How did Menstruation become a Taboo?

We take our menstrual cycle as just one another thing we have to tolerate. Cramps, rashes, backache, headache, irritability, etc. are some common symptoms during those days. Some people suffer more than others, and some do not suffer at all. But there is one trait shared among all sections of society – ignorance.  Conventional and unconventional are two sections of the society. Conventional people adhere to all norms set by the community. They aren’t curious, they don’t ask questions. Then there is another section of society, who question everything that doesn’t make sense. This section is constantly looked down on, tagged as aggressive, outrageous, crazy.

These aggressive, outrageous and crazy people are asking you to stop suffering and start talking about your periods. Why do we find it so hard to talk about it? Even though it is so prevalent? Holy books like the Bible and Quran have stated how a man who touches a menstruating woman becomes impure. Even Latin encyclopaedia that was written in 73 A.D. mentions how contact with menstrual blood can bring adversity. There is not one generalised idea of why menstruation became a taboo. In fact, different people have different theories. Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychologist, believed that it was our fear of blood that triggered negative emotions which made menstruation a taboo. Some believed it was the helplessness of males, who didn’t have sexual domination while females were menstruating. All these theories have different roots, and there aren’t any that were agreed upon.

One approach that was the basis of patriarchy was published by Professor Chris Knight in his book “Blood Relations – Menstruation and the origin of culture” in 1991. He studied why the cycle was similar to the lunar cycle. According to this theory, the origin is how our ancestors hunted. Hunting was more preferred during a full moon as it would light up the surroundings. As male hunted, they would eat most of the food, and very little remained for the females and their children. Females decided to gather in a group at the time of no moon. During this time, females observed celibacy. Male would bring the food after the full moon hunt, and they were rewarded through sexual activity. Through this, menstruation became a powerful taboo. Stories started erupting, and many believed that it was inauspicious for a male to hunt while his female counterpart was menstruating.

Now, it is interesting to note how a practice so powerful in its core became a disadvantage for females. It happened in later years when hunting became unsynchronised due to larger animals which were hard to hunt. Female harmony was broken. Male slowly realised how they were at a disadvantage, and they started doing something radical. Male began to cut off their penis and in some part their ears, arms etc. and did their own menstruating rituals. This ritual prevailed for an extended period. Thus, disempowering females and menstruation.

But there were some exceptional communities where menstruation was not represented in a bad light. In the Mbendjele Tribe of Central Africa, having your cycle was considered powerful. Similarly, in old Egyptian texts like Kahun Gynaecological papyrus (1800 BCE), menstruating was an act of purification, and it was deemed to be positive. Period blood was also used in many ointments. Although scientifically period blood toxicity was disproven in the 1950’s but how far have we come? As a society, we haven’t changed much. Many say that it is better now as we can see many people questioning the taboo. But we can only now see people questioning because they are all on social media. Radical thinkers were always present in the society. That’s why we are living in a society, where slavery is a crime, feminism is prevailing and gender equality is a fundamental right. It will be better when we don’t have to use words like chums, feeling down, not well and instead we can say that we are on periods. It’s that simple!

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