Maidenhood

Menarche can also mark the beginning of a period in a girl's life that J. W. M. Whiting, Burbank, and Ratner (1986) have labeled "maidenhood." This interval, between "the onset of female fecundity and a wedding [which] legitimates motherhood" (p. 273) can last up to almost 12 years in industrial societies, but typically lasts only 3 years or less in nonindustrial societies. In those nonindustrial societies in which girls are married before menarche, there is no maidenhood period at all. It is in the maidenhood period that "post menarchial subfecundity" and a variety of societal rules governing premarital sex are depended upon to control premarital pregnancy. The rules of some societies are relatively lax, while in other societies girls are confined and chaperoned. Thus, for example, Flinn (1988) describes the traditional "daughter guarding" by fathers in a Trinidad village, suggesting that it serves to enhance a man's "inclusive fitness." Culture change resulting from "modernization" and schooling can totally alter the experience of "maidenhood," as Worthman and Whiting (1987) have reported for the Kikuyu of East Africa, where unwed motherhood has vastly increased with the virtual abandonment of traditional observances. One of these, a female initiation ritual involving a genital operation, had been an important part of Kikuyu maidenhood. Adolescent initiation rites for girls appear to be particularly vulnerable to the introduction of Western influence. One of the fullest descriptions of an initiation for girls, the Chisungu celebrated by the Bemba of East Africa, was recorded by Richards (1956) in the 1930s. She notes that, even then, the ceremony was already a briefer, simplified, and somewhat altered version of the lengthy, complex traditional observance. A recent reversal of this trend are the initiation rites for adolescents newly introduced in certain African American communities (Hirschoff, 2002).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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