Monday, September 14, 2020

Menstruation: Unpacking the myth

- Ananya

Imagine a state where all colours have lost their meaning. Where the vermilion on my forehead fails to convey my commitment towards the better sex, where my residence in a red light area is not described in sense of some obscene nocturnal place celebrating and upholding the fragile masculinity and where the red patch on my cloth does not convey the original sin of being born a human but identified as a gendered male envying women.

To make sense of my body I go back to the various stories which are meant to deeply ingrain the ideas of womanhood. It could be the hindu views of menstruation where Indra who was afflicted with the karmic guilt of Brahmahatya transferred one third of his guilt to women which is manifested as menstrual blood flow once a month or to what christian thought that ferment entered Eve’s body when she ate the forbidden fruit and her sin along with the ferment were passed on to all her children.

What needs to be emphasised upon is the very strange unfolding of the history where cultures situated across time and geographical boundaries, engaging in the conscious process of creating values and ideals which highlighted their distinctiveness somehow managed to cross path when evaluated from a women’s perspective. Be it the Hinduism upholding the ideas of purity and pollution, elaborated on such notions through various text like Agnirasa Smriti (verse 42) explicitly stating that women become purified due to menstruation very similar to Manu Smriti (5.108) which believed that women whose thoughts have become impure will be purified by menstruation. An interesting aspect of Chinese Buddhism believed that women stop menstruating as they progress on the path of spirituality marked by their renunciation of sexual desires indicating towards their purity. According to the Jaina view, menstruation is the impurity of mind and the inability of women to medicate without anxiety. Adding to the list is what William E Phipps observes that 'throughout Judeo-Christian history the taboo related to menstruation has been the main cause of excluding women from positions of authority as women were associated with the fall from grace and the process of menstruation itself was considered a state of sin. To be more specific it could be equated with the Jewish idea of niddah and christian tendency in the medieval period to associate the process with original sin and idolatry ultimately resulting in the othering of jews and persecution of women under the pretext of witchcraft. Islamic view not devoid of similar understanding refers to quran (2.222) which mentions that menstruation is a state of illness along with being a process of purification.

Menstruation appears to be a complex amalgamation of ideas where on one hand the very process of menarche is celebrated across cultures indicating towards the sacredness of the process and association of various deities with the same and on the other myths associated with this process portrays a different picture. Tracing back the existence of such ideas one could consider the work of Pliny the Elder, roman author who wrote 'on a approach of a women in this state milk will become sour, seeds which are touched by her become sterile’, in the work of Glenda Lewin Hufnagel who found parallels between the description of witches and their magical power and the magical powers associated with menstruation. Similarly the Bhagavata Purana of Hindu tradition believed that kali’s presence in the menstrual blood is what causes the dangerous power that should be locked up, lest it harms men. If at all these myths indicate towards any form of factual reality it make me wonder that capable of such high level of destruction why didn’t women destroy the very basis of a system that contributed in the origin of such ideas and their exclusion if observed from a larger context, to what Nalini Natarajan in her article 'profane marks of sacred blood’ tries to find an answer to 'was menstruation the original experience through which the very idea of forbidden evolved’.

The idea of considering historical context and notions attached to it irrelevant to the modern context would be disillusioning. Though the current scenario witnessed change in terms of approach, what lies underneath is the deep rooted ideology corresponding with the old values indoctrinated by various traditions. With the shame associated with menstrual stain, continuous exclusion of women, denial of equality in a patriarchal setting obsessed with biological essentialism, it is essential to highlight the stand taken by Gloria Steinem who argues that 'menstruation, something even self respecting and otherwise body proud women are often made to feel ashamed of would suddenly become terrific- provided only men had it’. 

Current scenario also draws our attention towards the growing market aiming to create a consumer image of modern working women using sanitary napkins and thus being liberated from all mental and physical stress associated with the process of menstruation. Creating a so called gender neutral image, attempting to challenge the taboos, such initiatives fail to recognise the socio cultural norms that form the very basis of discriminations and exclusion menstruating women are exposed to.

What needs to be questioned is the very notion of femininity created to uphold the oppressive state of patriarchal domination. To reach agreement of issues that are crucial in allowing an individual to live with dignity rather than mere acceptance of what is preached as sacred and profane, to experience a sense of completeness in one’s own existence instead becoming a faceless member and upholder of community ideals and to ask who decides the colour of your mind based on the colour you bleed. 

PS: Ananya is pursuing her bachelor degree in sociology from Hindu College, University of Delhi.


  Pliny the Elder, Remarkable Circumstances Connected with the Menstural Discharge, Encylopaedic work, Natural History, Book 7.

2.   Glenda Lewin Hufnagel (2012), A History of Women's Menstruation from Ancient Greece to the Twenty-First Century: Psychological, Social, Medical, Religious, and Educational Issues, Edwin Mellen Press.

3. Nalini Natarajan, Profane marks of sacred blood, 15 December, 2018, Outloook, 

4.  Nitin Sridhar (2018), The Sabarimala Confusion - Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective, Vitasta Publishing Private Limited.

5. Gloria Steinem (2014), As if Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader, Rupa Publications India.


Apeksha Rai said...


Babita said...

Discribe in Very detail.

Babita said...
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Babita said...
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Unknown said...


kumkumey said...

Bold reality...keep it up

Unknown said...

बहुत अच्छा लगा पढ़ कर और समझ कर बहुत शक्तिशाली बाते है

Unknown said...

बहुत ही उम्दा लेख। 👍🏻

प्रशांत कुमार आनंद said...

बहुत बढ़िया बहन

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

बहुत शानदार दमदार लेख ।

Anoop Pandey said...

Menstruation is just a simple biological phenomenon. In absence of science, myths are bound to develop.

मनप्रीत कौर said...

Breaking the myth! Irony is the people who should essentially need to read this, will never get to read this. Or simply they'll never ever want to read this.

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