Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 1 Dec1912.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Dec. 1, 1912 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0027 .
This is the third article in an 12-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse--Part I" see Dec. 22, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part I" see Jan. 2, 1913, for "Reproduction--Part II" see Jan. 19, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part II" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
The organs of sense are also awakened to activity in the adolescent girl. The sense of smell becomes extremely acute; offensive odors are VERY offensive, while pleasant ones are greatly enjoyed and desired. Thus we find perfumes used lavishly in girlhood, and alas! too often indiscriminately.
With the development of the other senses the sense of color is awakened. The girl who yesterday allowed her elders to choose clothing and colors for her at this time becomes most exacting in her own selection of ribbons and dresses. Sunsets and forests have become beautiful, and often the girl with artistic talent decides at this age to choose her life work. Laces, jewelry, trinkets, ribbons and shop windows become her world. Indeed, so great is her desire to possess ornaments that she has been known to resort to petty thievery, when unable to avail herself of the means to obtain them otherwise. Certain authorities, who have made vice and kindred subjects a study, assert that it is this great desire for trinkets, silk petticoats, etc., which induces girls to sell their bodies and enter prostitution. Such authorities fail to see the economic significance of these unsatisfied desires. There is something wrong with a system of society which allows its women to sell their bodies for such trifles, the desire for which is part of their natural development.
Is flesh and blood and the virtue of the mothers of the future so cheap in this land of plenty that it can be sacrificed for such passing whims? It is impossible to suppress that inherent and natural desire in the adolescent girl to adorn and beautify herself. She must and will do it.
The girl of wealth, of the so-called upper class, can beautify herself and adorn her body with the costliest jewels and fabrics. All eyes are upon her in admiration of her exquisite taste and attractive appearance. Yet this same manifestation in a working girl is condemned. Any attempt on the part of a working girl to give expression to the desire to be beautiful is considered "dangerous to her welfare"; is spoken of as her "awful desire for trinkets."
The women of wealth set certain standards for themselves and their class, but separate and distinct standards for the women of the working class. It is about time the reformers and philanthropists do something other than shake their heads over these bad "symptoms" shown by working girls.
A craving for beauty and pleasure, dancing, music, singing and laughter, an innate, hereditary desire to adorn and beautify herself, which comes down to her from primitive woman, together with a burning desire for and love of romance, characterize the adolescent girl and often remain with her far beyond the adolescent age.
When the imagination is thus aroused it is not unusual to learn that the young girl yields to it, tells strange tales about herself, and is, therefore, often accused of lying. But this and petty thievery disappear as reason and will power are developed.
The change of voice in a girl is not so distinct as in a boy, but the voice gradually becomes softer, fuller and of a more womanly pitch, though the change is quite unnoticeable while it occurs.
The hearing becomes keener, noises which a few months ago were considered a joke are now disturbing (such as father's loud sneeze). Music and singing have charms, which in childhood were unappreciated.
Parents and teachers who do not appreciate the change taking place within the girl at this period, have small patience with such doings, calling her "giddy" and "affected" when in reality it is all part of her development and can be guided and directed into beautiful channels. Together with her personal adornment comes interest in her surroundings. New and elaborate decorations furnish her bedroom, and toilet accessories become objects of pride. Primitive colors are displayed, largely in curtains, bed coverings, wall paper, etc., all of which explain the independent ego in the stage of transition.
There are many forms of disturbance which the girl suffers at this period, such as hysteria and insanity, which, however, we will not dwell upon here. Enough has been said on the subject to impress upon my readers the cause of these physical and mental disturbances, and to realize that special care and consideration should be given at this particular age of the girl.
The emotional nature also plays a most prominent part in the developing girl, and justice, I feel, would not be shown her here, unless we cover briefly this most interesting part of her nature. One of the strongest emotions which very few girls, passing from childhood into womanhood, escape is the religious awakening of one kind or another. It is said by some investigators that 80 per cent of the conversions of women in the churches take place before the age of 20. From 30 to 40 years only a very small percentage occur--something like 1 or 2 per cent.
