The point of confluence : a qualitative study of the life-span developmental importance of menarche in the bodily histories of older women Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/6m311s66x

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  • In this qualitative, phenomenological study I employed oral history methodology, grounded in a life-span developmental and feminist approach, to explore the developmental importance of menarche in twenty older women's "bodily histories." Menarche is an important developmental event in the female life course because it represents a major point of confluence where the various streams of what it means to be female coalesce. Menarche is not only a biophysical phenomenon originating from inside a girl's body, but is a psychosocial transition as well. Further, menarche is a biopsycho-social event which is shaped by sociocultural and historical discourses and may have life-span developmental implications. Qualitative analyses of the bodily histories revealed that the older women remembered their first menstrual periods very clearly. The women spoke of menarche as an abrupt and disruptive event symbolic of adult fertility and sexuality and surrounded by silence. They associated menarche with the imposition of menstrual taboos and rules of adult femininity which restricted their behaviors. Many of the themes that emerged from the women's memories of menarche were also present in their narratives about subsequent menstrual and menopausal experiences. There was a continuation throughout their menstrual careers of the restrictions on their behaviors as a result of menstrual bleeding; the silence and confusion associated with processes of the female body; and the sexualization of their fertile bodies. Further, there was evidence of a continuity well into later-life of the medicalization of their bodies, as well as their use of language suggestive of a separation between their bodies and their selves. The generalizability of these findings is limited; the study sample was small, homogenous, and self-selected, and the bodily histories were collected retrospectively. Implications of these findings and directions for research, theorizing, and action are discussed.
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