Periods have, historically, had countless theories and misinformation around the topic. These taboos and beliefs have either totally isolated women or barred them from certain activities and have made women feel ashamed. Of a natural process.
Ancient scribes and literature were mostly written by men. Men had no real interest in menstruation, so they narrated stories of other men instead. No wonder information about periods is scarce and menstruation remains misunderstood, and still a taboo.
The word taboo comes from the Polynesian term “tapua”, meaning “sacred” and menstrual flow. Menstruation is derived from the Latin word mensis (month), which in turn relates to the Greek mene (moon) and to the roots of the English words month and moon.
Different cultures view periods in different ways. Hunter-gathers and ancient Greek physicians believed that the moon and women’s monthly cycles were linked . Making women spiritually and mentally powerful.
Menstrual Beliefs and Rituals
Egyptian hemsmen means “purification”-“menstruation”. Egyptians had both positive and negative connotations around womanhood and fertility. Menstruation meant a woman could become pregnant, something most women desire and it was a sign whether a woman was pregnant or not. Egyptians believed that menstrual blood was so potent that it could cure sagging breasts. To encourage pregnancy, they would rub menstrual blood on the thighs and belly, and on small infants as well, because they believed it could protect babies from evil. Some women were fortunate to have a secluded room in the house called a “place beneath the stairs”. For many other women, they would have to leave their homes and join other women outside of town.
According to (Pliny the Elder), menstruating women are dark witches.. Female-bodied people walking through the middle of the fields with their clothes pulled up above the buttocks. Customs kept women from walking barefoot, with their hair disheveled and their girdle loose were one of the many taboos thought by Pliny.
Pliny had strange views about menstruation. He believed women experienced a dissociation from reality. He also mentions ” They are weak, at the whim of this cursed bodily process that so wholly takes over and alters their entire state of being”, suggesting that their behaviour makes them less of a woman in a man’s eyes.
Making it difficult for women to keep up with their appearance during their periods, thus making them less attractive, and not being able to perform their womanly duties if she walks around barefooted, disheveled, and half naked. Pliny also believed that menstruating women would kill plants and entire fields of crops, causing bees to leave the hive and make ” caterpillars, worms, beetles and other vermin fall to the ground from their presence.
Chahaupadi is an ancient menstrual taboo and tradition practised in the rural parts of Napel. Women and girls are prohibited from participating in their normal activities if they are considered impure. Chhaupadi is broken down into two words, “chhau” meaning menstruation and “padi” meaning shed, which is commonly used in Napel.
Girls and women have to live in cowsheds or a separate hut outside the house for five to seven days. Girls who are menstruating for the first time spend 14 days in the shed, sleeping on the floor or wooden planks with no basic facilities. During this exile, women also experience difficulties as well as health issues.Unfortunately, some women find themselves living there a little bit longer should the family think they will bring bad luck or illnesses into the home. You can learn more about the misconceptions and taboos here.
Menstruation and Religion
Religious scriptures and shrines have historically cast shame, seclusion and a sense of impurity on menstruing women, by excluding them from their practices. Increasingly making it difficult for women to comfortably educate young girls on how to embrace their womanhood with pride and joy.
“And they ask you about menstruation; say it is harm/unclean, so keep away from woman during menstruation; and do not approach them until they become pure. And when they purify themselves, they come to them from where Allah has ordained them for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who constantly repent and loves those who purify themselves. Your woman is your tilth, so come to your tilth as you put forth for yourselves.(Al-Quran 2:222.223)”
Under Islamic law, women are prohibited from reading the Quran and performing their daily prayers. They are also excused from fasting in the month of Ramadaan, and are required to pay back the days they have missed after the month of Ramadan. Women are encouraged to attend Eid celebrations and other gatherings during their monthly periods. It is also allowed for them to attend and be a part of the holy rituals and practices during the holy month of pilgrimage. Once a woman has ended her cycle, she has to perform a bath called(ghsul) so she may resume her daily practice.
Judasim “Family Purity”
The word Niddah’s origin is Hebrew, meaning family purity laws, governing the separation of husband and wife during the 10 days of a woman’s menstruation.
The Torah says that a woman becomes ritually impure(tem’eh) when she has her period, and its interpreted in the Torah verses that a woman can not have sex with her husband during this period. When her period ends, she regains her spirituality, pure status(tarah). Orthodox couples avoid passing objects directly to each other as well as seeing each other undress. Wearing white and using wiping clothes twice a day are ways to check their periods. Before she can immerse herself in a Jewish ritual bath called Mikveh.
“Discharge of both blood and semen in themselves is not evil. These discharges were symbols of uncleanness. Blood itself represents life: The life of every creature is blood”(Leviticus)”
The Bible has conflicting connotations when it comes to menstruation. Most Christian branches do not follow any rituals or rules related to menstruation. However, the oriental orthodox and eastern orthodox Christians follow the book of (Leviticus 15:19-30) which is similar to the Jweish Niddah law. I think if we take the time to read and understand the book of Leviticus, it gives clear and empowering information so that women don’t feel shame around their monthly periods.
