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Commentary: The Red Dinner

ISABELLE TEARE: I remember the exact moment I got my period. I was 13 and bathing suit shopping. I was in the dressing room, in the process of taking off my pants when I noticed the stain. It was in my underwear. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was: red-ish brown womanhood. The day I had been waiting for had finally arrived.

I know this might sound weird, but in my family, getting your period was a big deal. And not in the “hush hush don’t talk about it” kind of way. For me and my two sisters our periods were something to be celebrated. Like a bat mitzvah. Or a first communion. Only our sacred rite of passage was known as the Red Dinner.

The rules, composed by my hippie mother, were quite simple. When we got our period, my mom would take us shopping for a fancy, red dress. Which we would then wear to dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town. And we could invite whoever we wanted under two conditions: that they also had their period, and that they dressed in only red.

The first Red Dinner was for my older sister, Julia. She was 13. A real woman. I was ten and incredibly jealous. I remember watching her and my mom get dressed up to go out knowing that I couldn’t go. I would have to stay home with my dad, who would never even get a period, and my six year old little sister who didn’t even know what a period was.

But then, three years later, it was my turn.

I still have the dress. It’s short, silk and blood red. The most expensive and beautiful thing I had ever owned. That evening, as I sat there sipping on a virgin raspberry mojito, I felt this deep sense of pride and belonging. Finally a part of this incredibly ordinary yet sacred shared existence we call womanhood.

As I grew up, it drove me nuts when people would treat periods as taboo. Like in college, when I spent the night in a guy’s dorm room and left a spot of blood on his classic navy blue sheets. He didn’t say gross… out loud, but he made it clear I had really inconvenienced his life. I realized he was the kind of guy that would expect a gold star for picking up tampons at the grocery store. It was such a turn off. I felt embarrassed for him.

Fifteen years and countless periods later, I’ll admit my excitement over menstruation has declined. Between the cramps and the ruined underwear, it's become a bit of a chore. But it’s never been something I feel embarrassed about. It’s just a part of living in my body.

I think a lot about this one time in an elevator in college when a girl I knew bragged about how she only had guy friends. I remember exactly what she said: that hanging out with women was “too much estrogen” for her. I felt so sad for her. Sad that she thought that made her cool. Sad she didn’t realize what she was missing out on. Sad that she had never had a Red Dinner.

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