November 25, 2020 (6:29 PM)

3 min read


We all know the story of how Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden after they each took a bite from the forbidden fruit. Because of this disobedience, God stripped them of immortality, yet with his loving kindness and mercy he preserved Adam and Eve’s power to propagate the human race. By that original sin, not only death but also fertile carnality entered the world. Pope Gregory the Great would later insist that, in women, menstruation was a mark of that sin—the curse of Eve.

It seems that this concept of menstruation remains deeply rooted in our culture until today. For many women, the coming of our ‘monthly visitor’ is both a biological reality and a social/cultural phenomenon. It is, in the context of science, the periodic shedding of the uterine lining after the maturation of an egg cell. Occasionally, this comes with bouts of mood swings, abdominal cramps, and many other symptoms. On the other hand, our own Philippine culture regards it as a ‘rite of passage’ wherein a pubescent girl transitions into adulthood. 

But there are more cultural meanings attached to the process of menstruation. For instance, menstrual blood is said to be ‘unclean,’ therefore some religions bar menstruating women from entering places of worship. In our everyday encounters, it’s also commonplace to find people giving accusatory glances at women whose pants have been stained with blood. In public, we often feel the need to hide our hygiene products as if we were smuggling illegal drugs. Once, in an emergency situation, when I asked my brother to buy me some pads, he told me that I should just go to the store myself since it was a ‘girl thing.’

According to an informal international survey, there are more than 5,000 euphemisms for menstruation—‘period,’ ‘red tide’ and ‘that time of the month’ would be closest to us in the Philippines. And yet, amid all these realities which evidently reinforce menstrual taboos, I ask: Why do these taboos exist in the first place, and why do we feel so afraid or ashamed of bleeding?

An inquiry into the existence of menstrual taboos requires a look at history. For the purpose of this column, I will turn to existing anthropological literature which trace these taboos to ‘primitive’ societies. Arguably, these were enforced by men who feared the power of women since menstruation was then associated with cosmic powers. The social construct of the menstrual taboo was a patriarchal tool to prevent women from participating in areas outside the home.

If the ancients believed that a menstruating woman possessed cosmic powers, then why should our concept of menstruation today be any different? Sure, we may no longer link it with the seasons or the rhythm of the tides, but we can similarly value women’s endurance. Menstruation, for some women, is not completely painless. So is the life-threatening process of birthing. Without the perseverance and nurturance of women, there would be no great men to speak of.

When I say this I do not mean to glorify the pain nor do I intend to obscure the narratives of women who suffer from the harsh consequences of menstrual taboos. However, I wish to point out that perhaps, we need to rethink the ‘curse of Eve.’ There is a reason for us to celebrate menstruation not only because it signifies our fertility but also because it is a mark of our strength.

About Gwyneth Marie Vasquez - Masawa

Gwyneth has a restless mind that never settles for what is given. This serves her well as an Anthropology student, although it sometimes gets her into trouble outside her academic life. She was Atenews's Editor-in-Chief in AY 2020-2021 and her column name, "Masawa" means 'bright and clear' in Binutuanon.

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