Menstruation Taboos, Some Myths, Some Facts, Society and Religions


Even with her head down, she could sense the smirks on their faces. Someone also caterwauled nastily. She could feel warm, salty teardrops on her red cheeks. Red not because she was blushing but because of the rapid rush of blood due to the insult, fear, anger and desperation.

She just had experienced her period in the school and, the marks of blood on her white skirt made her the butt of mockery among her classmates. As she was without any preparation, she was pilloried.

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At least 1 out of 10 women can relate to this story for she either has herself experienced or has seen some close one going through such conundrum. Monthly bleeding of women, a completely biological phenomenon that keeps the world alive and is the sign of a ‘fertile’ woman, is still considered as a ‘shame’. We, women, are supposed to keep a hush-hush about it as if it’s a clumsy, clandestine affair.

Menstruation or monthly period or monthly bleeding of women is a natural process of the body through which it sheds the lining that is formed in the uterus. This lining provides nourishment to the foetus in case a pregnancy occurs. Having monthly periods is the sign of a healthy woman. While becoming a mother is still regarded as the quintessence of womanhood on one hand, the natural process of a female body that is a vital part of the reproductive cycle, is looked upon as a mark of shame on the other.

What an irony!

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In India, when you ask for a pack of sanitary napkins, you’ll get a black plastic packet absolutely free with it. The shopkeeper hands it to you, surreptitiously wrapped in black, so delicately that one might think it contains some explosives. The same shopkeeper even asks for the favourite flavours when one buys a pack of condoms. A complicated and contradictory mindset he has! Sometimes, I wonder whether most of these shopkeepers suffer from a Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. (well, a bit of exaggeration but just think about it)

I remember an incident from my childhood, or rather, teenage days. My father was preparing for the office when I rushed to the living room and, in a normal tone, asked him to bring a pack of sanitary napkins. At that very moment, my granny entered the room and, her facial expression changed from surprise to horror and, finally, she got it fixed to disdain. After my father left, she told me not to mention such things to the male members of the family especially. My expression and words were like: “What? Would it be more respectful if I miss my period?”

She didn’t talk to me for one whole week.

However, menstrual taboos have their foundation along different lines of culture and religions. In spite of the fact that menstruation is a natural biological process, most religions keep a taboo on it restricting women from participating in religious events during the days. Menstruating women are considered as “impure” and “unholy”. These taboos are one of the reasons why Indian women, in general, have health issues, especially RTIs (Reproductive Tract Infections). The silence regarding menstruation debilitates the body and mind of a girl having her first period. In some parts of India, it’s regarded as the God’s blessing when a girl experiences her menstruation for the first time. As she becomes a “fertile woman” capable of reproduction, it’s a prestigious occasion for the family.

Patriarchy plays his card here again! That, the ultimate goal of a girl is to reproduce.

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Menstruation taboos are prevalent in almost every religion. Most of the religions of the world, be it Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism, have inflicted restrictions on menstruating women. As far as I know, it’s only Sikhism that doesn’t have any separate set of rules on this matter. In her paper Menstruation, Religions and Society, Aru Bhartiya has briefly described how menstruating women are treated in different religions. Interested readers can click the link to read more.

In primitive society, however, women were looked upon as mysterious beings. The concept of magic and fear were associated with menstruating women and menstrual blood. They didn’t know the scientific explanations or the biological process of the monthly period and, hence, ignorance made them show respect to the unknown. Blood was regarded as holy and was used in several rituals to evoke spirits and gods. Losing blood every month without getting ill, had enchanted the male members of the primitive society and, young women were revered. With the development of formal religions and scriptures, women slowly lost that position.
Florence L. Denmark, Rabinowitz, and Sechzer have explored the reasons for that and how different religions imposed taboos on menstruation in their book Engendering Psychology: Women and Gender Revisited.  Along with a lot of other things, the book throws light on different concepts associated with the monthly period and their connections across the lines of culture, society, ethnicity and religion.

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Women now are proving their abilities in every field of work. Most of us are aware of the biological reason that causes monthly period. Still, we are considered as “impure” for certain days of the month! In many households, even today, women are barred from touching pickles, milk, fresh vegetables and are not allowed to take part in religious activities.

When will we grow up? Isn’t it the time?

Raise your voice against menstrual taboos. Our daughters deserve a healthier, cleaner and more advanced society where they wouldn’t become lost in a morass of agony, confusion and self-hatred just because they bleed, naturally.

Image Credits: hereherehere
 

 

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39 responses to “Menstruation Taboos, Some Myths, Some Facts, Society and Religions

  1. A thought-provoking post Maniparna on the ugly patriarchal mindset, stupid religious rituals that leads to inequality and the way you explained blood that led to worship. I wrote a post on menstruation last year for Write Tribe I think. It’s high time that we uncover the lid and stop being hypocrites. I would love to read Aru Bhartiy article.

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  2. I have heard a lot of stories about such taboos and unfortunately they are still prevalent at many areas. I wish this book could bring about a positive change in the stale mindset of people. You have highlighted the critical subject in such a seamless and adaptable manner. Hats off!

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  3. Such an important topic and so well-written, Mani. Agree with you menstruation should be talked more about. As you mentioned, it’s part of the cycle and circle of life and without this biological factor very highly unlikely the world’s population will be where it is today.

