Menstrual Meanings (1) Throughout the history of humankind, such physiological aspect of womens existential mode as menstrual cycle, used to be traditionally surrounded with many controversies. There are different theories that strive to explain this from socio-political, psychoanalytical and philosophical perspectives. However, the majority of psychologists agree that societys popular attitudes towards menstruation correspond to the fact that people subconsciously entitle blood with mystical properties. This is the reason why there is a striking similarity in how men view menstruating women, regardless of their cultural, religious or racial affiliation. We can say that, throughout the ages, the notion of menstruation always had a strong negative connotation and it would be wrong to refer to it as simply another proof of patriarchic societies being affected by male chauvinism. Apparently, this issue is much more complex then it is being traditionally assumed. Even in contemporary Western societies, where feminism had attained a status of legitimate socio-political movement, the topic of menstruation remains a discussion taboo. In her article Leaky Performances: The Transformative Potential of Menstrual Leaks, Shauna M. MacDonald makes a good point when she suggests that the increased level of existential tolerance in Western societies, in recent years, did not result in people becoming more opened minded, when the issue of menstruation is involved: Culturally, most North Americans seem to view women’s monthly bleeding as at best an inconvenience and at worst as filth in need of being sanitized, hidden, or eliminated altogether. We are collectively ashamed of menstruating, we view our periods as disabling, and we associate our blood with pain. Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) has become a demon in our cultural imagination (MacDonald, p.
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The public superstitions, in regards to womens periods, are rooted deep in peoples subconsciousness; however, it does not give as a right to suggest that such superstitions are purely irrational in their essence. In this paper we will analyze the issue of menstruation within a cultural and religious context, because it will bring us closer to understanding the essence of inter-gender dynamics, as such that define all other aspects of peoples existence as social beings. (2) As we have mentioned earlier, the popular prejudices, in regards to menstruation, cannot be brushed aside altogether, as such that derive out of male sexism. Superstitions do not emerge spontaneously but usually come as a result of peoples ability to refine a certain link between seemingly unrelated events, during the course of long term observations. It is not a secret that the classic concepts of physical beauty, democracy and intellectual excellence derive out of ancient Greece and Rome. Even today, the most of scientific notions, associated with Greek and Roman philosophy, remains veritable.
Therefore, it strikes us as something utterly odd that ancient European philosophers and historians really did believe in the validity of prejudices, in regards to menstruation. For example, the book of most credible historian of antiquity, Pliny the Elder Natural History, contains passages like this: Contact with the monthly flux of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze, and causes a horrible smell to fill the air. Dogs who taste the blood become mad, and their bite becomes poisonous as in rabies (Pliny the Elder, Ch. 23).
It is a well-known fact that, after Christianity became a dominant religion in the West, it strived to eliminate the remnants of heathen worldview, while often resorting to the acts of genocide, as the mean of accomplishing it. However, the pagan vision of womens menstruation as something unholy was actually being promoted by the lambs of God. The good book refers to menstruation as one of major sins, for which women should always feel shame: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
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And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness (Leviticus 15:19-30).
According to Catholic and Orthodox tradition, menstruating women cannot attend Church. Many religious women seriously believe that if they disobey Jewish tribal God Jehovah, he will punish them with the mean of making beard to grow on their chins. Menstruating women cannot touch bowls with holy water, because this water might loose its powers, as a result. It also remains a very popular belief among Catholics and Orthodox that menstruating women should not attend funerals, because the soul of deceased person will have a hard time, while trying to sneak into the heaven, as it will be regarded by Jehovah as being polluted by menstrual blood. The Protestants, in their attitude to menstruation, are no much better then their Catholic and Orthodox brothers in Christ, whom they hate with passion as heretics.
Protestantism considers Old Testament as being just as valuable as the New one, which is why, in the eyes of Protestants, two thousand years old Jewish prejudices have the power of categorical imperative. For example, Martin Luther used to refer to menstruating women as poisonous snakes who need to be kept away from society, until the time when they become purified again. Progressive Protestants do not see anything wrong with homosexuals being ordained as ministers, but majority of them still consider ordaining a woman as absolutely unacceptable practice. In his article Menstrual Odors, Dirty Diapers, and the Male Dominated Religious Quest For Purity, William A. Spriggs suggests that the spirit of Protestantism is incompatible with the ideals of womens liberation movement: To this day, the Christian menstrual taboo informs the disqualification of women from ordination because in most quarters of the Protestant church it is believed, if not always stated, that a womans biological presence pollutes the sanctuary (Spriggs).
