girls have a fixation with their changing bodies (whether they want them to change, or not) and feel the pressure to have the ‘right’ crush and their first kiss. The desire to feel like they belong and navigating the complexities of friendships are still of huge importance, as is their increasing sense of what kind of person they want to be when they grow up and how they fit into their family culture, heritage and wider community.
Like the characters in the story, the majority of young people are still relying on each other (and now the internet) for most of their information. Unless there’s enough honest and age-appropriate guidance from the adults in their lives, they continue to self-initiate in an attempt to show us they are growing up. This can, all too quickly, lead to much of the unsafe behaviour we see in our older teens as they start doing what they perceive to be adult things.
And specifically on the subject of periods, we have come a long way in the last 50 years but there is still much to do. For example, many families do talk more openly about periods in the home and many schools across the UK offer free period products, so girls have access to more information but many are still reluctant to say when they get their first period. Also, the way period products are advertised (in the UK) is much more ‘realistic’ but that’s only in the last few years – we’ve gone from ads that don’t show products at all to those that use blue liquid to demonstrate absorption and now, there are some that actually represent blood as being red. However, the focus is often on ‘getting on with life’ rather than resting for a day or two if we need to and we are still using the terms ‘sanitary products’ or ‘feminine hygiene’, like there is something unclean about menstruation.
The way we introduce all the topics addressed in ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret’ to our young people is vitally important. We need to start young and keep the dialogue going – adding in additional age-appropriate detail as they grow up. These conversations need to take place at home and in the public arena and we must stay interested and engaged so the idea of mentoring remains an option throughout our lives; after all, we would all benefit from knowing we have someone to turn to when we need support.
Image Caption: Rachel McAdams as Barbara Simon and Abby Ryder Forston as Margaret Simon in ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET. Credit: Dana Hawley. Courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity