If you are a girl or a woman who has had periods before, it is likely that by now you have knowingly or unknowingly encountered a menstrual myth. Menstrual myths are (mis)beliefs and taboos related to menstruation that are followed for reasons that have no scientific basis to them. But how did these myths originate? Earlier in the absence of scientific methods, the only way to unravel this mysterious phenomenon called menstruation was to draw deductions from what is externally observed and experienced during this process. Causes and effects of menstruation were falsely perceived based on such observations like periodic shedding of blood from the private parts of the females which is sometimes accompanied by pain and sickness. For the primitive society a combination of blood and pain suggested danger against which proper precautions must be taken. These falsely perceived causes and effects of menstruation and exaggerated precautions against falsely perceived dangers of menstruation have over the time led to the various myths around the subject and contributed towards the taboo nature of it.
There are many different kinds of menstrual myths followed in different communities around the world. Following are some of the myths related to menstruation and how they have been deduced from the observations and experiences related to menstruation.
In primitive times, menstrual myths were such that they empowered the status of a woman in the society. Due to a visible correlation between the menstrual cycles (which were then a mysterious phenomenon) and the cycles of moon, it was believed that menstruating women poses cosmic powers to control the elements of nature like sun, moon, climate and seasons. Menstrual blood was considered so powerful, magical and even dangerous that each of the primitive societies developed their own version of taboos and myths related to menstruation and made it concrete and unquestionable so that it passes from one generation to next unhindered. Majority of menstrual myths that have survived till date deem menstruating women impure and even a threat to well being of others. Such a degrading outlook towards women only goes on to suggest a backward and outdated value system that would do more harm than good to the society.
Did you know that it wasn’t until the mid 18th century that menstruation was known to be related to ovulation? Scientific experiments to test the factor of “impurity” in menstrual blood were not undertaken until 1920s. It is then understandable that some of the myths our ancestors lived by came to be because of the lack of information regarding what exactly was going on inside our bodies. Yet, despite having known that menstrual fluid is nothing but a harmless mixture of blood, tissues and small amounts of hormones for about a century now, the culture of silence around the subject keeps menstrual myths unquestioned and inviolable.
It is ironic that many of these myths are passed on by the elder female members to the younger female members in a family. It is high time that girls and women stop bearing the stigma; and abstaining from any activity that is allowed for others in general, should be a personal choice and not a compulsion due to a taboo or myth. This is possible only if we as an individual question the rationale behind each and every belief regarding menstruation that we have been following in the name of culture, tradition or taboo and prevent these myths from propagating any further. With our collective efforts we can look forward to a society that holds menstruation as a natural and essential biological process instead of a curse or stigma.
Sharing simple facts: useful information about menstrual health and hygiene (made available by Ministry of Rural development, Govt Of India in collaboration with UNICEF India). Available at: http://www.indiasanitationportal.org/sites/default/files/MHM_Book.pdf.
Academic research conducted by Aditi Gupta (founder, www.menstrupedia.com).
The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation By Janice DeLaney, Mary Jane Lupton, Emily Toth
Shaikh, Sa’diyya. 2003. “Family Planning, Contraception, and Abortion in Islam: Undertaking Khalifah in Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, ed. by Daniel C. Maguire. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.