It is also shown that more young girls join the church than boys. Some girls seem almost consumed by the desire to do good and be good in every thought and word and act, and have been known to go through various forms of self-punishment, such as fasting, sacrificing pleasure, etc. Again, others spend hours in absolute devotion to the neglect of health and studies. It is very easily seen why the church takes its "flock," while still in the adolescent period, for at no subsequent time is the girl's mind so plastic or impressionable. If the same girl who enters the convent at 18 years had waited until 22 she would very likely not have entered, for the mental changes are most intense from 16 to 18 years of age.
Another common emotional awakening of girlhood is the affections. In boys this awakening causes them to gather together in gangs. They follow the leader whom they greatly admire and obey. In girls it assumes a more simple form, the devotion to a girl friend of her own age, and the affection between them is deep and intense while it lasts. They tell their most private thoughts in secret to each other, dividing all honors, pleasures and gifts; they are almost inseparable, and I have known a girl whose affection was so deep for her \"chum" that she wore mourning when the chum's father died.
Another form of affection which the girl of this age manifests is that for an older woman, often a teacher or neighbor. Parents sometimes look askance a this relation, and rightly so, for a friendship can be beneficial or harmful according to the character of the older woman. But with all these interests there is nothing so all-absorbing or so interesting the adolescent girl as HERSELF. She has become conscious of SELF. Now she burns with ambition to go out into the world and do mighty things. She feels sure she will be a great singer, or a dancer, or, perhaps, an actress. Again, she feels she will write a wonderful book--about herself--or at least she will be the heroine. Or she will write a wonderful tragic play; or she will nurse on the battlefields and care for the sick and dying. These, together with thousands of other desires, burn in her mind, and can be increased or lessened according to the character of the books she reads. The literature placed in a girl's hands at this age has as great an influence on her thoughts and acts as her companions.
In early adolescence this self-consciousness manifests itself strongly. I mentioned last week in the first part of this article the physical awkwardness of the girl. With this comes the blushing, and giggling, which are all signs that she is conscious of that inner self of the ego.
It is at this stage when the mother tries to explain what the menstrual period means to the girl that she is met with an icy indifference. She refuses to talk on this subject, or any thing pertaining to the sex subject, because she has just become conscious of her sex, and everything connected with it seems offensively personal.
She most likely has received her sexual information from some one else, and the mother is astonished at the stubborn silence on the part of her daughter. She fails to realize that some one else has that confidence which belongs to her and which she should have gained many years earlier. There is a strong tie between the adolescent girl and her sexual informant. The influence of an older girl over a younger, between whom there are confidences regarding sex is surprisingly great. The mind at this age is very susceptible to influences of any kind, and the ideals instilled into a girl's mind are of paramount importance.
These are only a few of the disturbances of the adolescent girl. But they are sufficient for us to know that at the bottom of all these disturbances is the mysterious influence of sex, gradually unfolding itself and finally claiming its own.
At the time these emotions are in full sway along comes a newer and deeper one. The boy with whom she has played for the past several years, run races, played house, ball and games, one day looks into her eyes--and something happens.
Perhaps that look was accompanied by a pull at her hair, a pinch on her arm, or a hit with an apple core, but the glance was one which awakened within her a new instinct; the consciousness of sex, and upon her horizon man appears.
Those who have investigated boy and girl love affairs seem to be of the opinion that they are invariably of short duration. Out of 100 high school girls interrogated, two had married while at school, and one of these had received a divorce shortly after. This goes to prove that the boy a girl is willing to elope with, or even starve for at 18, is quite forgotten at the age of 25.
Thousands of girls marry between the ages of 19 and 20--the years when they are developing in body, mind and character. They are at a loss to understand themselves, because they are ignorant of the fact that the wonderful instinct of sex is making itself felt. For thousands of years this instinct has been in the germ of life. When they have reached that age nature is preparing them to proclaim its right, to perform their natural functions, to propagate.
As the knowledge of the sex functions is one of the most important to the health and happiness of the girl, we shall next consider the girl in the period, when nature has developed and prepared her to carry out its plan, in the Age of Puberty.(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project