The taboo of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion ‚Äď A long story ‚Ķ

von Sophia

The period is still a taboo sub¬≠ject all over the world. But why is there actu¬≠ally a taboo of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion? How did it start? And what can we do about it ‚Äď and for a nor¬≠mal¬≠iza¬≠tion of the period? Sophia looked into the his¬≠tory of the taboo and found the ori¬≠gins in reli¬≠gions, witch burn¬≠ings and patri¬≠ar¬≠chal doctors:

Taboo of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion ‚Äď Where does the word taboo come from?

The word taboo (in Ger¬≠man Tabu) comes from Poly¬≠ne¬≠sia and is made up of the words ‚Äúta‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúbu‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúTa‚ÄĚ means ‚Äúto mark‚ÄĚ some¬≠thing. ‚ÄúBu‚ÄĚ, on the other hand, stands for inten¬≠sity. In gen¬≠eral, the word taboo means ‚Äúthor¬≠oughly or inten¬≠sively marked‚ÄĚ. Basi¬≠cally, mark¬≠ing has nei¬≠ther pos¬≠i¬≠tive nor neg¬≠a¬≠tive connotations. 

One could speak in the same way about men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion. It has always been ‚Äúthor¬≠oughly marked‚ÄĚ. But why is it so neg¬≠a¬≠tively marked in our soci¬≠ety? How did this taboo develop? His¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cally, our soci¬≠ety is per¬≠me¬≠ated by patri¬≠ar¬≠chal struc¬≠tures that taboo the bio¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cally female body processes in a neg¬≠a¬≠tive sense. The old-world reli¬≠gions such as Judaism and Chris¬≠tian¬≠ity have also con¬≠tributed sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cantly to the taboo¬≠ing of menstruation: 

Patri­ar­chal reli­gions and their con­tri­bu­tion to the taboo of menstruation

One would think that blood as a sub¬≠stance is con¬≠sid¬≠ered ‚Äúpuri¬≠fy¬≠ing‚ÄĚ in many reli¬≠gions. Blood sac¬≠ri¬≠fices cleansed sins and were offered as gifts to the gods. The blood of women, how¬≠ever, was marked with exactly the oppo¬≠site. To this day, Chris¬≠tian¬≠ity speaks of the ‚Äúvir¬≠gin‚ÄĚ Mary and her ‚Äúimmac¬≠u¬≠late‚ÄĚ con¬≠cep¬≠tion. All female sex¬≠u¬≠al¬≠ity is con¬≠sid¬≠ered ‚Äúdefiled‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúimpure‚ÄĚ in Chris¬≠tian¬≠ity. This also applies to the bio¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cally female bod¬≠ily processes such as birth, ovu¬≠la¬≠tion, and men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion. In the Bible, men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion is seen as a ‚Äúcurse‚ÄĚ imposed on all women as pun¬≠ish¬≠ment for Eve‚Äôs sex¬≠ual seduction. 

Thus, it is writ¬≠ten in the Old Tes¬≠ta¬≠ment: ‚ÄúWhen a woman has her flow of blood, she shall be counted unclean for seven days. Who¬≠ever touches her shall be unclean until evening. And every¬≠thing on which she lies while she has her period shall be unclean, and every¬≠thing on which she sits shall be unclean‚ÄĚ (Deuteron¬≠omy 15 19-20).

The reli¬≠gious taboo on men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion goes so far that in Ortho¬≠dox Judaism women are for¬≠bid¬≠den to have sex dur¬≠ing their period. They are also con¬≠sid¬≠ered ‚Äúunclean‚ÄĚ dur¬≠ing the fol¬≠low¬≠ing six days 

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The taboo of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion through the Enlight¬≠en¬≠ment and human‚Äôs turn¬≠ing away from the body

At the time of the Enlight¬≠en¬≠ment and the rise of cap¬≠i¬≠tal¬≠ism, the way men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion was tabooed changed. Even before the indus¬≠trial age, men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion was con¬≠sid¬≠ered toxic, threat¬≠en¬≠ing, and impure, but at that time it was still con¬≠sid¬≠ered a pow¬≠er¬≠ful force that was both feared and respected. Men¬≠strual blood was used, among other things, as a love potion, but it was also used to inflict a desired suf¬≠fer¬≠ing on someone. 

In the early days of indus¬≠tri¬≠al¬≠i¬≠sa¬≠tion, how¬≠ever, this changed, and the bio¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal female body was reduced to the domes¬≠tic and its poten¬≠tial repro¬≠duc¬≠tive capac¬≠ity was brought into focus. From this point on, men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion was seen as a sign of failed fer¬≠til¬≠i¬≠sa¬≠tion and was there¬≠fore con¬≠sid¬≠ered neg¬≠a¬≠tive and use¬≠less. Any mean¬≠ing was writ¬≠ten off and it was declared a ‚Äúmere excre¬≠tory process‚ÄĚ. In our soci¬≠ety, excre¬≠tory processes are asso¬≠ci¬≠ated with ‚Äúdis¬≠gust, shame, stench‚ÄĚ. Thus the form of taboo¬≠ing men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion had changed. Men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors were taught to be ashamed of their bod¬≠ies. They should ignore their men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion because it was use¬≠less and some¬≠thing ‚Äúdis¬≠gust¬≠ing‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúunpleas¬≠ant‚ÄĚ. 

