So ladies, you would think life was difficult enough with cramps, mood swings, acne in embarrassing places on your faces, accompanied by general misery and discomfort. That too lasting for a week, every single month, for 30-35 years of your lives. Brace yourselves and remember Murphy’s Law – Nothing is so bad that it couldn’t get worse. It definitely is held true for the pre-millennial woman; who not only had to deal with all the woes that accompanied a period, but also with the dozens of period myths, Dos and Don’ts that had sprung up around this normal bodily function.
Euphemisms for Menstrual days
Even the mention of this topic was considered taboo. Interestingly, the word ‘taboo’ itself comes from the Polynesian word ‘tapua’ which means menstruation. Coincidence? Anyhow, women had to use euphemisms or code words when they wanted to moan about their period problems. There were ominous sounding phrases like “that-time-of-the-month” or “the curse”; to the more friendly “visit from Auntie Flo or Cousin Red” or just the “chums”. There were some that were quite graphic, such as “Shark Week” or “Crimson Tide” and others which definitely weren’t favourable like being “on the rag” or “riding the cotton pony” (gross!). Some did make a feeble attempt to make it sound like having a period was a blessing or a noble thing to do. But it didn’t fool anyone. I mean – “Mother Nature’s Gift”, or “Red Badge of Courage” makes it very obvious. Say that to a female with menstrual cramps and you’re likely to get your head sawed off at the roots. My personal favourite was biblical in nature – “The Great Flood Cometh” I figured this was as good a time as any to get religious.
Period Myths as Restrictions
Names and euphemisms apart, women would have led difficult lives in general. Society imposed numerous restrictions on them when they were menstruating (or surfing the crimson wave). All this because a menstruating woman mysteriously became dirty, impure and unhygienic- the worst myth about menstruation. The only advantage that one can see here is that women had to keep out of the kitchen and couldn’t carry out their daily chores. I can imagine the blessing this could have been to women living in joint families in a patriarchal society. People also believed that a woman could use her menstrual blood to ‘impose her will on a man’. Turnabout is fair play, the way I look at it.
Menstrual Myths and taboos around the world
In Ancient Rome, the general belief was that the ‘monthly flux’ of a woman could wither crops, dry seeds, cause fruit to fall from the trees and (gasp!) even kill bees. And this claim was made by Pliny the Elder, an authority on the natural world. The Ancient Romans didn’t know much about the birds and the bees, I take it.
A female on her period had to keep away from sour foods like tamarind, pickles and yogurt. She couldn’t bathe or even wash her hair (because it would contaminate the water, you see), touch holy books or offer prayers. She couldn’t touch a cow for fear of rendering it infertile. Today, some of us still hesitate to touch a cow, but that’s for entirely different reasons. The food taboo varied from country to country. So depending on where she was born, the list of forbidden foods ranged from whipped cream to dough to sushi and mayonnaise. She could even turn wine into vinegar by touching it. How’s that for a super power?
Why not just put the woman in a dark cave somewhere so she can discharge all her impure blood and emerge only when she’s fit for society again? Oh wait, they did to this to women in some families. Only the dark cave was usually a secluded room in a corner of the house. The family left her food on a plate outside the door and she had to use a separate set of utensils at that-time-of-the-month. They also kindly gave her a wooden rod to touch objects so she would not defile them. In Nepal, there’s a similar practice and it goes by the name ‘Chaupadi’.
Myths related to menstruation ,closer home
Please don’t think that we Asians have a monopoly on myths about menstruation. Let me enlighten you with some period myths that existed in the so-called advanced countries. Women on their periods shouldn’t, for example – go swimming (it could attract sharks who’d have you for dinner). Avoid camping (it could attract bears. I thought bears were attracted to honey? Don’t even go into space (like it’s a free ride and they’re all lining up) because, get this- the lack of gravity would cause the blood to flow back. Thank God they debunked that myth. If not, Hollywood would never have made a film like Gravity and George Clooney would have died alone in space anyway.
All these period myths and misconceptions may seem shocking and even slightly amusing today. However, it cannot be denied that they arose out of an attempt to protect society from menstruating women. Not only did they fail to protect society, they also put women’s health, education and their fundamental rights at risk. These myths gave rise to gender inequality, and denied women access to the education and health care that they desperately needed. This in turn impacted their emotional and physical well-being. It’s high time we put a period to period myths.