After reading a strange story in the Huffington Post about a maid who was charged with putting her period blood in her employer’s coffee, it got me thinking about the ways periods and women are conceptualized in various cultural contexts.
Some traditional healers and cultures believe that periods and placentas have beneficial health effects!
Medical anthropology explores how conceptions of health, medicine, life, death, and science are related to culture and so I thought it would be fun to explore how some cultures view periods.
For example, the Sambia, a patriarchal tribe in Papua New Guinea, are infamous for their “ritualized homosexuality” and semen ingestion practices. Sambian men believe that masculinity, power, and strength are derived from semen and that women, through intercourse, attempt to steal that power.
To protect the sanctity of semen and their own role in society, women are shunned during their periods and are forced to live in seclusion with other women till they stop bleeding. Periods are a time of cleansing, but this also implies that women are dirty and contaminated. Blood and bleeding in this culture are conceptualized as a tangible weakness. To read more, check out Rituals of Manhood.
The Bible states that men should not have sex with women while they are menstruating, though cultural practices differ between religions and within religions. Traditional Hindus and Muslims believe that women who are menstruating are impure and are not allowed into temples or holy places.
It’s fascinating that although there are such negative views of menstruation, there are several cultures, myths and religions that attribute great power to women, especially when they are having their period!
According to the Cherokee, menstrual blood was a source of feminine strength and had the power to destroy enemies – something valuable if a tribe was going into battle!
In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote that a menstruating woman who uncovered her body could scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning and rid crop fields of pests! If another 10 plagues were sent upon the Earth, it would probably be an army of women that would save everyone!
The most important thing to remember is that there are subtle nuances that point to the power of women even in those cultures that hold a seemingly negative view of periods or limit the freedoms of women who are menstruating.
Women are generally celebrated for their ability to become mothers and to raise children (up till a point!) Most religions celebrate the sacred feminine in one form or another. Mothers are equated with survival and sustenance.
Maxim Hygiene celebrates women for their strength; a woman’s biology no longer limits her potential. She has broken away from traditional gender roles in many parts of the world, but will always have the choice to become a mother and redefine that role the way she chooses. We support all women and celebrate the biology that binds us together by protecting women’s health with our line of products designed to ensure women have a safer option of hygiene products.