Let’s talk about menstruation. Or rather, let’s not mention that word. It’s quite sensitive, right? A woman’s business, why is she (me) bringing it up? OK, why is it even a sensitive subject in the first place?
I once mentioned some male co-worker attributing a forehead breakout I had to my period. I was offended and you know how they usually advice that if you have nothing nice to say you better shut up? That’s what I did. I clamped up. I knew that if I had spoken up immediately it would have been to tell him off because he was all up in my very personal business. A subject that even my male friends know better not to broach. So why was this man trying to act all too smart by coming up with a diagnosis for what I knew was a case of my sensitive facial skin acting up?
I may consider myself a feminist but menstruation is something I hardly discuss with the males in my life. Not because of any shame attached to it but because I feel it is something exclusive for women that I don’t need to keep on talking about with the opposite sex. Plus there is that whole disgust reaction most men get when women begin talking about their monthly period and cramps that I find hard to condone many a times. I guess the only time a section of men don’t feel at all disgusted discussing our monthly period, is when they are inquiring on when our last periods were. Read, they just want to be sure they won’t have to budget for diapers in the near future, for those who weren’t anywhere near committing to us in the first place.
Many societies in the world have always considered a menstruating woman to be unclean. This has equally been mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. I once read a blog post which discussed how some societies in India forbade their women from sharing the same beds with their husbands during the whole monthly period duration. There are also menstrual huts where menstruating women are supposed to reside during that “time of the month”. Funnily enough, in the same Indian society being discussed, menstruating women were equally forbidden to take a bath during that time.
Before you accuse me of peddling falsehood, the blog post was on an Indian blog typed by an Indian woman. I was curious to see what the commenters had said and was surprised to see Indian women concurring with the revelation that they weren’t allowed to take a bath in the whole duration. Women in the 21st century, mind you. One had gone as far as revealing that her husband literally had to force her to do away with the tradition because she was more than determined to follow it to the latter. Now that’s a good man there. Why further the “unclean” stereotype already in place by ensuring a woman remains unclean (avoiding the bath) in the actual sense, during that time?
However, it’s not only in India where some weird practices have been put in place with regards to the monthly period and how a woman should conduct herself at that time. According to an article on the website http://www.ruby-cup.com titled From menstrual huts to drinking blood. The weird and wacky world of cultural attitudes to menstruation. Pt. 1;
A lot of the obligations imposed on menstruating women are meant to protect other members of the community. For example, men are often thought to be at risk if they have sex with a woman when she’s on her cycle, as menstrual blood is considered polluting. In an extreme case, the Kodi of Sumba (an island in eastern Indonesia) believe that sexually transmitted diseases are contracted by men who have sex with a menstruating woman.
Now that’s a community in need of serious enlightenment on the transmission of venereal diseases although I wouldn’t advocate for sexual relations too at that time. But that’s simply my thought in that respect.
Similarly, to isolate menstruating women from their partners and their families, they’re forced to sleep apart in certain cultural traditions. These include those of Rastafarian societies, Bali, Hindus in South India, and certain tribes in Nigeria, where women are confined to a menstrual hut (a custom that used to be practiced in many parts of the world, but that has gradually disappeared).
Again, for the benefit of a menstruating woman’s family, in the Hindu societies of Nepal and Rajasthan, as well as in Bali, Bangladesh, and in Rastafarianism, she’s not allowed to cook or come into contact with other people’s food.
Instead, to safeguard the community more generally, and as a form of respect for divinities, women on their cycle must abstain from visiting religious sites in many Hindu societies, as well as in Bali, in Islamic culture and the Shinto religion of Japan.
Finally, for a woman to leave behind her unclean (i.e. menstruating) status, she must perform a ritual bath at the end of her cycle: this is practiced, for example, in Bali and in Orthodox Judaism, where the bath is called the mikveh.
The article goes on to state.
One might be tempted to react with outrage, at how a woman on her monthly period is treated in some societies, which seem to possess all forms of patriarchy but you may be surprised to learn that, it is not all doom and gloom in some scenarios. There are societies which actually celebrate a woman’s monthly cycle and her “time of the month.”
However, other customs aim to protect menstruating women themselves. In Rajasthan, girls on their period aren’t allowed to walk through crossroads, as they’re thought to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits when they’re on their cycle. For this same reason, in South India it’s common to keep a piece of iron and/or a lemon. What is more, in South India, once girls reach menarche, they shouldn’t have contact with boys and aren’t allowed to spend as much time outside as before: given that they can now become pregnant, it’s thought that mixing with males is particularly dangerous.
Interestingly, in many of the societies I have mentioned, whilst menstrual prohibitions are widely practiced, so is the celebration of girls’ menarche. Ceremonies, involving food, family, friends and gifts are customary in Nepal, South India, Bali, Bangladesh, Japan, amongst the Akan of Ghana and the Maroons of Suriname. Amongst the Zulus of South Africa, a goat is slaughtered and the girl is secluded with her friends, emerging the next day to be bathed,smeared with red clay, and taught lessons for adulthood by other women-www.ruby-cup.com
And while there are societies known to go to extremities such as drinking the menstrual blood just to celebrate the woman, I consider these other ones mentioned pretty reasonable. A girl who is first experiencing her period should not be made to feel shame for it. While growing up, we laughed, whispered and snickered at our counterparts who were “unfortunate” enough to accidentally soil their uniforms in school with their first period. We didn’t know better.
However, it is time that parents and teachers taught both girls and boys about the differences between both genders. I do not advocate for going into deep details for the boys lest you scare them off completely but general knowledge, can go a long way in ending some of these stigmas and misconceptions surrounding something that is biological in a woman and a symbol of her fertility.