    Loved the history part of this topic, and it is interesting to see how menstruation has evolved from something so accepting to mostly taboo. Even more interesting because other kinds of bodily functions are more likely to be talked about (e.g. going to the toilet, what people get up to in bed) even if it’s behind closed doors. With menstruation comes some side effects and it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world for most women. And when one feels uncomfortable or in pain or not well, it’s often seen as a sign of weakness – and probably a reason why women are seen as the weaker sex. Everyone deals with feeling down and out differently (so nothing to be ashamed of), and no one is in the right to judge on this.

    I had to chuckle at your response to your grandma and the sanitary napkin 😀 Love your openness and strength to stand up for yourself. From this exchange, it made me think about to menstruation and the way it’s dealt in Chinese culture. It’s very similar and I cannot recall a time when the males in my family talked about it, if ever they thought about the topic at all. Quite a few of my friends, male and female, have yet to warm to talking about this topic openly. Maybe one day this will all change, and we can all start by accepting that menstruation and the different kinds of sanitary products are a normal part of life. Once again, very well-written, well articulated 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting. Christianity does not regard menstruation as being impure. Women are allowed to worship during menstruation and men and women are not segregated in a Church. Sexual intercourse is also allowed during menstruation. So there is no taboo where Christianity (the genuine original Christianity i.e. )is concerned. Menstruation (the first showing) is also a cause for joy but there is no official celebration.

    I would have never have asked my father to bring me sanitary pads…not a religious problem but a cultural lapse of etiquette. It would have been seen as disrespectful….womens’ business was the domain of women. The same way in my home growing up we would never have dreamed of desporting ourselves without clothes in front of any male person. Different time different world. A world not without some merit and good sense.

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  5. Oh it’s definitely time! Such true words Maniparna and thank you for sharing this. I’ve had my share of incidents too and the funny thing is, the rules are imposed by women themselves in many situations. This article is a must-read!

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  6. Entire blame can be laid at the door of patriarchy, and most of the organised religions, which again are vehicles of patriarchy. The situation shall certainly change with more and more women attaining financial independence, asserting their identity and realizing potential. As the Dylan song goes, “The times, they’re a-chagin…”. Our country too is changing with feminine gender assuming center stage. There has already been women prime minister and president, and the present cabinet boasts of women ministers of Defense, External Affairs among other portfolios. The joke is that women are now doing the men’s job by taking care of the outdoors, consisting of defense and external affairs of the federal government, while men are relegated to Home Affairs and other allied functions. Cheers…

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  7. Yes, ironical it is. How different religions imposed the taboo on menstruation is a wide but interesting area to dig into. I am sure the book would offer many interesting insights. You have very well articulated the need for change in our mindset. Munchausen Syndrome – Well, I will have to look for that!

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  8. A powerful post maniparna… in fact these taboos are deep rooted in the society…there are many girls who hesitate to discuss menstrual cramps even within the girls gang …

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  9. A nice post. Things have started changing in the society. Of course, it would need time as the issue is surrounded by myths, illogical beliefs and religious restrictions. People will slowly realise that periods are natural and healthy. It’s not the periods, rather the irregularity in periods should be a cause of concern.

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  10. True the taboos need to go. I am a north indian and I never came across one being impure while menstruating. But when I spent 2 years in central India I was horrified to find how women become untouchables while menstruating.

    We need to begin at home.

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    • I don’t know which north India are you talking about. I am from uttarakhand and married women are not allowed to enter the kitchen during periods. The first period after marriage is celebrated like you gave birth to a baby. And I have seen so many restrictions in UP, delhi, among Punjabi Hindus.. almost everywhere. The restrictions on going to a temple or participating in poojas are prevalent almost in the entire country. Surely, the things are changing in my generation than my mother’s but there’s still a long way to go.

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  11. Maniparna you have touched a delicate chord of Indian society. Moral polices may condemn you. But every word of the article is true. In 1st world countries I think it is treated as normal as fever, cough or cold. Society must change it’s thought process otherwise it will remain as so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Felt the urge of writing about the taboos. I know, it’s a delicate issue and you’re right to say that it could raise an uproar. But, we need to raise our voice as well. Things are not very different even in the first world countries. Christianity has imposed a lot of taboos on menstruating women. I was thinking of discussing the taboos as inflicted by different religions separately, but that was making it a much longer post and perhaps would have touched more delicate chords. So refrained from it… 🙂
      Thanks a lot, dear, for sharing your views.

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  12. You are right Mani, Sikh religion doesn’t believe in all these myths and whatever taboos I discovered were from my friends. Much depends on the upbringing and what the women of the house say to the growing girls who believe what is fed into their impressionable minds and they carry the beliefs forward.
    To my mind, menstruation blood is the purest as all runs through the veins of all living beings.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Bold article . I liked the part when you told your Dad to get a pad of sanitary napkins . And the reaction of your granny . Yes , the shopkeeper wraps the ‘ article ‘ in a black bag . But it’s the same thing with the ‘ accessories ‘ which the men want ! 😐😐😐

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yes menstruation is a hush hush subject although talked about more than before. It is unfortunate that menstrual events have to be put in a box of dirty words when it is not. It is just a normal cycle for woman and should be honored.

    Liked by 1 person

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