Historical & Contemporary Perspectives of Menstruation – Aaryana and Nagesh Rajanala

In 2016, my 14 year old daughter Aaryana pulled me into working for Ayati (http://www.ayaticharity.org/) a non profit that works in the area of Women’s Menstrual Health and access to supplies.
Aaryana and I ended researching and writing a paper social attitudes towards menstruation including how boys & girls learn about menstruation, develop attitudes and how these attitudes carry into adult life.
We are posting sections of the paper along with some news articles with the hope that we as a society chart a new course on eliminating all forms of gender based discrimination - Nagesh

Historical perspectives of menstruation

Historical studies have indicated, in most parts of the world, humans did not understand the physiological function of menstruation leading to a fear of menstruation, menstrual blood and discriminatory practices against women. Primitive societies in New Zealand believed contact with menstruating women or menstrual blood sickens and kills men. Ancient Romans believed contact with menstrual blood spoils food, makes crops barren, causes fruits to fall off trees and makes animals insane. Many primitive societies excluded menstruating women from daily life by requiring them to stay in menstrual huts outside the village (Delaney, Lupton & Toth, 1976; Buckley & Gottlieb, 1988).

Contemporary perspectives of menstruation

Contemporary studies indicate, despite complete medical and biological understanding of the process of menstruation, the change in social attitudes have lagged. The ancient practices of menstruating women not touching livestock and food are still norm in many countries along with the practice of sending menstruating women to live in menstrual huts. In most developed nations, progressive values have changed the attitudes towards menstruation (Freidenfelds, 2009), and allow women work, stay with family and do their regular activities during menstruation. At the same time, in a survey of 1000 Americans, half the respondents indicated women should not have intercourse while menstruating and two-thirds of the participants believed women should not discuss menstruation at work or other social settings (The Tampax Report, 1981). Social norms burden women to hide signs of menstruation (Ussher, 1989). Advertisers of menstrual products use a women’s fear of discovery (Luke, 1997) by highlighting hygiene, secrecy (thinner and invisible) and performance (longer lasting and odor handling). Roberts, Goldenberg, Power & Pyszczynski (2002) demonstrated through experiments, men to perceive menstruating women as less likable and less competent. Another significant challenge is parental attitudes towards menstruation and its impact on educating girls about menarche. Ussher (1989) reported parents using a wide variety of communication styles and content with negative connotations. Traditionally, the role of communication falls on the mother and any delays in communication causes an increased stress on the child.
Buckley, T., & Gottlieb, A. (1988). Blood magic: Explorations in the anthropology of menstruation. Berkeley: University of California Press
Delaney, J., Lupton, M. J., & Toth, E. (1976). The curse: A cultural history of menstruation. New York: Dutton.
Freidenfelds, L. (2009). The modern period: Menstruation in twentieth-century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Roberts, T., Goldenberg, J. L., Power, C., & Pyszczynski, T. (2002). “Feminine Protection”: The effects of menstruation on attitudes towards women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(2), 131-139. doi:10.1111/1471-6402.00051
The Tampax Report. (1981). New York, NY: Ruder, Finn, & Rotman.
Ussher, J. M. (1992). The Psychology of the Female Body: The Psychology of the Female Body Routledge. Primary Health Care, 2(1), 20-20. doi:10.7748/phc.2.1.20.s18


Aaryana and Nagesh Rajanala live in NJ

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