“Don’t go in to the kitchen, the food will spoil!” – a common refrain for young girls and women across rural India, and even in numerous urban households. Menstruating women are forbidden from entering the kitchen during that time of the month, and are further subjected to a whole host of other do’s and don’ts based entirely on superstition, myth, or tradition, with little or no scientific basis at all.
While there are several menstruation related myths all around the world, India, as a country rich in old-wives tales, and with superstition deeply ingrained in its culture, leads the charge when it comes to these traditions, some of which border on the ridiculous. Let’s take a look at some of them, and try and set the record straight.
A prevalent belief in India is that menstruating women are impure and unclean, and therefore should not be permitted to do things like enter temples or other religious institutions, and perform any religious ritual. The root of this ideology possibly stems from a basic lack of awareness and education in the villages of India. As women are unaware of the availability of, and also lack access to safe, hygienic sanitary care products like pads or tampons, they are compelled to use scraps of old fabric, paper or even leaves and ash instead during their period. This can lead to frequent staining, infection and even an unpleasant odour, which adds credence to the idea of periods being unclean and impure. By working to increase awareness in these villages and providing access to alternate, clean and safe sanitary protection, this belief will automatically begin to lose its standing, allowing women to be included in religious and other community activities.
For the same reason, women in India are kept out of the kitchen and in the strictest of homes are even forced to use separate utensils and eat alone during their period.
Even in countries as seemingly advanced as Japan, there is a prevalent myth that menstruating women are unable to prepare sushi as they lose their sense of taste, which makes them unable to balance the delicate flavours in the sushi. Several successful female sushi chefs in Japan and around the world have clearly proved that this myth has no basis in fact!
Some of the more bizarre myths surrounding menstruation include the idea that if a menstruating woman looks in a mirror, it will lose its brightness or that menstrual blood has magic powers, allowing women to use their will on men and cast black magic spells!
Clearly these myths have no foundation in reality or even logic, since menstruation is one of the most natural biological processes that affect all women and while they may seem funny, they point to a culture of illiteracy and a complete lack of awareness. Period shaming of young girls and women who are treated like pariahs in their own homes leads them to feel like they have done something wrong or are unworthy.
Spreading awareness and educating the masses is the only sure-fire way to end menstrual stigma, dispel ridiculous myths and promote a culture of true equality around the world.