Menstruation: a natural process, occurring every lunar cycle, involving the vaginal release of blood, sodium, calcium, phosphate, iron, chloride and a few other things. Menopause: a natural part of ageing in which oestrogen levels decrease and eventually results in the cease of periods and fertility. This effects (or will effect) around 50% of the current population, yet needless to say, the rife attitude of discomfort or inappropriateness of discussing such things is generally accepted. As if to indicate periods are something to be ashamed about; an uncleanly, impure interval in between times of actual acceptability. As for menopause, simply something to be fearful of and (again) silent about.
Question: Can you remember a time when you’ve felt embarrassed or have been made to feel embarrassed when talking about periods (or menopause)?
Though understood as humour, perhaps even the euphemisms used to describe periods suggest a reluctance to envisage the picture of matter flowing from one place to another. For example:
That time of the month
On the rags
Having the painters in
Can anybody think of any more?
As well as some of these terms being quite demeaning – ‘the blob’ in particular – inhibited and negative, they describe periods as something to avoid communicating. Period blood is also depicted as a blue fluid in sanitary product ads; it’s as if to say ‘period blood is as vulgar and as rampant with bacteria as human shit’.
periods are not dirty, they’re beautiful,
period blood is not polluted, it’s awesome
menopause isn’t to be ridiculed or feared, it is to be celebrated
and that we should speak MORE about these issues, not less.
HOW DID THE STIGMA OF PERIODS FIRST COME ABOUT?
It may not be a surprise that organised religion has played a massive role in at least the perpetuation of this. Although religious texts have arguably done some good, needless to say, it’s also abundant with patriarchal sexism. Many religious texts depict menstruation as a time of impurity and that the females experiencing them should be temporarily banished from society.
Here’s a quote from the Bible – “…in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean… whoever touches…shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening” Leviticus 15
…The Quran – “go apart from women during the monthly course, do not approach them until they are clean” Quran 2:222,
Much Hindu text also promotes segregation for those menstruating. Women are to be forbidden from entering Hindu temples, practicing sacred rituals, engaging in sexual intercourse and preparing food. They mustn’t sleep in the daytime, bathe, touch other living humans, or speak loudly. Unlike other traditional religions, however, women are deemed pure simply after menstruation ceases – there is no purification process necessary.
With that said, Hindu author Shri Nithin Sridhar made this point in his article ‘Hindu View of Menstruation’
“Hindu tradition promotes a positive notion and asks women to perceive menstruation as a period of rest, austerity and self-purification…Hinduism celebrates menstruation as (a) sacred festival and promotes a holistic view by aligning menstruation with various ecological and cosmic principles.”
Though such an idea shouldn’t be thrust upon females by banning certain activities, the encouragement of listening to one’s body and surfacing emotions ain’t a bad idea, in my view; in addition to indirect interpretation of other religious texts. Nevertheless, the idea of of ‘impurity’ of one’s period is for sho dated to the time such religious texts were written i.e. before the time the first Latin encyclopedia stated –
“Contact with [menstrual blood] turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”
So it is to be understood that when it comes to most religious texts, it’s important to filter the widely regarded ‘cosmic essence’ or ‘divine essence’ through what is simply patriarchal and pretty damn intolerant opinions of that time, in the same way we’d watch Singing In the Rain expecting the enforced gender roles of the 1950s.
It is understood that religion, like other patriarchal sexism and intolerance, has helped to perpetuate the long menstration taboo. Though, because I’m genuinely unsure, I ask the question –
‘Do you believe the discussed religions were responsible for the period stigma or were they simply influenced by the already existing period stigma?’
I’ve really only touched the surface of this topic but to avoid talking about religion any further I am going to move on.
Enough of the stigma, here are some stories of women who have challenged it:
Kiran Gandhi was a marathon runner who became widely known for participating in the London marathon on the first day of her period, without a tampon. In her article for the Independent she wrote “The global discussion that has ensued over the last week revealed how there is actually much more stigma around menstruation than we could have ever imagined.”
