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The Difference between Western Society Attitudes to Puberty and Religious Attitudes and Beliefs towards Puberty.

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Harriet French1st May 2003

The Difference between Western Society Attitudes to Puberty and Religious

Attitudes and Beliefs towards Puberty

For our Theatre In Education (T.I.E.) piece we decided to tackle the issue of puberty and the different changes boys and girls go through during this, sometimes difficult, stages of their lives.

        We decided to do in this in an effort to teach younger pupils in the school a little more about puberty and set aside the fact from the fiction.

        We aimed to do this by performing a series of our own short sketches-each with a different theme and issue to tackle, for example, pubic hair, periods and hormones. By doing this we hoped to shed a bit more light on issues which can worry some people and explain the matters in a grown-up way. We also wanted to make sure that what we were saying was getting through in a positive way so as to teach the pupils a little more about puberty.

        From doing this exercise we realised that the Western attitude towards puberty is very relaxed and does not signify a great deal. We also realised that some people can become embarrassed by the issue and most people avoid it altogether.

        However, this is not the case in a lot of other cultures, in fact, far from it.

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        However, for a male Hindu experiencing puberty, it is a much easier ride. For a male the appearance of puberty is seen as a natural progression from a boy into a young man of caste society. This is marked and publicly acknowledged by and initiation rite called ‘Bartaman.’

        The only difference a male Hindu would experience after hitting puberty in terms of his responsibilities and the way he is looked upon in the eyes of his society is that he now takes full responsibility for his actions, i.e. not eating pork, not touching a woman when she is on her period etc. For the male Hindu reaching puberty enhances his ritual purity as well as his personal and social worth, whereas the recognition of the female Hindu reaching puberty degrades her completely, possibly making reaching puberty and starting her period something she dreads.

        The attitude to periods in the Western world is completely different and they are seen as a natural progression into womanhood, and are something to not worry about and embrace openly. Again, the Hindu attitude is vastly different form our own as puberty is not seen as a bad thing at all, only the expected development from childhood to adulthood.

        For Jews, puberty is seen as a cause for great celebration and is something to welcome and be publicly recognised by all in society.

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        Muslims believe that when a female has finished her period or when the after-birth bleeding (after having a child) has finished Ghusl should take place immediately.

        During menstruation or during the after-birth bleeding a Muslim female is not allowed to pray, fast, enter a mosque or have sexual intercourse.

        These are all very strict rules which must not be broken and again, to Westerners, seem very alien as words such as ‘ejaculation,’ ‘vaginal discharge’ and ‘orgasm’ are not words you hear being thrown around much in our society and seem to be very much behind closed doors.

        As a conclusion most religions seem to be very open and favourable of the progression from childhood to adulthood and see it as a cause for celebration, but also the time for a lot of changes. They see it as a recognition of the change from boy to man and girl to woman. Topics seem to be discussed openly within families and communities with no stiffness or embarrassment as it is a natural part of their society and culture.

        Here, it just seems to be a silent process not talked about much and avoided if possible. Perhaps that is how we have come to have the label ‘stiff upper lip.’ I think we could learn a lot from these religions and things such as growing up, adolescence and the menstrual cycle should be things that everyone are capable of talking about, not something to be pussy-footed around as it seems to be so much these days.

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