What would the world be like if young women were mentored by older women?
What would the world be like if we knew we had a place for our stories to be told?
So intones the voiceover at the start of the trailer of a forthcoming film.
And it is right on time.
The recent media attention paid to Tomi- Ann Roberts and Nikki Dunnavant’s research recent re: religious identification and menstrual traditions has got me thinking (more than usual) about women, bonding and menses. Roberts and Dunnavant’s religious women harbored more negative attitudes toward their periods than their secular counterparts, but they reported a sense of woman-to-woman connection during their menstruation that non-religious women did not.
So how do we create community and lose the shame?
Red tents anyone?
“Things We Don’t Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent” explores the increasing reach of the “Red Tent Temple Movement” seeded by women’s empowerment facilitator Alisa Starkweather and inspired by Anita Diamant’s 1997 bestselling novel The Red Tent – a rich fictionalized treatment of biblical character Dinah. In the novel, Dinah and her tribeswomen gather during their menses in a sacred women-only space.
The practice in a book became a movement.
Starkweather and others in more than 50 red tents across the nation and beyond (in 30 states and 6 countries) believe that the simple practice of gathering women and girls in a space dedicated ONLY to them (whatever their date on the menstrual calendar) is precisely what women and girls need to feel supported and nurtured. This is the stuff of healing, they say.
Red tents are an initiative within what I call the ‘feminist spiritualist’ wing of the menstrual activist movement — a loose collection of activists who emerged in the 1970s and share an earnest celebration of embodied womanhood. This style of activism, I’ve argued, has endured and innovated for more than 4 decades, but remains on the fringe of feminist movements as a mostly white middle class concern. Liedenfrost’s film, however, may nudge an expansion of the movement (or perhaps, show that it is already slowly capturing a diverse following?). A commitment to inclusion rings through the voices of the women captured in “Things We Don’t Talk About….” Red tents, as one woman explains during the trailer, are safe, welcoming and invite each woman to “come as you are and who you are is enough.”
Filmmaker Isadora Gabrielle Liedenfrost, a seasoned filmmaker specializing in “multicultural motifs and embedded cultures and spiritual traditions” presents a rich palette of reds, auburns, and fuchsias and a haunting soundtrack in this piece. Her camera brings us images of small and large groups of women crying, laughing, dancing and hugging together woven with the heartfelt stories of the empowering benefits of women-in-community.
I am left asking: could red tents offer women—whatever their spiritual inclination—a shame-free community? Could they restore a lost tradition now updated in a contemporary body-positive context? Surely, the feminine intimacy offered here is not for every woman, but for many, it might feel like home is a lovely little tent.