Another way women have began challenging stigma is by creating art from actual period blood
(source: The Guardian ) In 2015 ‘Artist H Plewis began collecting her own menstrual blood. She then mixed it with jelly and let it set into the form of a rabbit. “I thought jelly was a good substance as it reminded me of the plasma in your period,” she says. For Plewis, her own blood had become a piece of art.
“When I first had my period, I didn’t want to tell anybody,” she says, about what inspired her. “I kept it secret for quite a long time until my father found out. So I wanted to turn that shame into something quite visceral and visual. Get close to my blood, feel it and handle it.”
‘The concept of using menstrual blood to create art has gained even more prominence in the past few years. Vanessa Tiegs coined the term “menstrala” in 2000 to describe her paintings that used menstrual blood. She echoes what Carnesky says about the importance of menstrual cycles. The phrase rhymes with “mandala”, which fits well with the idea of menstruation making us whole, she says, hoping that the name will become a way to unify menstrual artists.’
How do we honour our period?
Though the main topic is menstruation itself, I think it’s just as important to honour the entire monthly cycle some of us experience. I am personally somebody who undergoes what I, and some others, feel is pretty extreme fluctuations in mood – so much so, I’ve been forced to look at this. What I’ve found is that, just like we tend to experience cyclical moods across the year, I and others experience a monthly version of this – a smaller cycle within the annual cycle. So these cycles usually differ from person to person, but my spring phase will begin the moment my period finishes. During this time, I’ll begin to be inspired by new ideas; my general mood is one of optimism and I’ll feel a desire to, not necessarily create, but rather to organise imagined ideas. This then allows time for my summer phase, in which my energy levels sky rocket; I’ll feel much more extrovert, creative and sensual; using my energy to communicate the ideas I received in my summer phase. My ovulation occurs somewhere in between my summer and autumn phase. During my autumn, I’ll begin to reflect much more. I’ll be PMSing at this point and I’ll be much more inclined to listen than to speak. In the final stage of my autumn phase (i.e. my PMs) and just before my winter phase (i.e. menstruation) I’ll be incredibly sensitive and severe. I’ve found that the more difficult emotions, I’ve perhaps not addressed previously in the month, will rise to the surface in order for me to deal with. This leads to the winter phase wherein I’ll experience, what feels like, a detoxification and release of these emotions. Perhaps this resonates with some of you, perhaps it doesn’t but what has strengthened my own views on these mood cycles are the ancient rituals and perceptives – as well as some current ones – that align with the actual menstruation process. A lot of these involved or still involves females retreating from their usual customs, sitting together in a menstrual circle and bleeding into the earth. It would be a time for spiritual healing and emotional purification. Period blood would be regarded as sacred and worthy of the earth because it can benefit plant growth. This is because period blood is rich in stem cells.
(Source: medium.com) ‘Egyptian medical textsuse the word hsmn for menstruation, which, some argue, also meant “purification” (7). Menstruation, in these texts, is seen positively. Cures for amenorrhea are offered, and menstrual blood is used as an ingredient in ointments, like in one for saggy breasts (hmph)(10, 11).’
Such rituals were made easier back in ancient societies because women’s cycles were directly influenced by the moon cycles, therefore most women would bleed at the same time. Due to modern contraception and not really living outside anymore, we no longer really sync up. Nevertheless, such rituals still occur in some parts of the world.
The Mbendjele tribe of Central Africa, for example, still uses sayings like “my biggest husband is the moon”. The biggest grass hut of the Mbuti tribe in Zaire is the menstrual hut, where women go when they have their first period, accompanied by other girls and female relatives. There, having a period is considered powerful and blessed by the moon.
(Source: Wikipedia) An instructive example is provided by the anthropologist Wynne Maggi, who describes the communal bashali (large menstrual house) of women in the Kalasha Valley (northwestern Pakistan) as their ‘most holy place’, respected by men and serving as women’s all-female organizing centre for establishing and maintaining gender solidarity and power.
This is very appealing to me personally, however, it is to be understood that such practices is very limited to one gender – cis female. Where do such rituals and expressions of femininity leave those who identify as female and don’t experience periods? Similarly, where do they leave those who experience periods but don’t identify as female? Do these rituals have a place in current society?
Let’s generate some discussion !