Thursday, June 25, 2015

Menstrual taboo

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A menstrual taboo is any social taboo concerned with menstruation. In some societies it involves menstruation being perceived as unclean or embarrassing, extending even to the mention of menstruation both in public (in the media and advertising) and in private (amongst the friends, in the household, and with men). Many traditional religions consider menstruation ritually unclean.
Different cultures view menstruation differently. Studies in the early 1980s showed that nearly all girls in the USA believed that girls should not talk about menstruation with boys, and more than one-third of girls did not believe that it was appropriate to discuss menstruation with their fathers. The basis of many conduct norms and communication about menstruation in western industrial societies is the belief that menstruation should remain hidden.

In other societies certain menstrual taboos may be practised without the connotation of uncleanness. According to the anthropologists Buckley and Gottlieb cross-cultural study shows that, while taboos about menstruation are nearly universal, a wide range of distinct rules for conduct during menstruation "bespeak quite different, even opposite, purposes and meanings" with meanings that are "ambiguous and often multivalent".

Religious views

In the Torah (Leviticus 15:19-30), a menstruating woman is considered ritually unclean - "anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening" (New International Version). Touching her, touching an object she had sat or lain on, or having intercourse with her also makes a person ritually unclean. The extent to which these rules are observed in modern Judaism varies depending on the degree of conservatism/orthodoxy.

Christians throughout history have disagreed about whether menstruation makes a woman unclean. In spite of the restrictions in Leviticus, Jesus allowed himself to be touched by a hemorrhaging woman and cured her (Mark 5:25-24). Some church fathers defended the exclusion of women from ministry based on a notion of uncleanness. Others held that purity laws should be discarded as part of the Old Covenant. There has never been any official teaching that menstruation makes women unclean in any major Christian denomination.

Bahá'í Faith
Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas abolished all forms of ritual impurity of people and things and stressed the importance of cleanliness and spiritual purity. Menstruating women are encouraged to pray and are not required to fast; they have the (voluntary) alternative of reciting a verse instead.

In Islam, a woman is not allowed to offer prayer or to perform other religious activities such as fasting or circumambulating the Kaaba. This is in accordance with the law of the uncleanliness of any blood. Sexual intercourse with her husband is strictly prohibited during menstrual periods. However, she can perform all other acts of social life as normal. According to authentic traditions, Muhammad encouraged menstruating women to be present at festive religious services for the two Eid holidays, although they were excused from praying.

In the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating. A woman must be "purified" before she is allowed to return to her family, and this has been considered a negative view of menstruation.

This follows a description in the Puranas about Indra's 'Brahmahatya' (act of killing of the Brahmin demon Vritra) and the mitigation of the sin. Part of this sin was taken by women, and is considered to be active during the menstrual period; therefore menstruating women are forbidden from performing any rituals. Contact with menstruating woman is also forbidden (with the exception of small children).

However in some respects Indians view menstruation, especially the first menstruation or menarche, as a positive aspect of a girl's life. In South India and also in the Assamese community, girls who experience their menstrual period for the first time are given presents and celebrations to mark this special occasion, though women who are menstruating are not allowed in the household for a period of three nights. This certainly does not mean that they are driven away from the house during the cycle of their menstruation: according to Indian architecture, in a house with four blocks, 'dakkini', the south block, is for women and during the menstrual cycle women would confine themselves within this block, and would not even enter the kitchen or go to the north and east sides of the house, nor would they go near a temple.

There is an exception to this in Kashmiri Hindu culture. The Kashmiri Pandits do not consider women as impure during the menstrual cycle; instead, they are given special care during this time as the body of the woman becomes weak due to blood loss.

Chhaupadi is the name of the menstrual related ostracism, now banned that occurs in Nepal.

In Sikhism, woman is given equal status to man and is regarded as pure as man is. The Gurus teach that one cannot be pure by washing his body but purity of mind is the real pureness. They are not called pure, who sit down after merely washing their bodies. Guru Nānak, the founder of Sikhism, condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating.

In Sikhism, the menstrual cycle is not considered a pollutant. Certainly, it can have a physical and physiological effect on the woman. Nonetheless, this is not considered a hindrance to her wanting to pray or accomplish her religious duties fully. The Guru makes it very clear that the menstrual cycle is a God-given process. The blood of a woman is required for the creation of any human being. The requirement of the mother's blood is fundamental for life. Thus, the menstrual cycle is certainly an essential and God-given biological process. In other faiths blood is considered a pollutant. However, the Guru rejects such ideas. Those who are impure from within are the truly impure ones.

Meditating on God's name is of importance. Whether one's clothes are blood-stained or not (including clothes stained from menstrual blood) is not of spiritual importance. Thus, there are no restrictions placed on a woman during her menstruation. She is free to visit a gurdwara, take part in prayers and do Seva. In The Feminine Principle in the Sikh: Vision of the Transcendent, Nikky Guninder Kaur-Singh writes: "The denigration of the female body 'expressed in many cultural and religious taboos surrounding menstruation and childbirth' is absent in the Sikh worldview. ...Guru Nanak openly chides those who attribute pollution to women because of menstruation."

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