Irrational Fears and Myths
About Women’s Body & Blood
The female body has been scaring the bejesus of bigots and zealots since time immemorial. Whole institutions were founded on the losing premise of controlling it, faiths built around the idea that it’s possessed with powers to destroy mankind, when in fact, it actually created it.
Take menses, the monthly cycle that readies a woman to become a mother, and its default switch off mode. Brave men have lost sleep over that river of blood that comes out pouring when pregnancy doesn’t happen. Death, dismemberment? fine, but menstruation? run for cover.
Much of it is a result of centuries of oppression and hostility against the female gender. Women were kept under lock and key, tending to housing and motherhood, while man were out conquering the world, which almost always involved raping other woman.
Ignorance about them was actually a cause for many a celebrated Alpha male to feel proud about himself. Even Casanova, ultimate male predator, skilled in the arts of seduction and shrewd with his charms, reportedly admitted on his deathbead to never really having understood any of the 122 women he bedded during his lifetime.
We’ve came a long way since terrible myths villainized women, even as many places in Asia and Africa are still to join the 21 century. We shouldn’t pat ourselves in the back just yet for some of the most basic reproductive rights are being called into question again.
Suddenly, it’s night in America, and if it’s up to this regime, hangers and back-alley gynecological care would be all that’s available to the poor. But we won’t allow it, and that’s what this International Women’s Day reminds us of: there are no rights without women’s rights.
TIME TO LET MOONLIGHT OFF THE HOOK
From a science standpoint, things are actually looking up, and many myths about a woman’s menstrual cycle are finally being debunked. Starting with the moon’s supposedly pull over female periods. The 28-day lunar cycle around Earth does seem to go along with the time it takes for a woman’s uterus to shed its lining.
Well, that’s as far as it goes, really. For if one believes that heavenly bodies care – or we’re oh so precious to attract their grace – enough to rule our lives and bodily functions, then they have to offer proof that at least one of them actually came forward to apologize for shining their light on some quite appalling humans.
Go with facts, for $247, instead. Genetics, stress and environmental conditions, dramatically alter menses. Knowledge may get your tires slashed at the Bible Belt, but will also spare you from having to pray for rain. Or outrun a bear, for that matter. For let’s not ever forget, once and for all: there’s no evidence that they are attracted by the smell of menstrual blood.
THE SINKING SYNCHING-CYCLES LORE
And since we’re at it, let’s be clear that women spending time together do not synch their periods. Period. (Sorry, we couldn’t help it.) Skeptics have always mistrusted this notion, that seems to date from the post Industrial Revolution time, as there’s no evolutionary justification for it in nature. And two separate studies, with mandrills and macaques, put the whole fake concept to eternal rest.
It’s the kind of pernicious idea, popularized by 1950s lady magazines, that helped solidify prejudice against working women. Employers would use such unproven code to perpetuate unfair labor practices, (more)
* Woman’s Day
* Body of Choice
* First Ladies
for after all, if women had the power to disrupt business by creating, say, a mass bleeding movement, bosses would feel justified keeping them underpaid, just in case.
Although synchronized ‘behavioral receptivity’ was observed between individual macaques, menstrual cycles were not, as not all females were ovulating, and thus, not everyone was ready to get pregnant. Research also highlighted another important fact: it confirmed with primates what was already known with humans and other species: sexual predisposition is not necessarily linked with ovulation.
WHO’S STILL AFRAID OF BLEEDING FEMALES?
Sadly, if much has changed since the pill, it’s still an ignorant male-dominated world out there, and women are still expected to behave as if their bodies are someone else’s private domain. Coming to think of it, it actually got worst: the current occupant of the White House, who doesn’t even bother to hide his misogyny, got elected with the vote of millions of women. But next time will certainly be different.
Biology is not destiny, as your hip Dumbo friends would confirm it by just waving their curated hand-crafted eCigars. The Middle Ages are far behind us, and the Middle East only about a century away. While modernity is not always for the best, what women are up against should worry us all. Without them, there’s no way back to the future.
Menstrual blood, once thought to be ‘undigested food,’ would terrify males everywhere, for its supposedly malefic and ‘noxious’ properties. A 13 century treatise was about the ‘vile, horrible, poisonous creatures’ that kind of blood was capable of conjuring, driving dogs rabid, discoloring mirrors, and destroying trees. It could both poison a woman from within and inflict harm on children by a mere glance.
WATCH OUT FOR THE WANDERING UTERUS
What this zeal to save us from women and their ‘treacherous’ fluids never considered was that, without them, there simply wouldn’t be anyone to inflict harm on. But it’s unfair to call out our ancestors’ obscurantism, though, when so many present-day congressmen sound exactly alike. Not all is lost for at least one other astonishing myth Egyptians and Greeks believed is buried: the wandering uterus.
Not as radical as picturing a disembodied piece of female anatomy wandering around, spooking the lunch out of young children, but it gets close. One of the most remarkable organs, responsible to nurture and nourish a new life, used to be blamed for an assortment of ailments, from respiratory issues, to anxiety, to seizures, and even that old favorite, hysteria, simply for its monthly lining shedding discharge.
And all because it seemed incapable to staying put ‘down there’ and, instead, would wander about, from throat to the intestines, wreaking havoc all over the poor woman’s body. Aside proverbial voodoo treatments, the most common medicine for these maladies, naturally prescribed by male healers, was of course, sex, and for good measure, marriage. How curious that two thousand years later, a certain doctor in Vienna was as obsessed with the female biology and sexuality as the ancient were.
BANANA LEAF PADS TO THE RESCUE
Obsessed or not, there’s always something new to learn about what some call the source of all life, and others simply the place from which they’d wish to never have left: the vagina. But as stated before, we’re not about to get drowned on this thick primordial soup by making light of what the still majority of people in this world goes through everyday just for being a member of one gender and not another.
It’s fitting, though, to wrap this up with a recent winner of the Curry Stone Design Prize, Elizabeth Scharpt, who created a menstrual pad made of banana leaves. Manufactured in Rwanda, and sold at a fraction of what European-imported tampons cost throughout Africa, the sanitary pads are a triumph of ingenuity and eco-sustainability, and have been quickly adopted by thousands of women.
Period days remain a source of shame, and an excuse to prevent females to seek an education and have a social life, in many parts of Africa and Asia. As everywhere, religious, cultural, and financial barriers are firmly staked against women. Part of the strength of today’s movement is inclusion, and one of the surest ways to achieve it is addressing practical needs, common to all races, nationalities, and social classes. Just as with periods, there will be heavy and light days. But once it gets started, there’s no other way but going with the flow.
(*) A version of this post was originally published on Dec. 1, 2011.