Until the begin¬≠ning of the 20th cen¬≠tury, men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion was also the main argu¬≠ment against higher edu¬≠ca¬≠tion for women, as it was assumed that intel¬≠lec¬≠tual work was harm¬≠ful for the ‚Äúfemale organ¬≠ism‚ÄĚ and that the ‚Äúfemale brain‚ÄĚ would use too much energy and blood dur¬≠ing learn¬≠ing, which would be needed for the process of menstruation. 

The Sub¬≠ju¬≠ga¬≠tion of the Female Body ‚Äď Sup¬≠pres¬≠sion of Mid¬≠wives and ‚ÄúFemale‚ÄĚ Medicine

Until the Mid¬≠dle Ages, the pro¬≠fes¬≠sion of healer and mid¬≠wife was often prac¬≠tised by women. Many women had an enor¬≠mous knowl¬≠edge of their bod¬≠ies, about men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion, child¬≠birth and ‚Äúwomen‚Äôs ail¬≠ments‚ÄĚ which was passed on from woman to woman. 

The witch tri¬≠als in the 17th cen¬≠tury, which cru¬≠elly con¬≠demned thou¬≠sands of inno¬≠cent women and some men to death in the name of the patri¬≠ar¬≠chal Catholic Church, denounced mainly women with great med¬≠ical knowl¬≠edge. That was one of the rea¬≠sons why women were slowly pushed out of the pro¬≠fes¬≠sional fields. Stu¬≠dious men took their place. Mid¬≠wives were declared incom¬≠pe¬≠tent; the male gynae¬≠col¬≠o¬≠gist took their place ‚Ķ

And so much for the clever male doc¬≠tors: In 1919, the Vien¬≠nese doc¬≠tor B√©la Schick observed that the flow¬≠ers his house¬≠keeper had put in a vase dur¬≠ing her men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion would wilt par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly quickly. He there¬≠fore thought he had dis¬≠cov¬≠ered that men¬≠strual blood con¬≠tained a toxic sub¬≠stance called meno¬≠toxin, which could also be trans¬≠mit¬≠ted through women‚Äôs sweat and blood. It was not until 1958 that new stud¬≠ies were car¬≠ried out and, of course, no toxic sub¬≠stance was found in men¬≠strual blood. For almost 40 years, how¬≠ever, this was con¬≠sid¬≠ered ‚Äúsci¬≠en¬≠tif¬≠i¬≠cally proven‚ÄĚ. 

What can we do? 

The his¬≠tory of taboo¬≠ing men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion is long and cruel. Our soci¬≠ety is rid¬≠dled with the red threads of misog¬≠y¬≠nis¬≠tic and patri¬≠ar¬≠chal struc¬≠tures in which there seems to be no place for a nor¬≠mal and pleas¬≠ant way of deal¬≠ing with men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion. They can be found in reli¬≠gions, in med¬≠i¬≠cine and in the eco¬≠nomic sys¬≠tem. All men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors are affected by these struc¬≠tures that per¬≠sist and must suf¬≠fer from the lack of accep¬≠tance of their bod¬≠ies in this soci¬≠ety. There¬≠fore, we must stand together against this and fight for an open and enlight¬≠ened soci¬≠ety where there is space for diver¬≠sity and the body processes that make up our human¬≠ity and accom¬≠pany us through¬≠out our lives.

You want to read more about the taboo topic of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion? Then here are some of my book tips:

Illus¬≠tra¬≠tions by Maya Eck¬≠hardt for Vul¬≠vani

Veröffentlicht am 13. September 2021
Von Sophia
Sophia studiert nun bald im Master Kulturanthropologie. Feministische Themen liegen ihr sehr am Herzen. Ihre Bachelorarbeit hat sie zum Thema Menstruation geschrieben und verschiedene menstruierende Menschen zu ihrem Umgang mit ihrer Menstruation befragt. Durch die ständige Auseinandersetzung mit den eigenen körperlichen Prozessen hat sie trotz monatlicher Regelschmerzen einen schönen Umgang mit ihrer Menstruation und ihrem Zyklus gefunden. Ansonsten arbeitet sie im Kunst- und Kulturverein aRaum e.V. und verbringt gerne Zeit mit ihren Freund:innen.

Our reading tips for you:

Men­stru­a­tion, social taboos and discrimination

Men­stru­a­tion, social taboos and discrimination

Menstruation is a topic that affects all people worldwide, regardless of culture, religion, society, country or sometimes gender. If half of the world's population bleeds monthly, why does it often feel so lonely, uncomfortable or even embarrassing? Why is there still...


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