Learning About Menstruation: Knowledge Acquisition and Cultural Diversity
Traditionally, the older females in an extended family, be it mother, aunt, sister or grandmother, instructed young women about the various aspects of the life cycle including puberty, menstruation, sex, reproduction, and child care. The Israeli immigration process has changed social relationships and family structures which in turn shape the intergenerational transfers of knowledge. As a result over the past few decades other sources of knowledge have become important influences in producing knowledge for young women. These include her peers, school, scientific research information, doctors, and commercial products. This paper will focus on the types of knowledge that a mother passes on to her daughter in relation to puberty, preparedness of menstruation and the onset of her first menses. This paper presents a theoretical analysis of qualitative, ethnographic research collected from 48 in-depth interviews with mother and daughter pairs from each of the following groups: native born Israelis and veteran and recent immigrants from Europe, North Africa the CIS (Commonwealth Independent States), Ethiopia, and USA origin, who settled in the Negev area of Israel. The innovation and uniqueness of this study is the examination of the onset of menstruation among women from diverse cultures who immigrated to the same country, i.e. Israel. The onset of menstruation is a special milestone and memorable event in the life of an adolescent girl and it appears that the type of knowledge acquisition related to this event may influence her attitudes and behaviors toward other critical health issues in the future. The analysis produced several categories of knowledge including: traditional knowledge, scientific knowledge, technical knowledge, embodied knowledge and authoritative knowledge. It appears that the types of knowledge that are passed on from mother to daughter are changed through the immigration process, often from traditional to scientific. Furthermore, daughters' relationships with their mothers affect how they use obtained knowledge. Nevertheless we found that for many daughters the knowledge that they obtain, both formally and informally from their mothers is still very important for the daughters' overall well being and good health.
Keywords: Qualitative Research, Women's Health, Mother-Daughter Knowledge Transmission, Israel, Immigrants
Prof. Julie Cwikel
Founder and Director, Center for Women's Health Studies and Promotion, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Ms Sheryl Mendlinger
Doctoral Student, Social Work, Ben Gurion University