Menstrual taboos exist in most cultures (most cultures view menstrual blood as potentially dangerous & place restrictions around it). In the past, Western (male) anthropologists held that such taboos existed because menstrual blood was seen as polluted and unclean. More recently, some female anthropologists have questioned this assumption. They argue that some cultures have menstrual prohibitions not because menstrual blood is seen as dirty but because it is seen as sacred and powerful.
In Polynesian cultures, for instance, menstrual blood is seen as “taboo” which means that it is seen as sacred, special, powerful, set apart. Things that are “taboo” have special restrictions placed on them because they are seen as powerful and potentially harmful (warriors who have killed in a battle, for instance, are also “taboo” for a while after they return home).
Regardless of whether a culture considers menstrual blood polluted or powerful/sacred, what surprises me is that menstrual blood is always seen as dangerous. Polyesian cultures have taboos on what women can do while menstruating – a menstruating woman cannot go to fishing areas (for instance) because then no fish will be caught. She also can’t go into the garden because then the vegetables won’t grow. If menstrual blood is seen as sacred and powerful, why can’t its power be viewed as beneficial to society (rather than as dangerous and primarily harmful to society, like the power of witchcraft)?
I think the reason behind this is that a lot of cultures fear powerful women – a powerful woman cannot be trusted. This fear of powerful women is present in European society as well: historically, mainly women were accused of witchcraft & killed, and women who worked medicinally with plants were quickly viewed with suspicion as ‘witches’. The idea that women have this dangerous ‘witchy’ power over men continues today. A beautiful woman is called ‘glamorous’, ‘enchanting’, ‘bewitching’ and ‘spellbinding’ (a ‘glamour’ was originally a spell cast on a man to make him believe that a woman was more attractive than she really was).
In Western society, menstruation was never viewed as powerful (only as polluted), however had it been considered powerful I think that our society would have feared it & labelled it as dangerous just like most other cultures around the world.
It seems to me that almost all cultures view menstruation as dangerous in some way (even in the cultures that also view menstrual blood as sacred/special). I would love to hear of a culture that told women “come to our fishing areas when you are menstruating, to bring us good luck!” I vaguely remember reading somewhere of a culture where menstrual blood was seen as a positive ‘lucky’ force, so I think that such cultures exist although they are in the minority.
I know that some menstrual restrictions exist because of the idea that the powerful force of menstrual blood clashes badly with other sorts of powerful forces… but what I don’t understand is why can’t the power of menstrual blood be seen as primarily neutral or beneficial to societies around the world, rather than as primarily destructive?