The Budda abolished any beliefs and practices around the impurity and shame of a menstruing woman. Budda, viewed it as a ” natural physical excretion that a woman has to go through on a monthly basis”. He strongly believed it was an important part of a woman’s fertility. He encouraged women to continue with their daily obligations and spiritual practices. Over time, a few Buddist branches started neglecting Buddha’s teachings and began adopting the menstrual taboos and holding superstition around the topic. Some branches, such as Thailand, have banned women from entering temples and performing certain rituals and practices.
Hinduism has diverse and complex beliefs when it comes to menstruation, both positive and negative connotions. The different branches of the religion have different views on how and what position a woman has.
Hindus believe in being of true service to God. Food has to maintain its purity, to help one reach desirable states of enlightenment and equilibrium. In most Hindu communities in India , the relationship between food and periods is paradoxical. Because of this taboo, when a women is menstruating, she is considered impure and can destroy what is holy at that time. Many women are secluded from their normal lives , and are not allowed to touch food nor enter the kitchen.
Periods in Hinduism are also considered so pure that women are worshipped as a ” living goddess”. Therefore, they are not allowed to enter temples because her energy will attract murti, the “image of the deity” which will make her lifeless. It is also believed that when a woman is in her period her energy flows downwards , whereas in the place of worship the energy flows upwards. When a girl starts her first period, she is placed in a separate room, where people come and visit and bring her gifts.
Hygiene and sanitation
3000 B.C_ 5th century
Ancient Egyptians made tampons out of the papyrus plant, and Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, wrote that Ancient Greek women used to make tampons by wrapping bits of wood with lint. Women also used sea sponges at that time.
The term “on the rag” came from the medieval period when women used to use rags as make shift pads.
The word “period” came into use as a term for menstruation.
Women who could not afford to buy the new disposable napkins wore a rubberized sanitary apron under their dress. To prevent women’s skirts and seats being dirty, this apron was uncomfortable and smelly.
The Hoosier sanatory belt was born. An elastic belt which was worn around the waist and could be pinned onto washable cloth pads.
The first commercial disposable sanitory towels produced by Dr Josphe Lister were first called “Sanitory napkins for ladies” or “Lister towels”. Which later became Johnson & Johnson.
Kotex was born, they got the idea from the French ww1 nurses. They invented a modern pad using extra cellouse, a blend of acrylic cotton used for bandages. Lister towels, rebrands to Johnson& Johnson, and name the pad Nupak. Pad sales have begun to take over in the wealthy communities.
The sales of pads still dominate over tampon sales in the market. Women did not like using tampoons because they were leaky and did not have applicators, because women still felt uncomfortable with their periods. Pads remain a leak-free solution.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, a black woman, invented a belt for sanitary napkins. The Sonn-Nap-pack company heard about the invention and took interest in marketing her product. But the offer fell through when the investor found she was black. In 1957, Mary filled a patent for her belt, after saving enough money.
Leona Chalmers invents the menstrual cup:a cup that stays in the vaginal canal and collects fluid. It hits the market but its not as successful.
Earl Haas got an idea from a female friend who used to plug her vaginal canal with a sponge. He creates a modern tampoon: a cotton applicator. Women could use the applicator without touching their vaginas, because cultural and religious taboos still make women feel uncomfortable. Earl Hass also invented the diaphragm.
Married women only used tampoons. The taboos and beliefs around the product made it difficult for other women to use it. Gertrude Tendrich managed to acquire the Earl Hass tampon patent and created the company Tampax.
O.b tampons marketed the brand as a better alternative to standard tampons with applicators. O.b stands for “ohne binde” in German, which means “without napkins”.
Stayfree came onto the market, as the first pad with an adhesive strip, putting an end to the menstrual belt.
Protector and Gamble started to expand their product lines into tampons with an ultra absorbent solution. This did not last long. Rely tampons materials breed bacteria easily, causing many health issues and cases of TSS were on the increase. It so happened. The awareness of toxic shock syndrome grew and hit the mainstream. Protector and Gamble decided to take Rely tampons out of the market in 1980.
Sandra Craddock and Christine English managed to escape charges of murder because they suffered from Premenstrual Syndrome. PMS remains a legal defense on par with insanity right up through the 1980s.
Courtney Cox, commercially used the word “period” in an ad for Tampax.
The FDA approved the Lybrel birth control pill, and released it onto the market so women can now skip their periods entirely.
The Menstrual cup is back in fashion, as an environmentally safe alternative to pads and tampons,
There is now a variety of technology and alternatives for sanitation that women have to choose from. Periods still remain a taboo.
The stigma and shame around menstruation. It has not changed over the years. Although sanitation for women has improved, it is still not widely available for many women around the world and the cost of sanitation remains a luxury for many. period poverty is still a reality for women. Religion and culture still play a big role in contributing to the shaming and exclusion of women in society who hold on to their beliefs and superstitions around a menstruating woman. Education and awareness need to be easily accessible, and should not be an isolated topic. Boys and girls need to be part of the discussion. So our understanding and processes of thinking can change, because without periods, the human race will be instinct. Rights of women and fertillity need to change.