Menstruation in Societies And Forbidden Women

Fahmi Ela:

Naru Saud, aged 21, sits in a ‘Chaupadi’ shed with her two-year-old son in Biraltoli village in Acham district, Nepal, on 19 September 2017. Source: AAP

 We all are familiar with menstruation or period more or less. Motherhood and childbearing are firmly related to it. There are many doctrines, taboos, and fear related to menstruation in vogue. Many times, many anthropologists had researched taboos about menstruation. This article is written with a view to highlighting those taboos about menstruation.
‘Taboo’ is a very common and familiar word all around the world. The lexical meaning of ‘Taboo’ is Inviolable or separate something considering its sacredness or impureness. Taboo is a Polynesian word that refers to:

  1. Pureness or impureness of person or object.
  2. Embargo originated from that pureness or impureness.
  3. Sinister which originates from disobeying that embargo.

It’s a universal subject matter. Which exists in different phases in different cultures all around the world. Taboos on Menstruation or period, whatever we call it, exists and which is universal! National, religious or gender-based, above all identities of a woman she has to go through this taboo.

 

In her book, ‘Menstruation and Menopause’, Paula Weideger says, ‘Taboos about menstruation exists universally. Where it bears the sign of sin or impureness. It’s often considered as danger or filth for Men and nature. Taboo can’t be scientifically defined. It’s based on symbolic fear originated from spirituality or religion.’

The word ‘Menstruation’ is basically related to the word Moon. In Latin, Mensis means Month. Which came from the Greek word, ‘Mene’. Which Means ‘Moon’. No one missed noticing that, on average, women get their period in 29 days, and in this range of time, the full moon waxes and becomes a full moon again which is even related to the calendar. Blood was never considered sacred. Thus the blood from a girl’s body was just decided to be considered as filth by the patriarchal society and pastors.

 

Before the development of modern science, menstruation was considered supernatural, more than usual natural cycles. The most accepted doctrine was that, during the period, women and their blood is impure. British anthropologist Mary Douglas says, ‘The concept of impurity is based on the thoughts of society’. With the development of modern science, our knowledge has been spread. But still now in society, during the period a woman and her blood is considered filthy and prohibits them from engaging with various daily tasks. This discrimination varies from culture to culture. Let us see how in many cultures, society transformed menstruation into taboo and women into banned women.

 

  1. Papua New Guinea’s Ogeyo tribe believes that bleeding from a wound isn’t filthy but period blood is impure as it doesn’t come out from a wound. Even it’s even considered dangerous.
  2. For Ages people of Taiwan believes that menstruation is taboo and they don’t even know why they believe it. They believe in taboos by tribal tradition. They fear women when she is on her period. They think that period is poison and unholy which even can disregard and snatch the dominating power from a man. They believe that in presence of a period woman god doesn’t listen to prayers, so a woman who is on her period can’t have the access to pray in a temple. She can’t join a marriage ceremony and even can’t wash her clothes together with her husband’s, as they believe it will bring bad luck. She needs to use Chinese herbal products in the view of rectification.
  3. The Chinese Taboos are similar to Taiwan’s. The period blood is considered dangerous, painful and even believed as a matter fact of death. During this time a woman can’t pray in the public convention. In which seats, a man seats, she can’t sit there and even can’t take part in marriage, birthday or funeral ceremony. During this time, a man can’t have sex with her, as they believe by having sex with her, the poisonous blood will enter in man’s sex organ which will cause it to a wound and kill him.
  4. The Huwaulu tribe lives in Siram village in east Indonesia. In that village, a woman who is on her period has to live separately by making a hut on her own. A man doesn’t go to that hut or touch it. Even looking at that hut is considered taboo. Though little children can spend time with their mother in that hut. They don’t cook food for their husbands as they are unholy and even they don’t use the village roads which are used by men and walk here to their crossing jungles.
  5. Period blood is considered filthy and foul among the Orthodox Talmudic Jewish. Their rule is to live separately when a woman is on her period. After this, in the Hebrew Bible, there is another law called ‘Niddah’ where women need to obey that rule. If any men or women disobeys that rule they are abandoned by their families.
  6. Taboos about menstruation exist in Christianity, though they overlook those nowadays. But at that time a woman can’t attend conventional prayer in church.
  7. In Hinduism, during the period women can’t go to the temple and the pastor doesn’t come to their home. Even women can’t look at those foods which are offered to God. During this time they can’t touch holy books, can’t have sex and other male relatives don’t visit her. According to ‘Vashishta Dharmashastra’, During this time a woman can’t have a bath, can’t use cosmetics to beautify her eyes, has to sleep on the floor, can’t touch fire, can’t make ropes, can’t clean teeth, can’t eat meat, can’t look at the planets and stars and can’t drink something from a copper goblet.
  8. In Islam, reading the holy book, touching it, sex, conventional prayers, Udhu is prohibited during menstruation. A woman doesn’t need to attend Salat, can’t fast for her God. For women, their Hajj is considered acceptable even if they don’t circulate themselves around Kaaba, during the period.
  9. In Sikhism, Menstruation is considered a God gifted biological cycle.
  10. In Nepal, during the period, a woman is sent to a small dark room. She can’t meet the male members of her family, can’t talk to them, and can’t touch them. At least for 8 days, she has to suffer.

Before patriarchy devoured society, menstruation was regarded as the power and holiness of women. It was said that they have extraordinary mental powers and they can heal anyone.

For the Cheroki Indians, period blood was a source of power. They believed the blood can help them to win against their enemy and believed, if a girl is on her period and she reveals herself, people don’t have to suffer from storms, thunder, or hailstorms.

Pliny the elder says, it was believed in ancient times that if a naked woman when she is on her period walks through the crop fields, the insects of crops die and that was considered a sign of fertility. In Africa, Period blood was regarded as a powerful magical element that was believed to have both constructive and destructive powers.

Now the fact is, today we know menstruation is a natural subject matter and subject for women which is related to motherhood and fertility. The birth of a new generation depends on it. It is proved that for ages the natural facts, truths, and acceptance of menstruation have been suppressed with conspiracy. Nowadays, the way of judging women and menstruation is not natural. It’s nothing but a superstitious taboo. 

For centuries, society and religion had tried to define menstruation, sex, fertility, child-bearing, birth, and others in their own way. For example, once it was believed that the sun rounds around the earth, but then when science revealed the truth, people accepted it. But now in the 21st century, did we gave up on repressing the women, in the name of taboo, superstitions, and others? Don’t we still consider the period as filthy and dangerous?

If we lock up women, it’s easy to restrain them. By restraining them from forming a unity, it’s easier to continue with exploitation and keep holding patriarchy. A society that can’t stand without the contribution and sacrifices made by men and women both, the very society exploits and humiliates women with the shackles of the embargo.  And by being exploited so far, women have forgotten that she wasn’t born downtrodden, she has been made downtrodden.

Link to the original article in Bengali:  https://womenchapter.com/views/24732

References:

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0208224

https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1002269.shtml

About the writer:

Fahmia Ela is a feminist activist, writer and human rights worker.

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