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Thus, despite the fact that Christians that belong to different denominations used to engage in bloody wars against each other, simply because of some minor theological disputes, they show striking uniformity, when it comes to institutionalizing womens inferior social status, simply because of particularities of their physiology.
Nevertheless, the worst that can happen to menstruating woman who comes to a Christian Church is that she might be banned from the religious community. The prospects for failing to stay away from the Mosque, which menstruating women face in Islamic countries, are much grimmer. Muslims literally take the commandments of all-loving Allah, which insists that only death fully redeems a sinner. This is why; menstruating women can be hanged in public, if they are being found attending Church, during their period. The article Islam and Menses, which is available on the web site of Islam-the Modern Religion, provide us with the list of religious taboos that are applicable to menstruating women who had a misfortune to be born in Islamic families: A woman who is in her monthly cycle cannot: perform the five prescribed prayers, touch the Qur’an, make ta’waf around the Kaba, fast (Days of fasting missed during Ramadan may be made up within the next lunar year), engage in sexual intercourse with her husband, it is better for her not to be in the musallah (area where prayers are performed) in the masjid or Islamic centre (Islam-the Modern Religion).
Still, in European societies, many women used to play a prominent social role, even before the advent of Feminism. Despite the fact that it was much harder for them to acquire social prominence, comparing to men, under no circumstance can we say that they were being referred to as simple commodity, as it is a customary practice in Asia.
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Islam regards women as such that do not have a soul, which is why, even though Islamic theologists strive to put a friendly mask on this bloodthirsty religion, it is a very common practice in such countries as Iran or Saudi Arabia to execute menstruating women, once they were being found guilty of insulting Allah by being physiologically functional. Buddhism, as religion, has the most tolerant attitude towards menstruating women. This is because Buddhism does not operate with the concept of sin as such that can be redeemed with the mean of prayer, or even better with financial donation. According to Buddhist theological doctrine, gender affiliation does not define the spiritual essence of every particular individual. This religion insists that it is not a self-actualization that leads to God, but self-transcendence. Therefore, there are no special instructions in regards to menstruating women can be found in Buddhist books. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that Buddhists are being extra tolerant towards women that go through their cycle. In his brochure Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh suggests that Buddhist women are being subjected to various superstitions, just as Moslem or Christian women: From a Buddhist point of view, menstruation is a natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less. During this time, women tend to have weaker emotional balance.
They would need religious support more than any other time. But in practice, ironically, they are kept out of the temple and branded as unclean (Kabilsingh, p.45).
The same can be said about the attitude of other major worlds religions towards menstruating women. Hindus forbid such women to come closer than 300 meter to the temple, Taoists do not allow them to come near to the barrels with fermenting rice, as they believe that menstruating women are capable of stopping the process of fermentation with their mere presence. Orthodox Jews insist that menstruating women need to be locked up in wooden cages, during the course of their period. Thus, we can conclude that womens menstruation is being perceived by most of worlds religions as something mysterious and therefore evil. Branding monthly cycle as evil is nothing but the defensive reaction of males psyche when it faces unexplained. Deep inside, men remain hunters-gatherers, which is why they automatically associate natural phenomenons that they cannot possibly comprehend with danger.
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In his article The Symbolism of Menstruation, Nelson Soucasaux is making a very good point when he says that: In mythologic and esoteric literature many references can be found to powerful magic forces attributed to menstruating women, characterized both by positive and negative aspects. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to remark that whenever we analyze this sort of material, we must be fully aware that, in this field, concepts and ideas are presented through an essentially symbolic language, and that, according to Jungian psychology, it is mostly through symbolism that the archetypal contents of the collective mind become evident The innumerable fantasies that were always created about the female sexual organs reinforce this symbolism of the menstrual bleeding (Soucasaux).
It is not simply a coincidence that mens subconsciousness entitles menstruating women with unnatural powers. The fact that perceptional negativity, associated with menstruation, is a worldwide phenomenon, only confirms the ….