Around the world, depending on the culture, religion or community, menstruation is viewed differently. Often being considered taboo, it is hard to find a society, a religion, or a part of the world that does not find some way to make women feel dirty, guilty, unworthy, or dangerous because of their monthly cycle. “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they are almost a cultural universal,” says Beverly Strassmann, an evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan, who studies menstrual taboos. Amongst all the negativity surrounding periods around the world, there exist some exceptions: societies that actually treat menstruating women with respect and dignity.
In a commentary written by Goats and Soda, they speak of cultures that treat menstruation with respect. The negative associations with menstruation are well known. Women may be prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourse, banned from places of worship, segregated in special huts, or even deemed to be unclean and not allowed to cook or come in physical contact with food. Alma Gottlieb, professor of anthropology and gender and women studies at the University of Illinois speaks of the Yurok, a native tribe from the northwest coast of the United States. Stratified by class and made up of a group of aristocratic women, these women saw their period as a time for purifying themselves. They were on a shared menstrual cycle, as a result of the close proximity in which they lived, and together they performed a series of rituals during their cycle that they said “was a period of their most heightened spiritual experience”.
Gottlieb also discussed the Rungus women from Borneo, located in Southeast Asia, who believe that their period is just a bodily fluid that needs to be evacuated. They don’t make a big deal of it.
In some parts of Ghana, West Africa, young girls sit under beautiful, ceremonial umbrellas when they begin menstruating. “The family would give her gifts and pay her homage,” says Gottlieb. “She is celebrated like a queen.”
Gottlieb also spoke of the Beng women of Ivory Coast, where she found that male-imposed restrictions on menstruating women comes with a more positive twist. “An older man, a religious leader in the local religion, told me that menstruation is like the flower of a tree. You need the flower before the tree can fruit,” says Gottlieb.” That is a very different ideology than the ideology of sin, dirt, and pollution.”
As we welcome 2018, we should say goodbye to the tradition of shaming periods. We should stop passing on ridiculous beliefs like a menstruating woman will spoil food that she comes in contact with and start thinking about menstruation with a little more scientific facts. I truly wish that the society we live in and the cultures that we follow would see menstruation as this older religious leader from the Ivory Coast does. Imagine how different growing up would be if we could replace our embarrassing first period stories with stories of us being celebrated like queens, like the women of Ghana. Then, we would truly be celebrating menstruating women and accepting that menstruation is as normal as breathing.